Nutritional Supplement


Parts Used & Where Grown

These Asian plants are part of the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) family, and resemble dill or fennel. However, bupleurum has long thin leaves rather than the lacy appearance of fennel and dill leaves. The Chinese name for bupleurum, chai hu, means “kindling of the barbarians.” The origin of this name is unclear. The roots of the plant are used in herbal medicine.

How It Works

Bupleurum contains constituents known as saikosaponins that appear to account for much of the medicinal activity of the plant. Test tube studies have shown that the sho-saiko-to combination can increase production of various chemicals (known as cytokines) that immune cells use to signal one another.1 Test tube studies have also found that saikosaponins can inhibit growth of liver cancer cells,2 and are anti-inflammatory.3,4

Human trials, only one double-blind, have shown that the bupleurum-containing formula sho-saiko-to may help reduce symptoms and blood liver enzyme levels in children and adults with chronic active viral hepatitis.5,6,7,8 Most of these studies were in people with hepatitis B infection, though one preliminary human trial has also shown a benefit in people with hepatitis C.8 Sho-saiko-to was also found, in a large, preliminary (but not double-blind), study to decrease the risk of people with chronic viral hepatitis developing liver cancer.10

Sho-saiko-to has also been used to reduce symptoms of and possibly decrease the severity of liver cirrhosis, though clinical studies on this condition are generally lacking. One randomized trial (it was unclear if this trial was double-blind) found that sho-saiko-to could reduce the rate of liver cancer in people with liver cirrhosis.11

Several uncontrolled trials in Japan have shown that sho-saiko-to or very similar traditional Japanese and Chinese herbal formulas (all containing bupleurum) can reduce seizure frequency and/or severity in people with epilepsy that does not respond to anti-seizure medications.12,13,14,15 However, double-blind trials are still needed to determine the importance of these findings.

Sho-saiko-to has been found to inhibit human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the test tube.16 Yet, it is unclear to what degree bupleurum or saikosaponins contributed to this effect. Sho-saiko-to also increased the efficacy of the standard anti-HIV drug lamivudine in the test tube.17 Human data are lacking on the benefit of sho-saiko-to or bupleurum in people with HIV infection or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).


1. Yamashiki M, Nishimura A, Nomoto M, et al. Herbal medicine sho-saiko-to induces tumor necrosis factor-alpha and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor in vitro in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma. J Gastro Hepatol 1996;11:137-42.

2. Motoo Y, Sawabu N. Antitumor effects of saikosaponins, baicalin and baicalein on human hepatoma cell lines. Cancer Lett 1994;86:91-5.

3. Yamamoto M, Kumagai A, Yamamura Y. Structure and actions of saikosaponins isolated from Bupleurum falcatum L. I. Anti-inflammatory action of saikosaponins. Arzneim Forsch 1975;25:1021-3.

4. Utrilla MP, Zarzuelo A, Risco S, et al. Isolation of a saikosaponin responsible for the antiinflammatory activity of Bupleurum gibralticum Lam root extract. Phytother Res 1991;5:43-5.

5. Hirayama C, Okumura M, Tanikawa K, et al. A multicenter randomized controlled clinical trial of Shosaiko-to in chronic active hepatitis. Gastroent Jap 1989;24:715-9.

6. Fujiwara K, Ohta Y, Ogata I, et al. Treatment trial of traditional Oriental medicine in chronic viral hepatitis. In: Ohta Y (ed) New Trends in Peptic Ulcer and Chronic Hepatitis: Part II. Chronic Hepatitis. Tokyo: Excerpta Medica, 1987, 141-6.

7. Tajiri H, Kozaiwa K, Osaki Y, et al. The study of the effect of sho-saiko-to on HBeAg clearance in children with chronic HBV infection and with abnormal liver function tests. Acta Paediatr Jpn 1991;94:1811-5.

8. Gibo Y, Nakamura Y, Takahashi N, et al. Clinical study of sho-saiko-to therapy for Japanese patients with chronic hepatitis C (CH-C). Prog Med 1994;14:217-9.

9. Oka H, Yamamoto S, Kuroki T, et al. Prospective study of chemoprevention of hepatocellular carcinoma with sho-saiko-to (TJ-9). Cancer 1995;76:743-9.

10. Yamamoto S, Oka H, Kanno T, et al. Controlled prospective trial to evaluate Shosaiko-to in preventing hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with cirrhosis of the liver. Gan To Kagaku Ryoho (Jpn J Cancer Chemother) 1989;16:1519-24 [in Japanese].

11. Narita Y, Satowa H, Kokubu T, et al. Treatment of epileptic patients with the Chinese herbal medicine ‘saiko-keishi-to' (SK). IRCS Med Sci 1982;10:88-9.

12. Nagakubo S, Niwa S-I, Kumagai N, et al. Effects of TJ-960 on Sternberg's paradigm results in epileptic patients. Jpn J Psych Neur 1993;47:609-19.

13. Packer M, Kligler B. Bupleurum for the treatment of epilepsy. Int J Chin Med 1984;1:55-8.

14. Hiramatsu M, Edamatsu R, Kohno M, et al. The possible involvement of free radicals in seizure mechanism. Jpn J Psych 1986;40:349-52.

15. Buimovici-Klein E, Mohan V, Lange M, et al. Inhibition of HIV replication in lymphocyte cultures of virus-positive subjects in the presence of sho-saiko-to, an oriental plant extract. Antiviral Res 1990;14:279-86.

16. Piras G, Makino M, Baba M. Sho-saiko-to, a traditional kampo medicine, enhances the anti-HIV-1 activity of lamivudine (3TC) in vitro. Microbiol Immunol 1997;41:835-9.

17. Westphal J, Hörning M, Leonhardt K. Phytotherapy in functional upper abdominal complaints. Results of a clinical study with a preparation of several plants. Phytomedicine 1996;2:285-91.

18. Inada Y, Watanabe K, Kamiyama M, et al. In vitro immunomodulatory effects of traditional Kampo medicine (sho-saiko-to: SST) on peripheral mononuclear cells in patients with AIDS. Biomed Pharmacother 1990;44:17-9.

19. Piras G, Makino M, Baba M. Sho-saiko-to, a traditional kampo medicine, enhances the anti-HIV-1 activity of lamivudine (3TC) in vitro. Microbiol Immunol 1997;41:835-9.

20. Fujimaki M, Hada M, Ikematsu S, et al. Clinical efficacy of two kinds of kampo medicine on HIV infected patients. Int Conf AIDS 1989;5:400 [abstract no. W.B.P.292].

21. Li BQ, Fu T, Yan YD, et al. Inhibition of HIV infection by baicalin—a flavonoid compound purified from Chinese herbal medicine. Cell Mol Biol Res 1993;39:119-24.

22. Bensky D, Gamble A, Kaptchuk T. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, rev ed. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993, 49-50.

23. Watanabe K, Fujino H, Morita T, et al. Solubilization of saponins of Bupleuri radix with ginseng saponins: Cooperative effect of dammarene saponins. Planta Med 1988;54:405-8.

24. Bone K. Bupleurum—a natural steroid effect, part 2. MediHerb Professional Newsletter 1996;51:1-2.

25. Tajiri H, Kozaiwa K, Osaki Y, et al. The study of the effect of sho-saiko-to on HBeAg clearance in children with chronic HBV infection and with abnormal liver function tests. Acta Paediatr Jpn 1990;94:1811-5.

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2020.