Costus is an endemic found only high altitude area in China. It is also known as Mu Xiang, which, literally translated, means “wood aroma.” Its whole plant, in particular the rhizome, is good for health. Thanks to its extraordinary medicinal uses on activating Chi energy flow, clinically it is considered one of the 50 essential Chinese herbs and mainly used for the treatment of diseases caused by blocked Chi (for example: stomachache). From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, stuck Chi is the root of many ailments. It can be used alone, but most of the time combined with other herbs to achieve better results. What’s more, it is an essential ingredient in manufacturing joss sticks or incense.
What is costus?
Since the main medicinal part of costus is the root, medicinally it refers to the dried root of Saussurea costus (Falc.) Lipsch. (Aucklandia lappa Decne.), a plant of the genus Saussurea in the family Asteraceae. By the way, another medicinal plant called Chuan Mu Xiang or Vladimiria souliei (Franch.) Ling has the similar medicinal properties. And TCM physicians call both species Mu Xiang and believe that they are with only minor differences on medicinal properties. And other names of this herb include putchock, Yun Mu Xiang, kushta, Radix Aucklandiae, Qing Mu Xiang, puchuk, radix saussureae lappae, koshet, costusroot, kuth, costus root, kut Aucklandia Root, koot, Guag Mu Xing, and so on.
Costus plant is a perennial herb, 1.5 to 2 meter in height. Principal root is large. Stems are sparsely pubescent. Cauline leaves are with long handle; blade is triangular-ovate or in the shape of long triangle, 30 to 100cm long, 15 to 30cm wide, and with cordate base. Capitulum is acrogenous and axillary, about 3cm in diameter; a few costus flowers often aggregate on the top of the stalk; phyllary is with about 10 layers; corolla is dark purple, 5-lobed; stamens are 5; inferior ovary has style that outstretches corolla. Achene is in the shape of long taper and with two layers of feathery pappus at the top. Bloom time is from July to August and the fruit time is from August to October. The habitats are alpine meadows and bushwood at an altitude of above 2500m. In mainland China it is mainly produced in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet. So far all of them are wild growing plants and not yet introduced by the artificial cultivation.
It contains costus essential oil and organic acids. Costus oil mainly contains dehydrocostus lactone, costunolide, saussureal, costuslactone, α-cyclocostunolide, alantolactone, isozaluzanin, and so on. Organic acids are 20 kinds of amino acids like sapartic acid, glutamic acid, glycine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, citrulline, etc. In addition, it still contains cholamine, saussureanine, picriside B, syringin, and more.
The costus health benefits has been known for thousands of years and it was first mentioned in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica), which is the earliest material medical extant in China. Today, it is extensively used for many conditions. The single herb is often used to treat anicteric hepatitis and chronic persistent hepatitis. And costus-based formulas treat cholecystitis, infantile enteritis, bacillary dysentery, colic, flatulence, peptic ulcer, Diarrhea Predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-D), and dysmenorrhea. Here are some examples.
(1). 34 cases of chronic atrophic gastritis were ever treated with the combination of costus root, Chai Hu (Bupleurum), Gua Lou Ren (Semen Trichosanthis), Ban Xia (Pinellia), Zhi Ke (Fructus Aurantii), etc. And the total effective rate was 94%.
(2). 96 cases of acute diarrhea were treated with Xiang Shen Zhi Xie Fang, which is the Combination of costus and Ku Shen (Sophora Flavescens). And the result showed that the total effective rate was 97.9%;
(3). Cholelithiasis was ever treated with the decoction consisting of Yin Chen Hao (Herba Artemisiae Scopariae), Jin Qian Cao (Gold Coin Grass), costus, Bupleurum, Fructus Aurantii, etc. And discharge rate for stones was more than 60%;
(4). Biliary colic was treated with Li Dan Tong Fu Jiao Nang, which is made of Da Huang (Rhubarb), costus, and Tian xian zi (Semen Hyoscyami). The total effective rate was 71.76%.
Modern pharmacological actions of costusroot
1. It has bidirectional effect, namely excitatory or inhibitory effect on the gastrointestinal tract;
2. It can promote the secretion of digestive juices;
3. It significantly antagonizes acute gastric mucosal injury by speeding up the gastrointestinal motility and promoting gastric emptying. And the ulcer inhibition rate (UIR) is 100%;
4. It has obvious choleretic effect;
5. It can relax tracheal smooth muscle;
6. It can inhibit the growth of Streptococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, and staphylococcus albus;
7. It is diuretic. And it promotes fibrinolysis.
Sample costus root herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica thinks it is spicy and bitter in flavor and warm in nature. It acts on meridians of liver, stomach, and large intestine. Prime functions are promoting Chi circulation to relieve pain and warming the middle warmer to harmonize the stomach. Vital costus uses and indications include abdominal bloating and pain, vomiting, borborygmus and diarrhea, tenesmus, uncomfortable flanks, and hepatobiliary pain. Recommended dosage is from 1.5 to 9 grams in decoction or 0.5 to 0.9 grams in powder. And it needs to be decocted later.
1. Mu Xiang Wan from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is matched with Fructus Aurantii, Rhubarb, Qian Niu Zi (Morning Glory Seed), and He Li Le Pi (Terminalia Chebula Peel) to treat fullness and distention in abdomen and flanks and sticky stool due to the attack from Chi.
2. Mu Xiang Bing Lang Wan from Ru Men Shi Qin (Confucians’ Duties to Serve Their Parents). It is used with Bing Lang (Betel Nut), Chen Pi (Citrus Peel), Huang Lian (Coptis Root), Xiang Fu Zi (Cyperus rotundus rhizome), etc. to cure aggradational body fluid and Chi, stabbing pain in flanks, failure to eat due to flatulence, and dizziness.
3. Da Xiang Lian Wan from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is couple with Coptis (Fried with cornel) to heal damp-heat diarrhea and tenesmus.
4. Dao Qi Tang from Yi Fang Jian Yi (Concise Explanation of Prescriptions). It is combined with Chuan Lian Zi (Chinaberry), Xiao Hui Xiang (Fennel Seed), and Wu Zhu Yu (cornel) to treat pain caused by hernia and testicular sagging.
Costus side effects and contraindications
The median lethal dose in rats is 300mg/kg of total lactone and 200mg/kg of dehydrocostus lactone. The maximum tolerated dose intravenously is 100mg/kg in mice and 90mg/kg in rats. Costus root oil mixed with feed had been given to male rat with the daily dosage of 1.77mg/kg and to female with 2.17mg/kg for consecutive 90 days. And the result showed that it had no effect on the growth, blood and blood urea nitrogen. In addition, no abnormality was found in the pathologic examination of main organs. TCM wise, it shouldn’t be used in the cases of yin deficiency or insufficiency of the body fluid.
(1). Hei Long Jiang Zhong Yi Yao (Heilongjiang Chinese Medicine & Medicinals), 1987;6:46;
(2). Hu Bei Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Hubei Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1992;6:9;
(3). Shan Dong Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Shandong Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1996;2:64;
(4). Shi Yong Zhong Yi Nei Ke Za Zhi (Journal of Practical Chinese Medicine Internal Medicine), 1988;3:115.