Herb: Costus


Latin name: Saussurea costus


Synonyms: Saussurea lappa


Family: Compositae



Medicinal use of Costus:

Costus is a commonly used medicinal herb in China and is considered to be one of their 50 fundamental herbs. It is also used in Ayurvedic medicine where it is valued mainly for its tonic, stimulant and antiseptic properties. It is said to be aphrodisiac and to be able to prevent the hair turning grey. The root is anodyne, antibacterial, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, carminative, skin, stimulant, stomachic, tonic and vermifuge. It is used internally in the treatment of abdominal distension and pain, chest pains due to liver problems and jaundice, gall bladder pain, constipation associated with energy stagnation, and asthma. The root is harvested in the autumn or spring and either dried for later use or decocted for the essential oil. It is normally used with other herbs. The root is also used in Tibetan medicine where it is considered to have an acrid, sweet and bitter taste with a neutral potency. It is used in the treatment of swelling and fullness of the stomach, blockage and irregular menses, pulmonary disorders, difficulty in swallowing and rotting/wasting of muscle tissues. An oil from the root is very beneficial in the treatment of rheumatism.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Perennial


Height:
3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

Flovering:
July to
August


Scent:
Scented
Perennial

Habitat of the herb:

A casual in irrigated areas, 2000 - 3300 metres from Pakistan to Himachel Pradesh. Usually found in moist shady situations in Kashmir, sometimes forming the undergrowth in birch forests.

Edible parts of Costus:

The aromatic root is sometimes used as a spice. It has a characteristic penetrating odour reminiscent of violet, orris and vetiver.

Other uses of the herb:

An essential oil obtained from the roots is used medicinally, in perfumery, incenses and as a hair rinse when it is said to darken grey hair. It has a strong lingering scent. The smell is at first like violets, but as it ages it can become more fur-like or eventually become unpleasantly goat-like. The roots are cut into lengths about 8cm long and then dried before being exported. Smaller pieces of the root are ground into a powder and then used to make incense sticks. The longer clean pieces are cut into very thin slices and then burnt at shrines or used as a tonic in hot baths.

Propagation of Costus:

Seed - we have no information for this species but suggest sowing the seed in a cold frame in the spring. Surface sow, or only just cover the seed, and make sure that the compost does not dry out. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out in late spring after the last expected frosts. Division in spring might be possible.

Cultivation of the herb:

A casual in irrigated areas, 2000 - 3300 metres from Pakistan to Himachel Pradesh. Usually found in moist shady situations in Kashmir, sometimes forming the undergrowth in birch forests.

Known hazards of Saussurea costus:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.