Herb latin name: Astragalus microcephalus

Synonyms: Astracantha microcephala

Family: Leguminosae

Edible parts of Astragalus microcephalus:

A source of a high quality gum tragacanth - used as a thickener in confections. Some exudes naturally from the plant, more can be obtained by incision of the stem about 5cm below ground level.

Description of the plant:


45 cm
(1 foot)

Habitat of the herb:

Rocky mountain slopes. 1200 - 2600 metres in Iraq.

Other uses of Astragalus microcephalus:

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.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. A period of cold stratification may help stored seed to germinate. 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. 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. Germination can be slow and erratic but is usually within 4 - 9 weeks or more at 13C if the seed is treated or sown fresh. 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.

Cultivation of Astragalus microcephalus:

Rocky mountain slopes. 1200 - 2600 metres in Iraq.

Medicinal use of the herb:

None known

Known hazards of Astragalus microcephalus:

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

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.