Saussurea – Introduction, Health Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects of Indian Costus

Table of Contents

1. Post Introduction
2. What is Saussurea? 
3. Morphology
4. Chemical Compound
5. Habitat
6. Ayurvedic Properties of Saussurea 
7. Health Benefits & Uses
8. Side Effects of Indian Costus 

1. Post Introduction

Welcome to the realm of Saussurea, where the ancient wisdom of Indian Costus meets a world of potential health benefits and diverse applications. Known for its scientific name Saussurea lappa, this unique herb has traversed centuries, gracing traditional practices and offering a myriad of potential advantages.

In this post, we embark on a journey to uncover the secrets of Saussurea, delving into its historical significance, the array of benefits it offers, and the multifaceted ways it can contribute to your well-being. From its potential to support respiratory health and promote digestion to its role in enriching herbal remedies, Saussurea stands as a herb with a tapestry of virtues.

2. What is Saussurea?

Saussurea scientific name is Saussurea lappa, some other common names are costus, kuth, kustha, Amaya. It is one of the 11 ingredients in the Ketoret incense mentioned in the Talmud. The Romans used it both in culinary spices and perfume. Theophrastus listed it as one of the principal plants in perfumes of the time. Pliny mentions two varieties of costus, white and black. The white variety was considered more fragrant and came from an Arabic plant, Costus Specious Syn Arabica. The root which is the source of incense is yellow and the bark is white.

Saussurea Costus

It is known as Qust in Arabic and was used at the time of the Prophet Mohammed as a medicine and post-menstrual wash. The Oil prepared with Qust and olive oil was said to be effective as a muscle toner, with vinegar, it is effective in treating ringworm.

3. Morphology 

It is a tall, stout herb having an annual stem and perennial roots, it has large heart-shaped leaves, bluish, bluish-purple, or almost black flowers, and hairy fruits. The dried roots of the plant constitute the drug.

4. Chemical Constituent

The roots of the plant contain an essential oil, alkaloid saussurine, and a bitter resin. The resinoid, on distillation with superheated steam under reduced pressure yields essential oil. However, essential oil contains terpenes, aplotaxene, and sesquiterpenes. Costus is rich in resinoids, inulin, alkaloids, tannins, and sugars. Sesquiterpene lactones have been reported to be the major phytochemicals of this species. In Ayurveda, costus is an ancient rasayana, mentioned in the Atharvaveda as a remedy for excess jvara. Kushta was considered a divine plant, derived from heavenly sources because it grows high soma.


5. Habitat

Saussurea is indigenous to India, it occurs in Kashmir and adjoining areas at altitudes ranging from 2500 to 4000 meters. The plant has been extensively cultivated since the 1920s in the high-altitude Lahaul valleys of Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, and in the Garhwal region in the hill state of Uttarakhand, in the northern part of India. It is regarded locally as green gold and is a major non-timber forest product and an important source for locals, who also smoke the leaves with tobacco.

6. Ayurvedic Properties 

Saussurea, commonly known as "Kushta" in Ayurveda, refers to various species within the genus Saussurea. These plants are utilized for their potential therapeutic properties in Ayurvedic practices.

Ayurvedic properties associated with Saussurea:

1. Rasa (Taste): Saussurea is believed to have a bitter (Tikta) taste.

2. Virya (Potency): It is cooling in nature (Shita Virya).

3. Vipaka (Post-digestive taste): The post-digestive taste is pungent (Katu Vipaka).

4. Dosha Effects: Saussurea is often considered balancing for Pitta dosha and Kapha dosha, but its cooling nature can increase Vata dosha in excess.

Ayurvedic Uses:

  1. Digestive Health: Bitter herbs like Saussurea are valued for their potential to support digestion by stimulating digestive juices and promoting healthy absorption.

  2. Liver Health: Some Saussurea species are used to support liver function and detoxification.

  3. Respiratory Health: Saussurea is sometimes used to manage respiratory conditions, possibly due to its cooling and expectorant properties.

  4. Joint Health: Its cooling nature suggests potential benefits for supporting joint health and comfort.

  5. Skin Health: Saussurea may be used in Ayurvedic skincare formulations for its potential to promote healthy and clear skin.

7. Health Benefits and Uses

The plant is well-known both in Ayurvedic and Tibbi medicine, the root has a pungent taste and a peculiar fragrance. It contains aphrodisiac, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-cancer, and hepatoprotective properties. It strengthens the functioning of the stomach and promotes its action; it is also helpful in arresting secretion or bleeding.

It is beneficial to normalize and strengthen digestion, detoxify, enhance fertility, and reduce pain, the essential oil has antiseptic and disinfectant properties, and it helps to relax the involuntary muscle tissue and serves as a cardiac stimulant. It relieves flatulence and is a diuretic, it is also useful in removing catarrhal matter and phlegm from the bronchial tubes.

The root can be used to treat toothache, asthma, dysentery, skin disease, and rheumatism. The costus root oil is used in massage oils, body fragrances, laundry detergents, air fresheners, perfumes, diffusers, bath oils, soaps, and hair treatments. Ancient cloth merchants used costus oil to protect valuable silks and textiles from months.

Costus essential oil has an aroma often described as human hair or wet dog. As it ages, it develops a sweeter aroma with rosy undertones. It blends well with sandalwood, vetiver, rose, violet, patchouli, and floral fragrances like ylang-ylang, patchouli, opopanax, and myrrh.

Here are some health benefits and uses


This powerful aromatic stimulant is also useful in cholera, an infusion made of 3 grams of fresh Saussurea, 1 gram of cardamom and 120 ml of water can be administrated in 30-gram doses every half an hour in treating this condition. The essential oil in the herb produces reflex inhibition through its stimulating properties. It helps in controlling the disease, it is an irritant and has a strong penetrating, and persistent odor and taste. The depressant action of the drug on the brain helps in relieving the spasm.

Premature Greying of Hair

The dried and powdered root of the herb used as hair wash prevents premature greying of hair.

Respiratory Disorders

Saussurea is beneficial in treating respiratory disorders like bronchitis, and asthma and controlling attacks of bronchial asthma and cough. The combined action of the essential oil and the alkaloid in the root restricts the paroxysms. The alkaloid saussurine has a depressant action on the vagus centre in the medulla, which supplies motor nerve fiber, as well as on the involuntary muscle fibers of the bronchioles and gastrointestinal tract. It produces a slight but persistent rise in blood pressure and increases the contraction force and the ventricles' amplitude.

The essential oil not only relaxes the bronchial muscle but also has a marked expectorant action that relieves the mucosa's turgescence. It, however, does not produce a permanent cure unless the causal factors are investigated and removed.


Saussurea is useful for severe ulcerations, the dried and powdered root is the principal ingredient in any astringent and stimulant ointment.

Other Uses


In Indian indigenous medicine, saussurea is used as a tonic and as an aphrodisiac, during its passage through the urethra the essential oil extracted in the urine produces a certain amount of irritation, acting as a stimulant.

The root forms a valuable raw material for producing expensive perfumes, resembling violet perfume.

8. Side Effects of Saussurea

All Ayurveda herbs are plant-based and have no side effects, but they may react with some allopathy or homeopathy medicine. It is better to consult the doctor if you are on any medications or have unique health issues.

Overdose or wrong dose may cause some health problems like acidity, dermatitis, damage to kidneys, and cancer as it contains aristolochic acid. Some symptoms are upset stomach and diarrhea, it is hot and may cause an allergic reaction. Severe intake can also cause dermatitis and allergic reactions due to its high potency.

Saussurea herb is safe to use in limited and suggested quantities by Ayurvedic doctors, it is recommended that patient with diabetes should consult their doctors before consuming Kuth. Breastfeeding and pregnant women should not consume Kuth before consulting a doctor.


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