Bupleurum Summary:

Bupleurum is mainly used in Chinese medicine. It's commonly employed in herbal formulas as it's thought to direct the flow of Qi in the target organ. This target organ is determined by the other herbs in the formula. 

Bupleurum has been the subject of study for its antiviral actions with strong indications of efficacy in that area so far. Several components of this herb have been found to inhibit a variety of virus' including HIV, parainfluenza, and poliovirus. 

The other main action of this herb is directed at the liver and kidneys.

Botanical Name

Bupleurum falcatum
Bupleurum marginatum



Part Used


Herbal Actions:

  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Bitter
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Kidney protective
  • Diaphoretic
  • Antiviral
  • Antimicrobial
bupleurum falciform


Liquid Extract (1:2)

3.5-8.5 ml/day

Dried Herb
(As decoction)

1.5-6 g/day

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+ Hepatobiliary System

  • Bitter
  • Liver damage
  • Hepatitis
  • Liver toxicity
  • Weak liver function
  • Autoimmune conditions affecting the liver
  • Gout

+ Digestive System

  • Bitter
  • Poor digestion
  • Dyspepsia

+ Respiratory System

  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Asthma

+ Other

  • To protect the kidneys
  • For its diaphoretic actions
  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • For its bitter actions
  • Inflammation
  • Adjunctive cancer treatment
  • Cold/Flu
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney disorders
  • Gout

Traditional Uses:

+ Western Herbal Medicine

It has been used for colds and flu, and inflammation throughout Europe in the form of a herbal tea or decoction [3]. Some of its less common traditional uses include hepatitis, cancer, microbial infections, and fever associated with malaria [2, 7, 8].

+ Traditional Chinese Medicine

Pinyin: Cháí Hú

Energy: Cold [18, 19] (Some list asslightly warm [7]).

Taste: Bitter [18, 19] (Some list this as sweet and pungent [7]).

Channels: Gallbladder, liver, pericardium, triple burner [7].

Actions: Resolves lesser yang disorders to reduce fever, spreads liver Qi to relieve stagnation, raises center Qi, regulates gastrointestinal and liver functions [18, 19]

Indications: Liver tension, digestive disturbances, stagnation, muscle spasms, bleeding due to heat, menstrual irregularities, common cold, alternating chills and fever, malaria, chest and rib-side descending pain, sinking of clear Qi (lack of strength, chronic diarrhea) [5, 19].

Cautions: May cause rapid detoxification, with symptoms such as headaches, and anger. In situations of severe toxicity skin sores may result [5]. Avoid using with tinnitusdeafness, dizziness, or headache caused by fire from yin deficiency and/or hyperactive liver yang [7, 18].

Bupleurum root is one of the most important herbs used in Chinese herbalism. It is used to relieve liver tension and digestive disturbances. It is detoxificating and antimicrobial as well. [5].

Bupleurum is often combined with other herbs to clear stagnation anywhere in the body. It is used to relieve muscle spasms, lumps, and bleeding due to heat, and menstrual irregularities. [5].

The essential oil of Bupleurum root is used to relieve surface heat. [5].

This herb is rarely used alone, but is very common in combinations. It is usually added to improve the detoxification of a target organ, and regulate the flow of Qi through the body. [5].

Bupleurum is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to detoxify various target organs (depending on the other herbs in combination), relieve liver tension, and regulate the flow of Qi throughout the body [5].

    Botanical Description:

    There are over 3500 species in the Apiaceae family, 300 of which are medicinally active [6]. In the Bupleurum genera, there are about 180-190 species [4].

    Bupleurum marginatum, and many of the other Bupleurums are perennial herbs, grow up to 60 cm in height, and have oblanceolate leaves [3]. 

    Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

    Still compiling research. 

    Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

    Mainly cultivated in Hebei, Henan, Liaoning, Shananxi, and Gansu provinces of China, and collected in the spring or autumn [7]. 

    The root is generally sun-dried and sliced. It can be used raw this way, or fried in wine or vinegar. [7].  


    Chemical class Chemical Name % Dried Weight Solubility
    Triterpenoids Saikosaponins Unknown N/A
    Flavonoid glycosides Rutin Unknown N/A
    Flavonols Narcissin Unknown N/A
    Quercetin glycosides Isoquercetin, Isorhamnetin, Quercetin Unknown N/A
    Lignans Marginatoxin Unknown N/A
    Polysaccharides Insert Unknown N/A
    Polyacetylenes Insert Unknown N/A
    Phytosterols Stigmasterol, Alpha-spinasterol, Beta-sitosterol, Daucosterol Unknown N/A

    Pharmacology and Medical Research:

    + Antimicrobial

    Bupleurum marginatum extracts were shown to be active against gram-positive bacteria, and less active against fungi and gram-negative bacteria [3].

    + Antiviral

    Bupleurum marginatum extracts were found to possess antiviral activity which has been suggested to be due mainly to the saikosaponin content [3]. This action has been confirmed in studies investigating the effects of saikosaponins on various virus' which suggest this action in other species of Bupleurum as well [13-15]. The lignans and flavonoid aglycones are also suggested to provide some antiviral support [3].

    The lignans were found to exert antiviral action through tubulin binding, reverse transcriptase, and topoisomerase inhibition [16, 17].

    Some of the flavonoids present in bupleurum metabolise into phenolate ions within the body, where they then inhibit viral polymerase activity, and bind with viral nucleic acid or viral caspid proteins. This leads to an inhibition or reduction in viral replication. [3]. The flavonoids quercetin, and rutin (and likely other flavonoids), have been found to be active against such viruses as HSV-1, HIV-1, HIV-2, poliovirus type 1, parainfluenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus [3].

    + Cancer

    Bupleurum was shown active against several in vitro cancer cell lines, which was suggested to be due mainly to the saikosaponin content [1].

    The lignans and flavonoids are also suggested to possess cytotoxic and apoptotic actions in human cancer cell lines [3].



    Known allergies to other members of the Apiaceae family 


    May cause flatulence, bloating, nausea, vomiting, sedative effects, or reflux in large doses or in sensitive individuals [18]. 


    • Traditionally combined with Paeonia and Angelica sinensis for menstrual irregularities, PMS, dysmenorrhea in traditional Chinese medicine. 
    • Combined with astragalus for prolapsed uterus and rectum  


    Justin Cooke

    The Sunlight Experiment

    Updated: June 2017

    Recent Blog Posts:


    1. Hsu YL, Kuo PL, Weng TC, Yen MH, Chiang LC, Lin CC. (2004). The antiproliferative activity of saponin-enriched fraction from Bupleurum Kaoi is through Fas-dependent apoptotic pathway in human non-small cell lung cancer A549 cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 27:1112–1115.
    2. Zhou J (2011). Encyclopedia of traditional Chinese medicines vol 1 - molecular structures, pharmacological activities, natural sources and applications. New York: Springer.
    3. Ashour, M. L, El-Readi, M. Z, Hamoud, R., Eid, S. Y, El Ahmady, S. H., Nibret, E, Wink, M. (2014). Anti-infective and cytotoxic properties of Bupleurum marginatum.Chinese Medicine, 9(1), 4. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-9-4
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    9. Huang HQ, Zhang X, Lin M, Shen YH, Yan SK, Zhang WD. (2008). Characterization and identification of saikosaponins in crude extracts from three Bupleurum species using LC-ESI-MS. J Sep Sci. 31:3190–3201.
    10. Ashour ML, El-Readi MZ, Tahrani A, Eid SY, Wink M. (2012). A novel cytotoxic aryltetraline lactone from Bupleurum marginatum (Apiaceae). Phytochem Lett, 5:387–392.
    11. Ashour ML, Wink M. (2011). Genus Bupleurum: a review of its phytochemistry, pharmacology and modes of action. J Pharm Pharmacol, 63:305–321.
    12. Zhitao L, Minjian Q, Zhengtao W. (N.D.) Study on the constituent s of the roots of Bupleurum Marginatum. J China Pharmaceut Uni.
    13. Ushio Y, Abe H (1992). Inactivation of measles virus and herpes simplex virus by saikosaponin d. Planta Med, 58:171–173.
    14. Chiang LC, Ng LT, Liu LT, Shieh DE, Lin CC. (2003). Cytotoxicity and anti-hepatitis B virus activities of saikosaponins from Bupleurum species. Planta Med, 69:705–709.
    15. Cheng PW, Chiang LC, Yen MH, Lin CC. (2007). Bupleurum kaoi inhibits Coxsackie B virus type 1 infection of CCFS-1 cells by induction of type I interferons expression. Food Chem Toxicol 2007, 45:24–31.
    16. Charlton JL. (2008). Antiviral activity of lignans. J Nat Prod 1998, 61:1447–1451.
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    19. Yang, J., Huang, H., Zhu, Li-Jiang, & Chen, Y. (2013). Introduction to chinese materia medica (3rd ed.). (Pg 75-79).