Chinese Thoroughwax

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Chinese thoroughwax


Chinese thoroughwax is an herb that is often called bupleurum, referring to the scientific naming of the species Bupleurum chinense and Bupleurum falcatum. Another name for the herb is hare's ear, and in traditional Chinese medicine the herb is called chai-hu.

Chinese thoroughwax (bupleurum) is a perennial flowering plant that grows from one to three feet tall. The leaves are long and slender, and the plant has yellow flowers in the summer months. It grows naturally in China, Japan, and Korea, and in other countries in northern Asia and northern Europe. The root of the plant is pale red, and is the part that is used medicinally. It tastes slightly bitter and pungent, and is believed to have cooling properties in the body.

One of the major herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese thoroughwax is used in several traditional formulas for liver problems, fevers, and inflammation. Chinese herbalists prescribe it for conditions that are associated with stagnation of qi, or chi (life energy) in the liver. Chinese thoroughwax is a major ingredient in a widely used Oriental medicinal formula called in Japanese shosaikoto, which also contains Korean ginseng, licorice root, ginger root, and other herbs. The Chinese name for the formula is xiao chai hu tang. This formula is almost 2,000 years old and is used for situations when someone gets a old or flu but never quite gets completely better, like some kinds of chronic fatigue syndrome .

Bupleurum has received attention most recently by researchers in China and Japan. Several studies that have shown significant findings have been translated into English. Professor Shibata of Tokyo University isolated a substance in Chinese thoroughwax he termed saikogenin, which is in a class of biologically active chemicals called saponins. In laboratory tests, saikogenin has shown potent anti-inflammatory properties, which recommend it for treating skin infections and other disorders in which inflammation and swelling are problematic. Saikogenin has been shown to increase the effectiveness of cortisone drugs, which are pharmaceutical steroids prescribed for arthritis, asthma , inflammation and other conditions. Bupleurum significantly increased the action of the cortisone drug prednisone in some laboratory tests. Another benefit of bupleurum is that it has been shown to protect the adrenal glands from the damaging effects of cortisone drugs.

Bupleurum extract has been shown in human studies to improve the symptoms of hepatitis , or viral infection of the liver. Other studies have pointed to its effectiveness as an antipyretic (fever-reducing agent), a mild tranquilizer, an antibiotic and antiviral agent, and as an immune system stimulant. A Japanese study published in 2002 suggests that bupleurum may be effective in the treatment of gastric ulcers. Chinese thoroughwax has also been shown to increase the efficiency of the chemotherapy drug 5-FU. It should be noted that Chinese thoroughwax has been generally most effective in tests when used in conjunction with other herbs in traditional Chinese herbal formulas.

General use

Traditional Chinese medicine recommends Chinese thoroughwax for chest congestion, respiratory problems, and for chills and fevers, including those associated with malaria and blackwater fever . It is used to treat fevers that have associated symptoms of bitter taste in the mouth, irritability, nausea , and abdominal pains, and is sometimes prescribed for dizziness and vertigo that occur with chest pain . Chinese thoroughwax is used in tonics to strengthen the lungs and sense organs, and to tone the leg muscles. Chinese thoroughwax is used to strengthen the liver and to treat liver problems, such as hepatitis and alcohol-related liver damage (cirrhosis ).

For women, Chinese thoroughwax is used in formulas to regulate menstrual cycles in cases of amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle), to reduce the symptoms of PMS, and as a tonic for the female reproductive system. Chinese thoroughwax can be taken as an herbal supplement with corticosteroid drugs, to reduce the risks of damage to the adrenal glands. Some Chinese medicinal formulas containing Chinese thoroughwax (including xiao chai hu tang) are used for cancer treatment and as herbal support during chemotherapy.


Chinese thoroughwax is available as dried root and capsules in herb stores, health food stores, and Chinese markets. It is also available in several formulated Chinese medicines. To prepare a daily serving of tea, 312 g of the dried root can be simmered for over an hour in a quart of water. For more extreme cases of fever and hepatitis, two servings of the tea can be drunk daily.

Side effects

Chinese thoroughwax can cause nausea, dizziness, sweating, and intestinal discomfort when taken in excessively high dosages.


Chinese thoroughwax is frequently prescribed with licorice root and Korean ginseng. In the traditional and often used Oriental medicine called shosaikoto in Japanese or xiao chai hu tang in Chinese, Chinese thorough-wax is blended with licorice, jujube fruit, ginger root, Korean ginseng, Chinese skullcap root, and half summer root (Pinellia ternata ). Herbalists often recommend that Chinese thoroughwax be combined with lycii berries to counteract its drying effects in the body. For cases of vertigo and chest pain, and as a liver tonic, bupleurum can be taken with white peony root , bitter orange fruit, and licorice. For menstruation problems, bupleurum may be combined with white peony and mint.

Bupleurum has been reported to have negative inter-actions with interferon, which is a protein produced by animal cells when they are invaded by a virus. Interferon is frequently used to treat hepatitis, and patients who are receiving interferon for this disease should not take herbal formulations containing bupleurum.



Lu, Henry C. Chinese Herbal Cures. New York: Sterling, 1994.

Reid, Daniel. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Boston: Shambhala, 1996.

Teeguarden, Ron. Chinese Tonic Herbs. New York: Japan Publications, 1995.


Matsumoto, T., X. B. Sun, T. Hanawa, et al. "Effect of the Antiulcer Polysaccharide Fraction from Bupleurum falcatum L. on the Healing of Gastric Ulcer Induced by Acetic Acid in Rats." Phytotherapy Research 16 (February 2002): 91-93.

Park, K. H., J. Park, D. Koh, and Y. Lim. "Effect of Saikosaponin-A, a Triterpenoid Glycoside, Isolated from Bupleurum falcatum on Experimental Allergic Asthma." Phytotherapy Research 16 (June 2002): 359-363.


American Association of Oriental Medicine. 5530 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 1210, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. (301) 941-1064. <>.

Rocky Mountain Herbal Institute. P. O. Box 579, Hot Springs, MT 59845. (406) 741-3811. <>.

Douglas Dupler

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

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Chinese Thoroughwax

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