Bupleurum is a herb that falls into the group of clearing the exterior wind heat, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). First recorded in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Agriculture God’s Canon of Materia Medica), it was classified as one of top-grade herbs.
What is bupleurum?
Also known as radix bupleuri, it refers to the dried root of Bupleurum chinense DC. or Bupleurum scorzonerifolium Willd., which are perennial umbelliferous plants. Else, it is also being called thorowax root. They are usually collected in spring and winter for medicinal purpose, stems, leaves, and dirt removed, and then dried in the sun.
What is bupleurum used for?
It is one of the most commonly used herbs in Chinese herbal remedies. Now the modern medicine research also indicates that this is a versatile herb.
Modern pharmacological actions
Bupleurum contains A, B, C, D types of saikosapoins, sterol, essential oils like bupleurumol and eugenol, fatty acids like oleic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid, and polysaccharide, etc. And it has the typical actions as follows:
1. Aritipyretic effect. Early studies found that large dose of bupleurum decoction, 5 grams/kg, could bring down a fever on rabbits that were induced fever artificially;
2. Sedation and analgesia. Taking saikosaponins orally could calm down mice and prolong the sleep induced by benzodiazepines. In addition, sailkosaponins could ease pain while relieving a cough;
3. Anti-inflammation. Saikosaponin at the dose of 600mg/kg could dramatically lower paw swelling induced by dextran and serotonin (5-HT) in rats;
4. Antiviral effect. Reportedly Injection Bupleuri could inhibit influenza virus effectively;
5. Effects on the liver. Fed on bupleurum, the rats, with acute liver dysfunction induced by moldy rice, have a much lower level of ALT and AST.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
This herb is considered bitter, acrid, and slightly cold in nature and covers meridians of liver and gallbladder.
Main functions are to resolve superficies for clearing heat, disperse entangled liver qi for relieving qi stagnation, and promote spleen yang. Main benefits and indications are fever due to cold or influenza, malaria, alternating chills and fever, fullness and pain in chest and rib cage, irregular menstruation, and prolapses of rectum and uterus.
Usual dosage is 3 to 10 grams in decoction.
Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Minor Bupleurum Decoction)
From the famous Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Febrile Diseases), this prescription is formulated for shaoyang syndrome, manifesting alternating chill and fever, fullness and discomfort in chest and hypochondrium, poor appetite, irritability, and vomiting, etc.
Other herbs include Huang Qin (Scutellaria), Ren Shen (Ginseng), Ban Xia (Pinellia Rhizome), Gan Cao (Licorice), Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger Rhizome), and Da Zao (Jujube).
Da Chai Hu Tang (Major Bupleurum Decoction)
From Shang Han Lun, this formula is mainly designed for the combination of shaoyang and yangming syndromes, presenting alternating chill and fever, chest and rib-side fullness, unstoppable vomiting, irritability, epigastric hard oppression, constipation or dysentery, yellow coating, and strong rapid stringy pulse. It is often used in treatments of acute pancreatitis, acute cholecystitis, cholelithiasis, and peptic ulcer, etc.
Other ingredients are Huang Qin, Bai Shao (White Peony), Ban Xia, Sheng Jiang, Zhi Shi (Immature Bitter Orange), Da Zao, and Da Huang (Rhubarb).
Chai Hu Gui Zhi Tang
It is used for the combination of Taiyang and Shaoyang syndromes, presenting fever and aversion to cold, limb pain, slightly vomiting, and feeling obstructed in epigastrium, etc.
Other herbs are Gui Zhi (Cinnamon Twig), Huang Qin, Ren Shen, Gan Cao, Ban Xia, Shao Yao, Da Zao, and Sheng Jiang.
Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang
Besides the symptoms of shaoyang, it treats also fidget, palpitation, delirious speech, heavy body, and dysuria, etc. Now it is frequently used for epilepsy, neurosis, maniers disease, and hypertension, etc.
Other ingredients are Long Gu (Dragon Bone, Fossilized Bones), Huang Qin, Sheng Jiang, Ren Shen, Gui Zhi, Fu Ling (Poria), Ban Xia, Da Huang, Mu Li (Oyster Shell), and Da Zao, etc.
Chai Hu Shu Gan San
From Jing yue quan shu (Jingyue’s Complete Works), it is for remedies of rib pain and alternate chills and fever. Other herbs include Chuan Xiong (Szechuan Lovage Root), Zhi Ke (Ripe Fruit of Zhi Shi), Shao Yao, Gan Cao, and Xiang Fu (Nut Grass Rhizome).
Xiao Yao Wan
From Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Bureau of People’s Welfare Pharmacy), it was perceived as a panacea for women by Ye Tianshi (1667-1746), a famous physician in Qing Dynasty. It is formulated for depressed liver and deficient spleen and dysfunction of spleen in transport.
Other ingredients include Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Bai Shao, Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes Rhizome), Fu Ling, Bo He (Mentha), Sheng Jiang, and Gan Cao, etc.
Potential side effects and contraindications
Bupleurum is considered nontoxic in TCM wise if only taken properly. However, beware of the dried root of bupleurum longibrachiatum Turcz., which can’t be used for medicinal purpose due to its poisonousness.
Else, it should be avoided by those suffering from hyperaction of liver Yang, liver wind agitation, fire excess from Yin deficiency, and reversed flow of qi, etc.