Saussurea costus, commonly known as costus or kuth, is a species of thistle in the genus Saussurea native to India. Essential oils extracted from the root have been used in traditional medicine and in perfumes since ancient times. Saussurea Costus falls within the Kingdom: Plantae, Phylum: Tracheophyta, Class: Magnoliopsida, Order: Asterales, Family: Compositae. The genus Saussurea belongs to Asteraceae which comprises about 300 species in the world (Bremer, 1994) of which 61 species are found in India. Aucklandia, also known as costus or Mu Xiang, is the root of the plant Saussurea costus. The root of the plant is the key part used for medicinal or homeopathic purposes.
It has a large number of names in other languages, including kustha in Sanskrit; kust or qust in Arabic and Persian; kut, kur, and pachak in Hindi and Bengali, kostum, gostham, and potchuk in Tamil; upaleta and kur in Gujarati; kot or kust in Punjabi; changala in Telugu; sepuddy in Malayalam; kostha in Kannada; kuth or postkhai in Kashmiri; and kosht (קשט) in Hebrew.
The plant is cultivated as a medicinal plant. Its growing region occurs mainly within India-Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir- its native place of origin. A study by Parmaret. al. 2012 explored the effect of altitude on seed germination and survival percentage, proving that high altitudes favoured high survival and seed germination percentages. This is why they thrive so abundantly in the Himalayan Region which is very mountainous. Cultivation is primarily focused upon the roots of the plants. Most of the roots are exported to China and Japan and as they serve as a big commodity for commerce in Kashmir. However, this type of trade is now being controlled by the state due to it being over-exploited. This plant has been greatly over-collected and recently was placed on the CITES I list of endangered species making it now illegal to dig them up for export.
It is usually found at elevations of 2,500 to 3,000 m (8,202.1 to 9,842.5 ft) asl in India; including the Himalayas, Kashmir, Jammu, Western Ghats, and the Kishenganga Valley. Its typical flowering season spans from July to August, with the seeds ripening from August to September. The plant can be grown in a wide variety of soils, ranging from light sandy, medium to heavy clay soils that are acid, neutral or basic, alkaline soils, preferring soils that are moist. The amount of sunlight the plant thrives upon can vary from semi-shaded (light woodland) areas or areas with no shade.
Saussurea costus is a classified as a perennial, with a typical growth of 1–2 m (3.3–6.6 ft) tall by 1 m (3.3 ft) wide. It has long lyrate leaves and heads of purple florets. The leaves take the shape of being auricled at base, with jagged, toothed patterns running down the sides of the leaves and are an average of 0.50–1.25 m (1.6–4.1 ft) long. The roots of the plant are stout and can travel up to 40 cm (16 in) in length.
The root of Saussurea costus has been used as an incense and perfume ingredient for thousands of years and is mentioned in rabbinical writings as kosht (Hebrew: קשט), reflecting its arrowhead shape. It was used in Ketoret which is used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It is also referred to as the Ketoret (incense). It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. The ketoret was an important component of the Temple service in Jerusalem.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the root is one of the 50 fundamental herbs. It has the name (Chinese: 云木香; pinyin: yún mù xiāng, meaning “wood aroma”). It forms a main ingredient in the Chinese pastille rods known as joss sticks. It is also used as incense.
In Ayurveda, the name Kushta refers to an ancient Vedic plant god mentioned in the Atharvaveda as a remedy for takman, the archetypal disease of excess or jvara (fever). In ancient India, Kushta was considered to be a divine plant derived from heavenly sources, growing high in the Himalayas, considered to be the brother of the divine Soma. In Ayurveda, Kushta is a rasayana for Vata, helping to normalize and strengthen digestion, cleanse the body of toxic accumulations, enhance fertility, and reduce pain.[unreliable medical source?] Its dried powder is the principal ingredient in an ointment for ulcers; it is also a hair wash.
Costus rhizome is used for curing woolen cloth in hill area of Uttarakhand.
Other common uses
An essential oil obtained from the roots is used in perfumery, incenses, and in hair rinses. It has a strong lingering scent that has the scent of violets at first, yet changes to a more unpleasant goat-like smell as it ages. The common form of the roots can be either found as an essential oil, a ground powder, or as a dried stick. Another use for the plant is within incense sticks. These sticks can be created from these roots by grinding the roots into a powder and then forming the stick structure. As well, the dried sticks are commonly found cut up into thin slices to be used as lightings for shrines or as tonics for hot baths.
The species was determined “readily available” in the markets of Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar, and Haridwar by a survey conducted by TRAFFIC India in 1997 and is considered one of the most common medicinal plants traded in Delhi. S. costus is so readily available and abundant that very large quantities can be procured on demand within markets and stores with their main customers being large and small pharmaceutical companies. According to CITES trade data, China and India are the main exporters of the product itself with Hong Kong following close behind as a noted re-exporter. China was the first documented trader of S. costus, with trade records dating back to 1981 and 1982. S. costus is the only Appendix I species which is significantly traded internationally for medicinal purposes. The species was included in Appendix II as early as 1975 and increased list placement in Appendix I with effect.
S. costus is one of the most threatened medicinal plants of Kashmir Himalaya. This species is threatened due to the unregulated collection, over-exploitation, illegal trade, and loss of habitat. Habitat loss continues due to road construction and military establishments in many of the cultivation areas, decreasing its yield globally. Habitat destruction in the form of recreational activities and urbanization is as well limiting its ability to be cultivated, again decreasing global yield of this product. Another influence heavily affecting the survival rate of this species is the uncontrolled grazing of yak. The biggest threat, however, comes from the usage of the plant for its medicinal properties. It is listed as “endangered” by the Red data book of Indian plants.[full citation needed] In another study, a camp workshop held in Lucknow assessed the plant as "Critically Endangered new" nationally in India, holding a population decline of 70% in the last 10 years.[full citation needed] Another CAMP workshop for northern India assessed it as "Critically Endangered new" in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Conservation efforts do exist to control the rate of depletion of the species. The legislations of Jammu and Kashmir have enforced a special Act, The Kuth Act, in 1978 for the regulation of trade of S. costus.
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- Genus Saussurea phytochemical and pharmacological: Yang J.L. Wang R. Liu L.L. Shi Y.P. "Phytochemicals and biological activities of Saussurea species. [Review]" [153 refs] Journal of Asian Natural Products Research. 12(2):162-75, 2010 Feb.
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- Caldecott, Todd (2006). Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life. Elsevier/Mosby. ISBN 0-7234-3410-7. Contains a detailed monograph on Saussurea lappa (Kushta) as well as a discussion of health benefits and usage in clinical practice. Available online at http://www.toddcaldecott.com/index.php/herbs/learning-herbs/300-kushta