Bupleurum root is a common ingredient in Chinese herbal medicine that is generally used to treat hepatitis, an enlarged spleen, or irregular menstruation. It is derived from the Bupleurum chinense plant, which is part of the Umbelliferae plant family. The root of the plant is typically harvested in the spring or fall and is prepared by drying in the sun and subsequently slicing it into small segments. It is believed to have detoxifying and antimicrobial properties. Bupleurum is commonly referred to as chai hu, which is a Chinese phrase that translates to "kindling of the barbarians."
As a supplement, bupleurum root is available in a capsule form. The strength of the capsule varies depending on the manufacturer, and reputable sellers will indicate the amount of bupleurum root contained in each capsule. Antibiotics typically reduce the effectiveness of bupleurum root supplements and taking prescription strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with bupleurum root generally causes gastrointestinal problems. Also, those undergoing interferon therapy for hepatitis and pregnant or nursing women should avoid taking bupleurum root.
The medicinal properties of bupleurum root seem to be derived from certain chemicals within the root including glycosides, palmitic acid, quercetin and saikosaponins. Most of the research into this topic has focused on saikosaponins, which appear to have several benefits; the most promising of which appears to be improved liver health. The root reportedly increases protein production in liver cells and reduces inflammation. It is used to treat liver damage caused by hepatitis, drugs or alcohol.
In addition, bupleurum root is considered to be a deep cleansing agent that removes impurities embedded in the liver and clears stagnant fluids in the body. This is generally believed to relieve muscle tension and reduce spasms. Also, bleeding associated with irregular menstruation is generally reduced as well.
As with any medicinal herb, certain side effects can arise. Some commonly reported side effects of the root include drowsiness, lethargy and sedation. It is recommended to avoid driving or operating machinery after taking the root. Additional side effects include decreased appetite, heartburn and nausea.
The Bupleurum chinense plant is native to China and Korea and typically grows in grasslands, along stream banks and on mountain slopes. It is a perennial plant that grows three feet (about 1 m) in height, two feet (about 0.6 m) wide and features flowers that bloom from July to October. The leaves and roots are edible after they are cooked.