Out of the various species of shrubs and herbs that are categorized under the Astragalus genus and Fabaceae family, Astragalus membranaceus is one of the species that is widely used due to its therapeutic properties. Astragalus root has long been a part of Chinese medicine. This herbaceous plant is commonly found in some regions of China, Korea and Mongolia. Chinese call it 'Huang qi'. It is also called 'milk vetch'. If you are planning to grow this herbaceous perennial plant at home, it would be best to know more about the ideal conditions that are needed for its growth. Though this plant is quite hardy, knowing about certain important aspects such as the right growing season, method of propagation and watering would certainly help. So, leaf through the astragalus plant information along with instructions on how to grow astragalus at home.
Characteristics of Astragalus Membranaceus
Before I move on to the planting instructions, let me provide you with some information on the characteristics of Astragalus membranaceus, which is one of the most prominent varieties of this plant. Well, this perennial plant can attain the height of about three to four feet. Its stems are hairy and the leaves consists of about 12 to 24 pairs of leaflets. Small pea-like flowers arise from the axils of the leaves. The flowering season starts around midsummer and goes on till late fall.
As mentioned earlier, it is the root of Astragalus membranaceus, that is used for medicinal purposes. The numerous benefits of the astragalus root are mainly attributed to its antioxidant properties. Astragalus genus consists of more than 2,000 species. Some of the species that are categorized under this genus are also used as ornamental plants. One can grow this plant from the seeds and the best time to do so is during late winter. If the objective behind growing astragalus is just to procure the curative root, remember to harvest the root only after a period of 3-4 years.
How to Grow Astragalus Membranaceus
As mentioned earlier, astragalus can be grown from seed. Wondering what all needs to be done so as to grow this hardy plant? Well, you would need to prepare the seed first. Here are the instructions that need to be followed.
Prepare the Seeds: First of all, you would need to scrape off the hard coating of the seeds. You could do so by rubbing them lightly with a sandpaper. Scraping off the outer membrane is believed to speed up the process of germination. However, one must ensure that the inner part doesn't get damaged in the process. The next step you need to follow, is to soak them in warm water overnight. Remove the seeds from water. These should appear to be swollen. The ones that are not swollen, would have to be pricked with a needle. Make sure that the inner portion is not disturbed.
Plant the Seeds: Seeds must first be planted indoors. So, get hold of small two-inch deep peat pots and put in each of these pots, a mixture of potting soil and sand in 2:1 ratio. Place a seed about one inch deep in a small pot. Don't go on a watering spree. Water in such a way that the soil stays moist. It would be best to keep the pot at a place that receives sunlight. Once the seed germinates, and the seedlings are about a couple of inches in height, transfer them into a bigger pot. Handle the plant well, so as to avert any damage to its tender roots. Make sure that you place the plant at a spot that receives ample sunshine. Plant them outdoors in the garden in early spring, only after the danger of frost is gone.
Planting Site: While astragalus is a hardy, drought-resistant plant that adapts well, it would be best to test or amend the soil. Astragalus thrives in well-drained, slightly alkaline sandy soil with soil pH slightly more than 7. You could add hydrated lime to the soil if you intend to increase the soil's pH. Since this plant grows best in full sun, look for a sunny spot. Before transplanting the seedling into the garden bed, make sure that you dig a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the root system. If you are planting more than one plant, these must be at least fifteen inches apart. Watering the plant every now and then, can cause root rot, so be careful. However, water if the soil seems to be dry and the leaves start wilting.
These were some instructions on growing astragalus at home. If you planted astragalus with the sole intention of procuring the root, wait until three to four years. If, however, you want the plant to remain a part of your garden, don't disturb the thick taproot, and harvest only the smaller roots.