Tragacanth (Astragalus gummifer)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Tragacanth
Astragalus gummifer
Leguminosae

Gum tragacanth is obtained from the stem (see above). It has a wide range of uses including:- a thickening agent in preparing dyes for calico printing, textile dyes and for dressing fabrics, it is also a thickener in making glues, water colours, ink (where it supplies a gloss), it is a binding agent in paper making, a culture medium in laboratories etc[64, 74].

Both the stems and the gum can be burnt as a fragrant incense[245].

  • Medicinal Use

    The gum obtained from the root and stem is demulcent, though it is not often used internally because it is not completely soluble[4]. This gum has recently been shown to stimulate the immune system and to suppress tumours[238]. The gum has long been employed externally as a dressing for burns and is also used in lozenges in order to bind the ingredients and impart consistency to the product[4].

  • Edible Use

    A source of a high quality gum tragacanth – used as a thickener in confections, salad dressings, sauces etc[2, 4, 57, 64, 105, 114]. It is an approved additive to food and has the E number E413[238]. Some of the gum exudes naturally from the root and from damaged stems[171], more can be obtained by incision of the stem about 5cm below ground level[64].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Many members of this genus contain toxic glycosides[65]. All species with edible seedpods can be distinguished by their fleshy round or oval seedpod that looks somewhat like a greengage[85]. A number of species can also accumulate toxic levels of selenium when grown in soils that are relatively rich in that element[65].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[200]. A period of cold stratification may help stored seed to germinate[200]. Stored seed, and perhaps also fresh seed, should be pre-soaked for 24 hours in hot water before sowing – but make sure that you do not cook the seed[134, 200]. Any seed that does not swell should be carefully pricked with a needle, taking care not to damage the embryo, and re-soaked for a further 24 hours[134, 200]. Germination can be slow and erratic but is usually within 4 – 9 weeks or more at 13¡c if the seed is treated or sown fresh[134]. As soon as it is large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter, planting them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
Requires a dry well-drained soil in a sunny position[1, 238]. Succeeds in poor soils[200]. Tolerates a pH in the range 3.2 to 7.8. This species is not hardy in the colder areas of the country, it tolerates temperatures down to between -5 and -10¡c[238]. Whilst it is likely to tolerate low temperatures it may not be so happy with a wet winter. Plants are intolerant of root disturbance and are best planted in their final positions whilst still small[200]. This plant is a sub-shrub and although it produces woody stems these tend to die back almost to the base each winter. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200]. Many members of this genus can be difficult to grow, this may be due partly to a lack of their specific bacterial associations in the soil[200].
W. Asia – Iraq, Kurdistan

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.