Bupleurum Root

Radix Bupleurum

I find bupleurum root to be a magical herb. It has unique properties that are impossible to find elsewhere.

Bupleurum root helps to lower fever and relieve pain, which is why it is included in many anti-viral formulas [1]. That’s not what makes it so special, though.

More spectacularly, bupleurum root is used to lift and release sustained viral infection. This means that if you have been struggling with a virus for months or even years and you can’t seem to shake it, bupleurum is the herb for you [2]. I don’t know any other herb that do this as well as bupleurum does. For best effects in treating prolonged viral infection, take bupleurum in the famous TCM formula Xiao Chai Hu Tang. Trust me, it works!

At the same time that bupleurum works more superficially to release viral infection, it also works more deeply in the liver, with hepato-protective activity [3], anti-inflammatory properties [4], stimulation of bile flow [5], and an ability to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides [6]. Bupleurum has also been shown to treat infectious hepatitis [7], and to prevent liver cirrhosis [8]. If you have a problem with your liver, bupleurum root is your friend.

It’s this ability to work both superficially and more deeply that makes bupleurum root so exceptional. In Chinese medicine, it is said to work at the Shao Yang level of the body, which is neither at the exterior nor in the interior, but at the intersection of both. One of my mentors uses bupleurum root as a “revealer”. He says that by harmonizing both the exterior and the interior of the body, bupleurum can magically reveal more deep-seated problems.

In addition to its ability to balance both the exterior and the interior of the body, bupleurum can also stimulate your immune system. Studies show that bupleurum root has the ability to stimulate cellular immunity in mice [9], and also has an inhibitory effects against B-hemolytic streptococcus, Vibrio cholerae, mycobacterium tuberculosis, leptospira as well as influenza, polio and hepatitis viruses [10].

Chinese doctors found all of these wonderful properties in an herb that is not even native to their own country. The pinyin title for bupleurum root is “kindling of the barbarians”, meaning that it was brought into China thousands of years ago by invaders. Originally, it was not even a Chinese herb!

If you’re curious to see the amazing effects of bupleurum root at work, try our famous Chinese Bitters or GCG formulas. Both of them include and rely on bupleurum root and its unique properties.

  1. Sheng Yang Yi Xue Yuan Xue Bao (Journal of Shenyang University of Medicine), 1984; 1(3):214
  2. Zhong Yao Xue (Chinese Herbology), 1988; 105
  3. Zhong Yao Yao Li Yu Ying Yong (Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Herbs), 1983; 888
  4. Ibid.
  5. Zhong Yi Yao Xue Bao (Report of Chinese Medicine and Herbology), 1988; (1):45
  6. Zhong Yao Xue (Chinese Herbology), 1998; 103:106
  7. Xin Yi Yao Xue Za Zhi (New Journal of Medicine and Herbology), 1974; 2:18
  8. Ibid., 2:28
  9. Shang Hai Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao (Journal of Shanghai University of Medicine), 1986; 13(1):20
  10. Zhong Yao Xue (Chinese Herbology), 1998; 103:106


When I started my yoga teacher training more than a year ago, our instructors told us to be gentle with ourselves as we learned. They warned us not to be overly critical of ourselves if we failed to meet our goals, and to show ourselves compassion. At the time, it sounded like fluffy, airy-fairy yoga stuff to me.

I had always pushed myself very hard in school, forcing myself to give my absolute best to any assignment or project. I may not have had the highest marks in the class, but I was always up there in the Honour Roll, and I prided myself on that. If there was one thing people knew about me, it was that I did well in school.

That was just about the only part of me that most people knew, though. It was also the only part of my life where I felt I passed muster. I needed to do well in school. My fragile sense of self depended on it. Failure – even just mediocrity – was not an option.

It’s funny how strong those kind of past beliefs are. When I started my yoga teacher training, I could feel myself gearing up for the challenge just like I did when I was a teenager. I was determined to be the best in the class, and willing to put in whatever effort was required to wow my teachers.

But almost as soon as those thoughts crossed my mind, I could feel the fatigue welling up behind my eyes. I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had already spent all my available energy more than a decade ago. I didn’t have it in me to keep pushing myself so hard. If I did, I knew I would collapse from exhaustion before the program was even finished.

Why did I think I needed to do that? I guess you could say I was never told – or at least I never believed – that I was good enough on my own. I thought that if I didn’t stand out in some way, if I wasn’t special in some way, then I would never be loved. Certainly, I would never succeed.

That appears to be what our culture teaches us. If you aren’t exceptional in some way, you’re not wanted. Our children have to prove their excellence just to earn entry into schools and land low-paying jobs that we could have fallen into when we were young. As a result, they are developing physical and mental health problems that we previously didn’t see until middle age. I may have grown up a generation earlier, but I was still negatively affected by it.

Why are we doing this to ourselves? How can we change?

Well, I don’t know how to change a culture, but we can at least change our own attitude. Studies show that being critical with yourself actually makes you work less effectively. It makes you so afraid of failure that you stop trying.

On the other hand, when you can show yourself some compassion and forgiveness, it actually helps you to relax so you can perform better. You aren’t so stressed and afraid that you view every failure as the end of the road. Instead, you’re able to see it as an opportunity for growth.

It seems counter-intuitive. Many people think that if they aren’t strict enough with themselves, they’ll just lie back and never achieve anything. But in the long run, pushing yourself too hard doesn’t make you do better. It only makes you sick. Like me.

I want you to put your hands over your heart right now and think back to a time when you felt loved, by a friend, or a relative, or even just a pet. Breathe deeply now and allow the remembrance of that love to enter your heart. Breathe it in and really feel it. Know that you are a good person. Know that you are lovable and worthy just as you are.

Somehow, we have to learn to soften towards ourselves a little more. To give ourselves a little more space, to breathe and to just be. To show ourselves a little more compassion. Maybe that is the only way we can begin to turn this world around. Because if we can learn to treat ourselves better, then maybe we’ll start to treat everyone else better too.

Embracing Fragility

Kintsugi: the art that embraces imperfection

A number of years ago, I took this short, half-day mosaic course. In the course, we were shown how to glue multiple pieces of coloured glass onto a wooden slate, in a variety of suggested patterns, in order to create a beautiful piece of artwork.

We seven students sat together at the back of the store, at a cozy wooden table covered in tiny glass shards in a rainbow of different shades. It was so satisfying to pluck colours out of the pile, one by one, and arrange them, just so, into a completely new form. I still have the picture frames I made that day.

I was very drawn to mosaic building during those initial years of my illness because I felt so broken myself. My life, which had seemed full and vibrant until then, had collapsed so suddenly and completely that it took me years to adjust. I just didn’t know how to make myself whole again, either physically or psychologically. By gluing coloured pieces of glass, side by side, on a piece of wood, I felt I could somehow put all the broken pieces of myself back together again too.

At that time, all kinds of broken things began to fascinate me. Broken shells on the beach, broken and discarded plastic cups in the park, trees with their branches broken off, broken sidewalks. When I discovered Kintsugi, the Japanese practice of piecing together broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer, I felt the hand of God pointing at me. Brokenness began to seem sacred.

There’s that famous poem by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Life is so fragile, and humans are such delicate creatures. Things can break in an instant. We have all lost things we can never recover, and broken things that can never be put back together again. Bodies get sick, milk spills, people mistreat you, relationships fade. The trick is learning how to be okay with all that brokenness. In being able to see the beauty behind it and within it.

I always hoped I’d find a cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I never really did. But what I did learn, was how to love myself despite my brokenness. I learned to become more present, since the present is all we really have. I learned how to sit with the inevitable pain of existence and not run away. I learned to love, fiercely, with the deep knowing that it will end. I learned how to show myself, and others, compassion.

Finally, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be fixed. I can be fragile and still have value. I can be broken and still be loved. In fact, I now see my fragility and brokenness as a strength. Unlike the selfish and brittle hardness of power, a whole lot of softness and love can come out of fragility. And by accepting my own fragility, I can teach others to love and accept theirs as well. That is truly a gift.