Costus, Saussurea lappa is a thistle species that is native to South Asia, especially in Jammu, Kashmir, the Himalayas, the Kishenganga Valley, and Western Ghats. This perennial plant is characterized by purple floret heads and long lyrate leaves. The costus root is about a human finger’s size with a woody part that is yellowish. Costus is also used in Ayurvedic medicine in the treatment of skin diseases, gout, and respiratory disorders.
It is also known as Mokko, Kushtha, spiral ginger, Aplotaxis lappa, or Tabubungiau in the Philippines. Other vernacular names include:
English – Kuth, Indian Costus Root
Hindi – Kuth
Tamil – Koshtham
Telugu – Kushtam, Changaluva-Kosthu
Malayalam – Seyuddi, Kottam
Gujarathi – Upalet, Kudu
Bengali – Kood
Arabic – Kuste
Farsi – Kust-E-Talkh
Kannada – Koshta
Chinese – Mu Xiang
Costus has been mentioned in history many times and is believed to have been used in medicine for thousands of years. Pliny, the 1st century writer, described it as having a most exquisite odor and causing a burning taste in the mouth. He also added that the branches are useless.
Dioscorides, in his Materia Medica, wrote that costus has aphrodisiac qualities. Moreover, since ancient times, costus was traded from India and was also mentioned by Oribasius, Strabo, Theophrastus, and others. Costus, which was used in medicine, was also used to add a spicy flavor to wine.
Costus grows in high altitudes in the Kashmir region, the Himalayas, and in parts of China. The root’s oil and the root itself are used to manufacture medicine. The leaves can also be used to treat skin conditions like eczema and itching. To obtain costus oil, dried root of costus is chopped and softened in warm water. It is then distilled with steam. The resulting yellow-brown fluid mixture, which has a musty aroma, is then extracted.
Costus’ root is ridged, wrinkled, and stout. When dried, costus has a yellow or gray color, a diameter of 1 to 3 centimeters, and a length of about 8 to 12 centimeters. Aside from oil, the dried costus root can also be made into a powder to treat medical conditions. The dosage that is considered safe is 0.2 to 1 gram.
Costus contains organic acids and essential oil. The oil contains costunolide, dehydrocostus lactone, costuslactone, saussureal, alantolactone, o-cyclocostunolide, isozaluzanin, and many others. The organic acids contain 20 types of amino acids that include glutamic acid, aspartic acid, glycine, citrulline, and many others. Moreover, costus contains other substances like saussureanine, cholamine, syringin, picriside B, etc. Such substances contribute to costus’ many healing benefits, including the healing of certain medical conditions like:
- Skin diseases like itching and eczema
- Low immunity and cold cough
- Nerve weakness
- Low blood pressure
- Intestinal parasites
- Irregular periods, painful periods, and scanty menses
- Other skin ailments like non-healing wounds, acne, and pimples
Nowadays, costus, Saussurea lappa is also used to treat chronic persistent hepatitis and anicteric hepatitis. Costus-based formulas also treat diarrhea-predominant IBS-D (irritable bowel syndrome), peptic ulcers, flatulence, colic, bacillary dysentery, infantile enteritis, and cholecystitis.
Costus root’s contemporary pharmacological actions are:
- It can promote digestive juice secretion.
- It contains bio-directional effects, particularly inhibitory or excitatory, on the gastrointestinal tract.
- It can relax the smooth tracheal muscle.
- It promotes fibrinolysis and is a diuretic.
- It can stop the growth and spread of staphylococcus albus, staphylococcus aureus, and streptococcus.
- It antagonizes acute injury on the gastric mucosa by promoting gastric emptying and speeding up gastrointestinal motility.
Some of costus’ Ayurvedic uses and characteristics include:
- Energetics – heating
- Taste – bitter, pungent
- Effect on the doshas – Costus balances both kapha and vata
- Element – fire
In Ayurveda, costus’ oil is also used in massage to balance vata and the essential oil blends well with opopanax, patchouli, ylang ylang, or any other oil with floral or oriental fragrances.
The oil and powder derived from the costus root are antispasmodic, antiseptic, bactericidal, antiviral, digestive, carminative, expectorant, hypotensive, febrifuge, tonic, stomachic, and stimulant. Aside from being used in medicine, costus can also be used as a component in perfumes and fragrances, a fixative, and incense.
Even though costus is not directly added to dishes when cooking, it is nevertheless used in the food industry. The essential oil is a flavor ingredient, especially in soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, and confectionery.
Moreover, the humble costus, Saussurea lappa has everything you need to cure yourself of certain diseases and holds great value in Ayurveda.