Chinese Milk Vetch or Huang-qi
Astragalus is a wonderful tough plant ideal for hot dry areas. It is a hardy perennial that dies down to its roots in winter and is hardy to - 20 °F (-28°C). Easy to grow from seed it needs a sunny location and well drained soil and does not really like to be watered much so it is ideal for those hot dry areas where nothing much else will grow. It has a sprawling habit, growing to about two feet in height. In early summer it produces multitudes of light cream flowers that will brighten any area. It needs no maintenance - except to clear away the dead branches before the next spring growth. Easy to grow, easy to maintain. Wildlife may eat it depending on your location. Butterflies and beneficial insects love the flowers.
Description of Chinese Milk Vetch (Astragalus Membranaceus).
A hardy perennial that dies back to the ground in winter. In spring it sends up stout shoots that rapidly begin to branch forming a semi sprawling semi upright shrub like structure about 2 feet (35cm) tall. The leaves are arranged alternately on the hairy stems with each leaf being made up of 12 - 24 leaflets with the total leaf length of 1-3 inches (3-6 cm).. Leaflets are arranged in pairs along the stem and are oval with central vein and smooth edges. Leaves can be described as fern like and are light to mid green in color up to 2 feet (60cm) in height and easily as wide. During early summer the plant produces many long stemmed flower spikes from the tops of the leaf axils. Each stem can be 14 inches (25cm) long with the final 6 inches (15 cm) being the flower. The flower head is made up of 15 -20 individual white or cream colored flowers that resemble pea flowers (not surprising since Astragalus is part of the pea family). The individual flowers are about ¾ inch (20mm) long tube like flaring at the end. All the flowers hang on the same side of the stem. Flowers are followed by brown puffy seed pods about 2 inches (5 cm) long that holds the kidney shaped brown seeds. When in bloom the small bush can be festooned with flowers that can last several weeks. Plants survive overwinter from their thick fleshy branching tap roots. It is a native to China Mongolia and Korea.
Growing Chinese Milk Vetch (Astragalus Membranaceus) from Seed.
Astragalus seeds like lots of others in the pea family have a hard seed coating and can benefit from some scarification before planting. Many sources state that Astragalus should be scarified before planting. We never do this to our plants we only soak them and get pretty good results this way.
Just soak them in water.
By far the easiest method is to soak the seeds in water overnight. This should soften up the seeds and cause them to swell. We have found that this is usually all that is needed to get the seeds to germinate well.
If some seeds have not swollen after this process then try scarifying only those. Your fingers will thank you since it can be a awkward task.
If you really want to scarify (rough up the seed coating)
There is no really easy way to do this. Some people suggest putting them between two pieces of sandpaper and rubbing, (I just get the skin rubbed off my fingers, but the seed seems untouched) Others suggest using a knife. I never recommend this method, these seeds are small and tough trying to nick them with a knife is asking for perforated fingers and blood covered seeds. The best method I have found if we have to scarify seeds is to use nail clippers. Even this is not easy on something the size of a Astragalus seed. The trick is to hold the seed in one hand and gently nick the seed coating with the clippers taking care to ONLY nick the seed coating and not the inner seed. If you do this the seed may be damaged and then fail to germinate.
Once seeds have been soaked remove them from the water and plant either two or three to a small pot or individual in peat pellet pots or medium sized plug trays. Keep moist but not wet until the seeds sprout. This can take 2-3 weeks depending on temperatures. When seedlings are large enough to handle pot into individual pots and grow on until large enough to harden off outside. For more information on seeding see our general growing instructions. Do not over water, Astragalus needs just moist not wet, overwatering is the most common reason these seedlings (and plants) die.
Location and Care of Chinese Milk Vetch (Astragalus Membranaceus).
Astragalus likes a sunny location and well drained fairly dry soil. It is very drought tolerant and can survive the heat quite well also. It can need some extra water in times of drought but for the most part extra water may only cause root rot. Astragalus is a very hardy plant and can survive up to - 20 °F (-28°C). It does best on a sandy slightly alkaline soil but will grow in almost any soil that is well drained. It will not tolerate any wet or moist soils and the thick taproots will rot. Addition of compost is not recommended unless the soil is extremely poor. Astragalus does well in fairly poor soil and is very hardy.
When planting out ensure that each plant has about 2 feet of space around it
to sprawl into. These plants have taproots so try to transplant the whole plant
without disturbing the soil around the roots if possible. Either use peat pots
or wait until the roots just begin to show out the bottom of the pots before
transplanting the whole thing to its final location.
Astragalus does best if it is not disturbed once it has been planted, however if necessary they can be transplanted but the plant could take at least two years to re-establish itself and produce flowers after being moved. So pick your location carefully so you don't need to move it.
Most of the time the plants don't need water unless there is a heavy drought. Be aware of this before adding water, as root rot and overwatering can cause the leaves to wilt which can be mistaken for lack of water. In this case adding more water just makes the problem worse and the plant dies.
Don't mulch around Astragalus plants and don't use wood chips or any kind of mulch. If necessary use only a thin coating. The reason for this is that the roots are very succulent and beloved by voles, gophers and other small rodents. Mulch and ground coverings function as a highway for these animals to get to your plants and eat the roots safely. Do keep the ground clear and your plants will be safer.
Harvesting of Chinese Milk Vetch (Astragalus Membranaceus).
Roots are harvested for medicinal use after 4 years of undisturbed growth. In good conditions the roots can go as deep as 4 feet so hand harvesting is necessary and machines would miss most of the roots. Roots are harvested in fall after growth has been completed for that year. Roots are usually washed and cut up before drying.
Medical uses of Chinese Milk Vetch (Astragalus Membranaceus).
Astragalus is one of the most important tonic herbs used n Traditional Chinese medicine. It is an adaptogen which means that it has a 'non specific' function that normalizes the functions in the body no matter what the condition or disease. It can help to strengthen the body against disease and is invaluable in working with mental or emotional stress. It is high in anti oxidants and can help to protect from free radical damage. It has been used for centuries to treat problems such as Colds and influenza, Persistent infection, Fever, Multiple allergies, Asthma, Chronic fatigue, Anemia, Wounds, Heart disease, Kidney disease, Hepatitis and Stomach ulcers. More recently it is being used to treat AIDS and a lot of potential for cancer treatment as well as Fatigue or lack of appetite associated with chemotherapy.
Huang-qi, Huang Chi,Huang Ch'i,Buck Qi,Yellow Leader, Milk-Vetch Root,Tragacanth, Gum Dragon, Milk Vetch, Canada Milk Vetch, Membranous Milk Vetch, Slender Milk Vetch, Standing Milk Vetch, Astragali, Huang Qi (Chinese), Beg Kei, Bei Qi, Hwanggi. goat's horn, goat's thorn, green dragon, gum dragon, gum tragacanthae, gummi tragacanthae, hoang ky, hog gum, huang-chi, Huang Qi, huangoi, huangqi, hwanggi, ji cao, Leguminosae (family), locoweed, membranous milk vetch, milk vetch, mongolian milk, mongolian milk vetch, neimeng hhuangqi, ogi, ougi, radix astragali, spino santo, Syrian tragacanth, tai shen, tragacanth, wong kei, yellow vetch, Zhongfengnaomitong.
Chinese Milk Vetch plant in flower
Astragalus membranaceus plant in field
Astragalus membranaceus leaves