First mentioned in texts from the 1st century BCE, bupleurum is one of China’s “harmony” herbs, balancing different organs and energies within the body. It is used as a tonic, strengthening the action of the digestive tract, improving liver function, and helping to push blood to the surface of the body. Recent research in Japan has endorsed traditional use, showing that bupleurum protects the liver.
Habitat & Cultivation
Bupleurum grows in China and is cultivated throughout the central and eastern parts of that country. It is also found in other parts of Asia and in Europe. Bupleurum is propagated from seed in spring or by root division in autumn and requires well-drained soil and plenty of sun. The root is unearthed in spring and autumn.
- Triterpenoid saponins—saikosides (saikosaponins)
- Protects liver
- Induces sweating
Saikosides: Research in Japan from the 1960s onward into the Bupleurum genus has revealed that the saikosides are potent medicines. They appear to protect the liver from toxicity, and strengthen liver function, even in people with immune system disorders. Following this discovery, clinical trials during the 1980s in Japan showed that the root is effective in the treatment of hepatitis and other chronic liver problems. Saikosides also have anti-tumor activity.
Anti-inflammatory: The saikosides stimulate the body’s production of corticosteroids as well as increasing their anti-inflammatory effect.
Traditional & Current Uses
Ancient Chinese remedy: Bupleurum has been taken in China for over 2,000 years as a liver tonic. It is traditionally believed to strengthen liver qi and to have a tonic action on the spleen and stomach. In Chinese medicine, bupleurum is used to treat “disharmony” between the liver and the spleen, a condition that manifests itself in problems of the digestive system such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and indigestion.
Liver problems: In common with milk thistle (Carduus marianus) and members of the Glycyrrhiza genus, for example licorice (G. glabra), bupleurum is an excellent remedy for a poorly functioning or compromised liver. Its anti-inflammatory action may contribute to its overall use in the treatment of liver disease.
Fever: In China, bupleurum is taken to treat fevers, flu, and colds, especially where accompanied by a bitter taste in the mouth, irritability, and either vomiting and abdominal pain, or dizziness and vertigo.
Modern Japanese remedy: The traditional uses of bupleurum and scientific research accord so well that many Japanese doctors practicing conventional Western medicine now use extracts of bupleurum root to treat patients with liver problems.
Other uses: Bupleurum is sometimes useful in the treatment of hemorrhoids, and of prolapsed tissue in the pelvis, such as a prolapse of the uterus.