BUPLEURUM ROOT (Bupleurum chinensis)

Latin: Bupleurum chinensis, Bupleurum falcatum
Chinese: Chai hu
English: Chinese thoroughwax

WHAT IT DOES: Bupleurum root is bitter and pungent in taste, and cooling (anti-inflammatory) in action.  It releases internal tension and lowers mental stress, anxiety and anger (including PMS); reduces dizziness and vertigo; warms coldness of hands and feet caused by tension; stimulates the immune system; improves circulation; reduces fever and liver inflammation; stimulates bile flow; protects the liver; and improves digestion.

RATING: Silver, due to minor limitations in usage (can generate wind)


• Crude herb: three to twelve grams per day
• Concentrated powder: one to four grams per day

Bupleurum is a very important silver standard herb, critically useful for some patients.  Its scientifically investigated actions are as diverse as our Chinese animal example given below.  TCM doctors note that when you look at this plant, its branches splay outward in a free and unrestricted manner.  This is the “Doctrine of Signatures” or traditional way of seeing the plant’s main action–in this case, the removal of blockages from the free flow of the body’s vital energy.  (The “Doctrine of signatures,” or “Signature of God,” is the idea that the shape, form or color of a plant can tell you how to use it.) All the TCM clinical uses for this herb flow from this idea, because as the energy flows without blockage, the hands warm, the digestion eases, the mind calms and irritation, anger and heat decrease. 

Once when I took this herb myself, I was amazed to feel my hands and feet begin to warm until they were actually buzzing in a pleasant way for over an hour.  (Don’t tell the government.) The relaxation of internal tension can also be useful for painful menstrual cramps (usually given in a formula).

This herb is very useful for some circulation issues if caused by internal tension, such as with erection problems, neck tension, “freezing up” under stress, Pre-menstrual tension, and it even sometimes helps with dizziness caused by Meniere’s disease. It also helps with tension caused by exposure to excess drugs, chemicals and other toxins, or a diet high in poor quality fats.

Its primary use  for a “tense restricted liver” includes symptoms such as anger, tension in the center of the body that you can’t release, and various liver issues such as heat sensations, itching, a feeling of being toxic, headaches, irritability, etc. But, beyond that, the TCM concept of liver energy regulation can be applied in a wide variety of seemingly unrelated health problems such as infertility (the liver regulates hormones), emotional issues (the liver regulated some neurotransmitters), heart health (the liver manufactures cholesterol) and many others.

Bupleurum root is a main ingredient in a formula called “Rambling without a destination,” which is a great formula name, isn’t it? The formula is used to treat the same conditions as the root, but in persons with additional signs of weakness and nutrient deficiency.  Drs. Dan Bensky and Randall Barolet, in their excellent 1990 professional TCM textbook Formulas and Strategies, quote an ancient text that recommends this formula for “girls with weak blood and Yin deficiency.”

Research highlights:

• Numerous components of bupleurum root have shown anti-inflammatory activity in a wide variety of animal models (Just et al., 1998, Bergeman et al., 1998, Tagaki et al., 1969).

• In a screening of 232 plants for anti-cell adhesiveness activity, important for tumor cell and cancer metastasis inhibition, researchers found bupleurum root saponins to be one of the six most active (Ahn et al., 1998).

• Bupleurum root extracts protected rat livers from chemical insults, leading researchers to conclude that members of this species “have potential as broad spectrum antihepatic agents” (Chin et al., 1996).

• Bupleurum root saponins, like other saponin-rich herbs, show potent heart and blood vessel protective effects.  They have been shown to “inhibit the formation of lipid peroxides in the cardiac muscle or in the liver, influence the function of enzymes contained in them, decrease blood coagulation, cholesterol and sugar levels in blood, (and) stimulate the immunity system” (Purmova et al., 1995).

• In a series of experiments to determine the mechanism by which bupleurum root saponins inhibit kidney inflammation, researchers concluded that they reduced platelet sticking (blood stickiness,), protected against loss of antioxidant capacity, and enhanced blood and kidney corticosterone levels (Hattori et al., 1991).

• Researchers have also determined that bupleurum root enhances macrophage cell activity (Matsumoto et al., 1995).

• Various clinical studies on humans have shown liver enzyme reduction in hepatitis, fever reduction in infection, and diuretic effects (reported in Bone, 1996).

• One of the most famous bupleurum root-based formulas is minor bupleurum decoction, which contains bupleurum root, scute root, pinellia tuber, ginger root, ginseng root, honey-fried licorice root and ziziphus fruit.  This formula was able to promote clearance of hepatitis B antigen from the blood of 14 chronically ill children (reported in Bone, 1996).