Bupleurum Benefits: Boost Liver Health and Fight Cancer - Dr. Axe

Fact Checked

This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.

With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies.

Our team includes licensed nutritionists and dietitians, certified health education specialists, as well as certified strength and conditioning specialists, personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.

The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.

Bupleurum: The Detoxifying Ancient Herb that Boosts Liver Health


Bupleurum - Dr. Axe

If you’re looking to cleanse your liver and improve your overall health, there’s one herb that stands out above the rest. I’m talking about bupleurum, a revered natural remedy of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) highly valued for its detoxification abilities for more than 2,000 years.

In the TCM model of health and disease, the free flow of qi and blood is the requirement for health, and the obstructed flow of qi and blood — or a qi deficiency — is a cause of disease. This ancient herb is said to disperse qi and clear heat from the liver system.

In addition, his herb holds within its roots potent anti-inflammatory properties and has been used historically to treat liver disorders of all kinds, such as cirrhosis. Herbal formulas like Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Sho-saiko-to), which contain bupleurum as a key ingredient (16 percent to be exact), have been found to be effective in treating hepatitis and liver cancers.

If that’s not impressive enough, in vitro studies have also shown that this herb has antiviral, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative (can stop the spread of cancerous cells) and chemopreventive (stops or keep cancer from developing) properties. (1)

It might not be as well-known as many other herbs, but bupleurem certainly has some impressive history and studies to back up its usage. Read on to learn all about this dynamic herbal remedy.


What Is Bupleurum?

Bupleurum (Bupleurum chinense, Bupleurum americanum or Bupleurum falcatum) is a member of the Apiaceae family. It’s an ornamental plant with delicate greenish-yellow flowers and sickle-shaped leaves that resemble dill or fennel. Small clusters of greenish-yellow flowers that grace the plant during blooming season are then followed by small, cylindrical fruit.

The roots of this perennial plant are bright yellow and bitter, and the roots are what are commonly used as medicine.

The American species (Bupleurum americanum) can be found in Southwestern Montana and North Western Idaho while Bupleurum chinense is an herb native to East Asia and central Europe.

Some common names of of this herb include chai hu, hare’s ear root, thorowax root and saiko. The active ingredients in bupleurum root include saponins and plant sterols.

Health Benefits

1. Improves General Liver Function and Detoxification

The liver is the largest internal organ in our bodies and is responsible for many vital tasks, including getting rid of and neutralizing all kinds of toxins. The liver also makes bile, which helps the body absorb and properly utilize fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

Keeping the liver working as it should is key to anyone and everyone’s good health. There are many habits and environmental factors that take a toll on the liver, including drinking alcohol, eating processed foods, taking certain medications and pollution. This herb is best known for its ability to detoxify the liver and improve overall liver health. It’s definitely one of the top powerful herbal remedies for liver function, which includes properly converting nutrients and removing hazardous toxins.

2. Prevents and Treats Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer

Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease of the liver in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue that blocks blood and bile flow through the liver and keeps it from working properly. The most common causes of cirrhosis are excessive alcohol consumption as well as chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus. If the disease is severe enough, it can be fatal.

Sho-saiko-to, or Xiao Chai Hu Tang, is a Japanese medicine that includes bupleurum. Laboratory and animal studies conducted at Osaka City University Medical School in Japan suggest that Sho-saiko-to has a protective effect on the liver.

One study showed that this herbal formula helped prevent the development of hepatocellular carcinomas (liver cancer) in patients who already have cirrhosis. (2) This is huge when you consider that the incidence of liver cancer is extremely high in cirrhosis patients.

3. Boosts Adrenal Gland Function

Bupleurum has been used in combination with licorice and panax ginseng to aid and stimulate adrenal gland function. This has been especially helpful for patients with a history of long-term use of corticosteroid drugs, which take a major toll on adrenal health. (3) By aiding the adrenal glands, bupleurum can help harmonize the body and improve energy levels by combatting adrenal insufficiency.

What you need to know about bupleurum - Dr. Axe

4. Relieves Epilepsy Episodes

Another surprising yet awesome finding is bupleurum’s potential to help epilepsy sufferers. Epilepsy is disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures. Bupleurum is included in two similar Chinese herbal formulas, Sho-saiko-to and Saiko-keishi-to, which contain the same herbs but in different ratios. Other ingredients in these two formulas include cassia bark, ginger root, peony root, pinellia root, jujube fruit, Asian ginseng root, Asian skullcap root and licorice root.

Preliminary trials have demonstrated that both herbal formulas could offer relief to epilepsy patients. The trials also showed that there were zero negative interactions with a variety of anticonvulsant drugs already being taken by the subjects at the time of the study. (4)

5. Fights Ovarian Cancer

The goal of one 2015 study conducted by the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Military General Hospital of Beijing PLA in China was to  evaluate the anticancer, apoptotic and antioxidant properties of Bupleurum chinense root extract against human epithelial ovarian cancer cells in vitro. The results showed that the extract was able to induce impressively strong and dose-dependent cancer-killing effects on ovarian cancer cells. The extract also showed its ability to encouraged cancer cell shrinkage.

Overall, the anticancer effects of the extract were attributed to its ability to foster the programmed cell death of cancer cells, DNA fragmentation (a characteristic of apoptosis or programmed cell death) and a disruption of energy metabolism of cancer cells. (5) Given its results in fighting ovarian and liver cancers, this herb holds the potential to be a tremendous natural cancer treatment.

6. Treats Depression Due to PMS or Menopause

Many people today take mood-stabilizing drugs for their anxiety or depression. Most of these are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibiter. These drugs don’t come without their own very concerning side effects so it’s always worthwhile to look into the possibility of natural remedies.


Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that liver qi stagnation is the central cause of depression. Practitioners of TCM often recommend Chai hu shu gan san, an herbal formula that includes bupleurum, for stagnation of liver qi (energy that flows in the body). Chai hu shu gan san has been found to be especially effective when it’s used to treat the depression that can often occur during premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as well as menopause. (6)

Interesting Facts

  • Bupleurum has been a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over 2,000 years.
  • In Traditional Chinese Medicine texts, it is referred to as “chai hu.”
  • The Chinese name for it, chai hu, means “kindling of the barbarians.” The origin of this name is unclear.
  • Its used for assisting with the proper flow of qi throughout the body most likely predates written records.
  • The plants resemble dill and fennel.
  • The roots of the plant are used in herbal medicine.
  • Bupleurum is a primary component in a Chinese patent medicine called “Xia Yao San” or “Xia Yao Wan.” Another name for the formula is “Free and Easy Wanderer,” a reference to the Taoist concept of being able to “go with the flow.”
  • Bupleurum is also a staple remedy in Japanese Kampo medicine, specifically in the formula Sho-saiko-to, which is mainly used to address liver concerns. Japanese Kampo medicine is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine but adapted to Japanese culture.
  • Bupleurum makes up 16 percent of the formula for Sho-saiko-to.
  • Chai hu shu gan wan is another TCM herbal formula that includes bupleurum and is used to treat issues like PMS, emotional stress and depression, which are associated with liver qi stagnation in TCM.
  • Florists commonly use the flowers for wedding bouquets.

How to Find and Use

You can find supplemental forms of bupleurum by itself in pill or liquid form at your local health store or online. Less common and a bit pricey — yet still an option — you can buy bupleurum as a tea. The tea is naturally caffeine-free. Some Asian markets also sell dried bupleurum root, which you can use to make tea. Simply combine one teaspoon of bupleurum with one cup boiling water and let it brew for 10 minutes before drinking.

Bupleurum is also a part of many liver formulas like Bupleurum Liver Cleanse, which includes bupleurum as well as milk thistle seed and dandelion root, among other herbs.

Bupleurum is a primary component in a TCM remedy called “Xia Yao San” or “Xia Yao Wan.” Bupleurum is also a staple remedy in Japanese Kampo medicine, specifically in the formula Sho-saiko-to, which is used to treat several chronic liver disease, including hepatitis. Japanese Kampo medicine is based on TCM but adapted to Japanese culture. It’s also used in Chai hu shu gan wan, another well-respected and commonly used TCM herbal formula that’s often used to treat depression due to PMS or menopause.

There is not a standard dose of bupleurum. The appropriate dose depends on the bupleurum you choose and your overall health. Speak to a health care provider if you are unsure about dosage.

Risks and Side Effects

There is no conclusive report yet on the possible side effects and contraindications associated with the use of bupleurum. Some reported side effects include increased bowel movements, intestinal gas and drowsiness. When taken in combination with other herbs, it has caused serious lung and breathing problems for some users.

Avoid this herb if you’re pregnant or nursing. It’s also not recommended if you have a bleeding disorder, diabetes or an autoimmune disease.

Stop taking this herb at least two weeks before undergoing surgery because it can increase your risk of bleeding.

Since bupleurum can increase immune system activity, it might decrease the effectiveness of immunosuppressant drugs. Speak with your doctor before taking this herb or any others if you currently take an immunosuppressant or any other medications, or if you have any ongoing health concerns.

Final Thoughts

  • Bupleurum is a revered natural remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine that promotes the free flow of qi and blood.
  • This herb has been shown to improve general liver function and detoxification, prevent and treat cirrhosis and liver cancer, boost adrenal gland function, relieve epilepsy episodes, fight ovarian cancer, and treat depression due to PMS or menopause.
  • You can buy bupleurum in pill or liquid form, and you can buy or make bupleurum tea.

More Nutrition