Bupleurum roots (Chai Hu) Baikal skullcap roots (Huang Qin) Crow-dipper rhizomes (Ban Xia) Fresh ginger (Sheng Jiang)

Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Chinese: 小柴胡汤

Pinyin: Xiǎo Chái Hú Tāng

Other names: Minor Bupleurum Decoction

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula category: Formulas that harmonize lesser Yang-warp disorders

Conditions for which it may be prescribed: AnginaMalariaPleurisy and nineteen other conditions

  1. Treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer)
  2. Regulates the Liver and Spleen functions
  3. Addresses combined Yin-Yang symptoms of External and Internal, Excess and Deficiency, and Hot and Cold

Contraindications: This formula promotes the spreading out of Yang Qi, which can cause headache,... This formula promotes the spreading out of Yang Qi, which can cause headache, dizziness, and bleeding of the gums if taken long term. For the same reason, unless considerably modified, it is contraindicated in patients with Excess above and Deficiency below, Liver Fire, or bleeding of the gums. Use with caution in cases of ascendant Liver Yang, hypertension, or vomiting of blood due to Yin Deficiency. see more

Source date: 220 AD

Source book: Discussion of Cold Damage

Xiao Chai Hu Tang is a 7-ingredient Chinese Medicine formula with Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) as a principal ingredient.

Invented in 220 AD, it belongs to the category of formulas that harmonize lesser Yang-warp disorders. Its main actions are: 1) treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer) and 2) regulates the Liver and Spleen functions.

In Chinese Medicine health conditions are thought to arise due to "disharmonies" in the body as a system. These disharmonies are called "patterns" and the very purpose of herbal formulas is to fight them in order to restore the body's harmony.

In this case Xiao Chai Hu Tang is used by TCM practitioners to fight patterns like Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine, Lesser Yang stage or Half Exterior Half Interior. From a Western Medicine standpoint, such patterns can give rise to a range of conditions such as hepatitis, chronic cholecystitis or chronic gastritis for instance.

On this page, after a detailed description of each of the seven ingredients in Xiao Chai Hu Tang, we review the patterns and conditions that Xiao Chai Hu Tang helps treat.

The seven ingredients in Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Chai Hu is a king ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

1. Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu)

Part used: Dried root and rhizome

Nature: Cool

Taste(s): Bitter

Meridian affinity: GallbladderLiver

Category: Cool/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

Chai Hu is the most important herb for solving Lesser Yang-Warp disorders in the Chinese materia medica. Combined with the deputy herb, Baikal skullcap root (Huang Qin), which drains Heat from the Liver and Gallbladder (the Interior aspect of the Lesser Yang-Warp), it vents the pathogenic influence and thereby releases Lesser Yang-Warp disorders. It also spreads the Liver Qi with an ascending, cooling action (contrary to most cooling herbs, which cause things to descend). This combination thereby clears the Heat without causing it to sink deeper into the body.

Learn more about Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu)

Huang Qin is a deputy ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

2. Baikal Skullcap Roots (Huang Qin)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Cold

Taste(s): Bitter

Meridian affinity: GallbladderSpleenHeartLarge intestineLungSmall intestine

Category: Herbs that clear Heat and dry Dampness

In general Huang Qin's main actions are as follows: "Expels Heat and Dampness. Clears Upper Burner Heat, especially of the Lung. Clears Heat and stops reckless movement of Blood. Clears pathogenic Heat which is upsetting the fetus. Cools the Liver, reducing Liver Yang rising syndrome."

Learn more about Baikal Skullcap Roots (Huang Qin)

Ban Xia is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

3. Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia)

Part used: Dried rhizome and tuber

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachLung

Category: Warm herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

Ban Xia warms and transforms Phlegm and turbidity in the Middle Burner. When combined with another assistant herb in this formula, Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang), it harmonizes the Middle Burner, directs Rebellious Qi downward, and stops nausea and vomiting.

Learn more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia)

Sheng Jiang is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

4. Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

Part used: Fresh root

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Pungent

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachLung

Category: Warm/Acrid herbs that release the Exterior

In general Sheng Jiang's main actions are as follows: "Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning."

Learn more about Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

Ren Shen is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

5. Ginseng (Ren Shen)

Part used: Dried root

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): BitterSweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenHeartLung

Category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

Ren Shen works together with Liquorice (Gan Cao) and Jujube dates (Da Zao) to support the normal Qi and thereby prevent the pathogenic influence from penetrating to the Interior.

Learn more about Ginseng (Ren Shen)

Gan Cao is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

6. Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Part used: Dried root and rhizome

Nature: Neutral

Taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachHeartLung

Category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

In general Gan Cao's main actions are as follows: "Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs."

Learn more about Liquorice (Gan Cao)

Da Zao is an assistant ingredient in Xiao Chai Hu Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

7. Jujube Dates (Da Zao)

Part used: Dried ripe fruit

Nature: Warm

Taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomach

Category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

In general Da Zao's main actions are as follows: "Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach Qi. Tonifies the Blood. Calms the Shen (spirit). Moderates the actions of other herbs in formula."

Learn more about Jujube Dates (Da Zao)

Conditions and patterns for which Xiao Chai Hu Tang may be prescribed

It's important to remember that herbal formulas are meant to treat patterns, not "diseases" as understood in Western Medicine. According to Chinese Medicine patterns, which are disruptions to the body as a system, are the underlying root cause for diseases and conditions.

As such Xiao Chai Hu Tang is used by TCM practitioners to treat four different patterns which we describe below.

But before we delve into these patterns here is an overview of the Western conditions they're commonly associated with:

Hepatitis Chronic cholecystitis Chronic gastritis Peptic ulcers Pancreatis Pneumonia Pleurisy Upper respiratory tract infections Tonsillitis Conjunctivitis Malaria Perimenstrual fevers Bronchial asthma Epilepsy Angina Allergic rhinitis Premenstrual syndrome Migraine Intercostal neuralgia Periaural eczema Parotiditis Mastitis

Again it wouldn't be correct to say "Xiao Chai Hu Tang treats hepatitis" for instance. Rather, Xiao Chai Hu Tang is used to treat patterns that are sometimes the root cause behind hepatitis.

Now let's look at the four patterns commonly treated with Xiao Chai Hu Tang.

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

Symptoms: Weight loss Loose stools Vomiting of watery fluids Splashing sound in the stomach Feeling of fullness in the chest Abdominal distention and fullness Dry tongue and mouth with desire to drink

Xiao Chai Hu Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine. This pattern leads to symptoms such as abdominal distention and fullness, vomiting of watery fluids, dry tongue and mouth with desire to drink and splashing sound in the stomach. Patients with Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine typically exhibit deep (Chen), slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with sticky coating.

Phlegm-Fluids is a type of Substantial Phlegm characterized by white, very watery and thin sputum. It can sometimes actually be heard splashing in the body. 

Phlegm-Fluids in Stomach and Intestines simply refers to a pattern whereby Phlegm-Fluids accumulates in those Organs. It often does so... read more about Phlegm-Fluids In the Stomach and Small intestine

'Yang' as a body pattern in Chinese Medicine is one of the so-called "Eight Principles". Learn more about Yang in Chinese Medicine

Lesser Yang stage

Xiao Chai Hu Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Lesser Yang stage. This pattern leads to symptoms such as alternating fever and chills, bitter taste in the mouth, dry throat and blurred vision. Patients with Lesser Yang stage typically exhibit wiry (Xian) or fine (Xi) pulses.

This is the pattern of the Lesser Yang stage, the third stage of the Six Stages theory

At this stage the External Pathogen has penetrated to the level of the Gallbladder channel.

Its main characteristic is that it's a stage that oscillates between the Bright Yang and Greater Yang stages and... read more about Lesser Yang stage

The Exterior in Chinese Medicine is one of the so-called "Eight Principles". Learn more about Exterior in Chinese Medicine

Half Exterior Half Interior

Xiao Chai Hu Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Half Exterior Half Interior. This pattern leads to symptoms such as chest fullness, bitter taste in the mouth, dry cough and anxiety. Patients with Half Exterior Half Interior typically exhibit wiry (Xian) pulses.

The differentiation of Exterior and Interior is not made on the basis of what caused the condition, but on the basis of the location of the disease. The Exterior mainly refers to skin, muscles and channels, while the Interior refers to deeper levels such as internal Organs. 

When the Exterior... read more about Half Exterior Half Interior

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Tight (Jin)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Pale

Symptoms: Coughing Dizziness Headaches Depression Moving pain Listlessness Hypochondrium fullness

Xiao Chai Hu Tang is sometimes prescribed by TCM practitioners to treat Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation. This pattern leads to symptoms such as coughing, hypochondrium fullness, dizziness and headaches. Patients with Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation typically exhibit empty (Xu) or tight (Jin) pulses as well as a normal (light red), pale tongue with thin white coating.

Learn more about Lung Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation

Formulas similar to Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang is 71% similar to Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang is 71% similar to Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Mai Men Dong Tang is 57% similar to Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang is 57% similar to Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang is 50% similar to Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang is 50% similar to Xiao Chai Hu Tang