Saussurea lappa (Kuth): Introduction, Scientific classification, Origin, Discovery, Description, Phytochemistry and Uses

Saussurea lappa (Kuth): Introduction, Scientific classification, Origin, Discovery, Description, Phytochemistry and Uses


Saussurea lappa, commonly known as Kuth or Costus, is a perennial medicinal plant that holds a significant place in traditional herbal medicine systems due to its various therapeutic properties. Kuth (Saussurea lappa) is a herb belonging to the family Asteraceae. The genus Saussurea contains a range of about 300 species native to regions of Asia, Europe, and North America. The essential oil content of aromatic plants varies considerably between species, relating to growing conditions and the region where it is found. The majority of essential oil is concentrated in roots while other parts also contain a small amount of volatile oil. S. lappa has a huge demand in the pharmaceutical industry, but in the past decades, it has become more popular over the globe as endangered species.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Plantae

Phylum: Angiosperms

Class: Eudicots

Order: Asterales

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Saussurea

Species: Saussurea lappa

Common Name: Costus, Kushta, Kuy or Kur, Kostum, Potchuk, Kot/Kust and Minal


Saussurea lappa is local to frosty, cool and temperate areas of North America, the Himalayas, Central Asia, Europe and certain Asian Countries (Pakistan, China, and India). It grows best in moist sloppy areas of the northern Himalayas at an altitude of 2438-3962 meters above sea level. In Pakistan, it is wild in Azad Kashmir and Kaghan.


Saussurea lappa is indigenous to the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, extending from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Nepal and Bhutan. It thrives in rocky, alpine environments and is well adapted to withstand the challenging climatic conditions of these regions.


The use of Saussurea lappa in traditional medicine systems dates back centuries. It has been an integral part of Ayurvedic medicine, Tibetan medicine, and other indigenous healing practices of the Himalayan communities. The plant’s medicinal properties were recognized by these cultures long before modern scientific research shed light on its chemical composition and therapeutic potential.


1. Saussurea lappa is characterized by its robust, herbaceous growth habit and large, lance-shaped leaves that are covered with fine hairs.

2. Saussurea lappa is a straight, pubescent, stout, and perennial plant, with a 1 to 2m long robust stem.

3. Its most valuable part is the underground rhizome, which is thick, fleshy, and aromatic. The rhizome stores a wealth of secondary metabolites that contribute to the plant’s medicinal effects.

4. Leaves are membranous, irregularly toothed, and auricled at the base. Basal leaves are 0.5 to 1.25m in length with long petioles while, upper leaves are sub-sessile and small, having two tiny lobes at the bottom.

5. Flowers; sessile, purplish-blue to black, tough, curved, present in the form of clusters of 2-5 flowers in leaf axils. Corolla: 0.02 m long, black, tubular. Anther tails fimbriate. Pappus: fluffy, brown.

6. Roots: 0.4m long, robust, grey or brown.

7. Saussurea lappa requires a mild-cold and arctic environment for growth. Cultivation is usually through seeds. The optimum temperature for seed germination is 20o C.

8. Plants are adaptable to very harsh climates and grow at extremely high altitudes. They require a winter rest period of 8 – 9 months and flourish best in humus-rich and well-drained loamy soil.

9. The flowering stems of Saussurea lappa bears attractive purple or bluish flowers that are arranged in dense clusters, adding to the plant’s aesthetic appeal.


The pharmacological effects of Saussurea lappa can be attributed to its complex phytochemical profile. The rhizomes of the plant contain various bioactive compounds, including sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids, polysaccharides, essential oils, and lignans. One of the key components is dehydrocostus lactone, a sesquiterpene lactone that exhibits anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-modulatory properties. These phytochemicals work synergistically to provide a wide range of health benefits.


1. Traditional Medicine: Saussurea lappa has been traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments. It is known for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-arthritic properties. It is often used to alleviate joint pain, muscle soreness, and other inflammatory conditions.

2. Digestive Health: The plant’s rhizome is used to address digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating, and loss of appetite. It is believed to stimulate digestive enzymes and promote better digestion.

3. Respiratory Conditions: Saussurea lappa is used in herbal remedies for respiratory disorders like asthma, bronchitis, and cough. Its expectorant properties help to clear respiratory passages.

4. Immune System Support: Some traditional systems of medicine utilize Saussurea lappa to enhance immune system function and increase overall vitality.

5. Skin Disorders: The plant’s extracts have been employed in topical treatments for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-pruritic effects.

6. Aromatic and Perfumery Uses: The essential oil extracted from the rhizome is valued for its pleasant aroma and is used in perfumes and aromatic products.

It’s important to note that while Saussurea lappa has a rich history of traditional use, its efficacy and safety should be further studied through modern scientific research and clinical trials to validate its potential health benefits and to establish appropriate dosage guidelines.

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