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Costus (mu xiang)

What is costus? What is it used for?

Also known as aucklandia, costus comes from the plant saussurea costus, a perennial that grows to about six feet in height and is native to northern India and Pakistan.

It has irregular, triangular-shaped leaves and dark blue or black florets, with brownish fruit. The plant's root is harvested and dried for use in herbal remedies, but the rest of the plant is used for a variety of substances. In Asia, costus is used by the food industry to flavor sweets and soft drinks, and as an ingredient in perfumes, shampoos and hair dyes.

The active ingredients in costus come from its essential oil. To obtain the oil, dried costus root is chopped and softened in warm water, then distilled with steam. The resulting mixture's active ingredients are then extracted, resulting in a yellow-brown fluid that has a musty odor.

Costus has been used as an herbal remedy in China and India for centuries. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is classified as acrid and bitter. It is often used, either as a standalone herb or as part of a formula, to treat digestive and respiratory problems such as nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; stomach pain and gas; asthma; and bronchitis. Some research suggests that costus extract may be effective against infections such as cholera and typhoid, and that it may kill intestinal parasites such as roundworms. In India, costus is sometimes applied externally or inhaled to open the bronchial passages.

How much costus should I take?

The amount of costus to be taken depends on the condition being treated. However, most herbalists and practitioners recommend 1.5-9 grams of a costus extract daily.

What forms of costus are available?

Costus extracts, powders and infusions may be found at specialty stores and Asian markets.

What can happen if I take too much costus? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

When used externally, costus can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals. It should not be used by patients who are yin deficient or dehydrated. At this time, there are no know drug interactions with costus.

As always, make sure to consult with a qualified health care provider before taking costus or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.


  • Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine. Seattle: Eastland Press, Inc., 1986.
  • Lawless J. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Rockport, MA: Element Press, 1995.
  • PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Press, 1998, pp. 227-228.
  • Powerful and Unusual Herbs from the Amazon and China. The World Preservation Society, Inc., 1993,1995.
  • Viswanathan P, Kulkarni PR. Properties and application of inulinase obtained by fermentation of costus (saussurea lappa) root powder with aspergillus niger. Nahrung 1995;39(4):288-294.
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