Bupleurum
Bupleurum
This information describes the common uses of Bupleurum, how it works, and its possible side effects.

Common Name

Chai Hu, Hare’s ear root, Thorowax root, Saiko

How It Works

Bupleurum is used along with other herbs in traditional medicine formulas to treat colds, digestive issues, and liver problems, but studies in humans are lacking.  

Bupleurum is an important herb used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine. It is frequently prescribed in combination with other herbs to treat colds, fever, digestive disorders, and chronic liver diseases. Herbal formulas such as Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Sho-saiko-to), contain bupleurum as a major ingredient.

Compounds called saikosaponins in bupleurum have been identified as responsible for the plant’s medicinal activities. However, most studies on bupleurum have only been performed in the lab and human data are lacking. In addition, excess doses have been linked to a few cases of adverse effects.

Purported Uses

NOTE: The following uses and descriptions of effectiveness apply to bupleurum only. Please see our monograph on Sho-saiko-to for information regarding the effectiveness of bupleurum in combination with other herbs.

  • To treat liver diseases, including hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver
    Although bupleurum is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat liver diseases, human data are lacking.
  • To treat the common cold
    Bupleurum may have antiviral activity, but clinical trials have not been conducted.
  • As a fever reducer
    Although bupleurum is used in traditional Chinese medicine to reduce fever, there are no clinical data to back this claim.
  • To treat infections
    Bupleurum may have antibacterial activity, but human studies are lacking.
  • To reduce inflammation
    Laboratory studies show that components of bupleurum interfere with the processes that cause inflammation. Human studies are needed.
  • To treat malaria
    Bupleurum may have antiviral activity, but human data are lacking.

Do Not Take If

  • You are taking drugs that are substrates of cytochrome P450 2C9: Lab studies suggest bupleurum extracts may increase the risk of side effects of these drugs. Clinical relevance has yet to be determined. Patients should check with their treating physician.
  • You are taking drugs that are substrates of cytochrome P450 2E1, 2D6, and 3A4:  Animal studies suggest that bupleurum can induce CYP2E1, CYP2D6 and CYP3A4 enzymes, but that herb-drug interactions are more likely at higher doses. Patients should check with their treating physician.

Side Effects

There have been a few case reports of liver damage with excess doses of bupleurum.