What Is Saussurea?

An ancient herb said to improve heart and liver health, more research is needed

Saussurea capsules, powder, and dried whole root

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Saussurea is a flowering plant related to the thistle. It has been used for centuries in Tibetan medicine, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and Ayurveda, a healing practice with roots in India to treat inflammation, prevent infection, relieve pain, and more. However, the plant has not been studied enough in humans to prove it has any of these benefits.

Also Known As

There are over 300 species of Saussurea. Many of those used in traditional medicine have other names:

  • Costus root
  • Kuth root
  • Kushta (Ayurveda)
  • Mokkou (Japanese)
  • Mu Xiang (traditional Chinese medicine)
  • Saw-wort
  • Snow lotus
  • Qist al Hindi (Indian)

What Is Saussurea Used For?

Saussurea contains compounds called terpenes that can relieve pain and inflammation. They work by suppressing an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). This is the same enzyme non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) target.

In alternative medicine, Saussurea is used to prevent or treat an array of health conditions, including:

Saussurea has also been shown in test-tube studies to neutralize bacteria that can cause serious infections. They include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Heart Health

Saussurea may have some benefits for the heart, although it isn't clear how the plant does so.

In one study, for example, researchers used chemicals to induce angina—pain that occurs when the heart doesn't get enough oxygen—in rats. The researchers then gave one set of rats an extract of Saussurea lappa (S.lappa), one of the varieties of Saussurea used most often in traditional medicine.

The rest of the rats did not get S. lappa. After 28 days, the rats treated with S. lappa showed no signs of myocardial infarction—injury to the heart muscle—while the untreated rats did.

A similar study found rabbits who got three doses of an S. lappa extract had better blood flow to the heart and a slower heart rate than untreated rabbits. This effect was similar to that seen in rabbits treated with digoxin and diltiazem, medicines often prescribed to treat certain heart conditions..

Liver Inflammation

A few animal studies found S. lappa might benefit the liver. In one, researchers used chemicals to cause mice to develop hepatitis. They then treated some of the mice with S. lappa and left others untreated.

Compared to untreated mice, those who got S. lappa had less liver inflammation and better liver enzymes.

Mice given S. lappa before hepatitis was induced also had less inflammation and better liver enzymes. This may mean S. lappa may protect a healthy liver from disease.

Intestinal Worms

S. lappa has long been used in traditional medicine to treat worm (nematode) infections. There's been only one study looking at whether the plant actually does get rid of worms in humans and it was published some time ago, in 1991.

For the study, 36 children with pinworms, which infect the intestines, were given S. lappa. A study published in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association in 1991 reported that a single dose of S. lappa extract was just as effective as Combantrin (pyrantel pamoate) in treating 36 children with intestinal pinworm infections.

Despite the positive findings, there have been no subsequent published studies to further support this research.

Possible Side Effects

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers Saussurea lappa safe when taken as a dietary supplement. Common side effects include dizziness and nausea.

Saussurea is a member of the daisy family and may cause allergy in people allergic to artichoke, asters, common burdock, cosmos, chrysanthemums, dahlias, daisies, dandelions, ragweed, thistles, and zinnias. 

Saussurea has not been studied in women who are pregnant, so if you're pregnant or breastfeeding it is best not to take Sausseria.

It isn't known if Saussurea interacts with other drugs or supplements. If you're thinking of trying it, talk to your doctor first. Go over any prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, or recreational drugs you take to make sure Saussurea is safe for you.


A common concern about Saussurea is that manufacturers often substitute it with the root of the Aristolochia plant. Aristolochia contains a compound known as aristolochic acid that can cause kidney damage and cancer, in particular bladder cancer.

For this reason, the FDA has banned Aristolochia Even so, TCM practitioners consider it to be interchangeable with Saussurea to be interchangeable, so it's not uncommon to find it in many Chinese herbal remedies labeled Saussurea.

Saussurea dried root
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection and Preparation

Saussurea is sold almost exclusively In the United States, Saussurea is mostly sold in dried form, as a powder, in capsules, or as whole roots. It's also found as a liquid, either an extract or a tincture, which means it has an alcohol base.

Saussurea is included in many multi-ingredient formulations, including Mu Xiang Shu Qi Wan tablets used in traditional Chinese medicine.

There are no dosing guidelines for Saussurea. In the only human study of the supplement, children were given 40 milligrams (mg) of S. lappa per kilogram of body weight per day with no side-effects. For a 150-pound adult, that would translate to a little 2,700 mg per day.

As a general rule, never exceed the dose listed on the product label.

Saussurea powders and liquids, typically mixed with water or juice, should be measured precisely with a measuring spoon or dropper. Saussurea root is commonly used to make teas and decoctions, although there is no way to accurately measure the dose you are getting from these.

Saussurea essential oil made from the plant root is used in aromatherapy and to make fragrances, incense, and scented candles. It is not intended for internal use.

Because Saussurea supplements rarely undergo quality testing (and are not required to do so by the FDA), there is really no way to know for sure if a product is authentic or pure.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, some Chinese and Ayurvedic remedies have been known to be tainted with drugs, heavy metals, pesticides, and undeclared animal or plant products.

To be safe, only buy products that are labeled "aristolochic-acid-free." This will provide you some assurance that the manufacturer has adhered to FDA regulations.

Is Saussurea Endangered?

Only S. costus is currently classified as endangered. But both Saussurea lappa and Saussurea costus are threatened due to the unregulated collection and illegal trade of the medicinal plant.

Saussurea is especially prized in Tibetan and traditional Chinese medicine and is among the most sacred plants in India, where it is used to pay homage to the goddess Nanda Devi. These factors drive demand for the plant as well as high market prices.

Among the most prized species is the Himalayan snow lotus (Saussurea asteraceae), which is grown at altitudes of 12,000 feet. Because the root is so valued, the entire plant has to be pulled from the soil rather than just the leaves or blossoms.

This has led to a decrease in an evolutionary size of snow lotus from the previous century. Because smaller Saussurea plants produce fewer seeds, continued consumption could push the plant to the brink of extinction unless conservation efforts are made.

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11 Sources
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