Aucklandia, also known as costus or Mu Xiang, is the root of the plant Saussurea costus. Aucklandia has been used for centuries in Chinese and Indian herbal healing. More recently it has been used in Western aromatherapy.
Aucklandia comes from a perennial plant that grows to about 6 ft (2 m) in height. It is native to northern India and Pakistan. This plant is also cultivated in other parts of India and in southwest China. The long, tapering root is harvested and dried for healing.
In some regions of Asia, several other species of plant are used interchangeably with Saussurea costus. These include Saussurea lappa and Saussurea vladimirus. Locally, aucklandia is also called kuth, kust, kushta, qust-e-shereen, and patchak.
Aucklandia is used in China and India to treat three main categories of complaints that center around the digestive system, the lungs, and infections. Aucklandia is used to treat symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, colon spasms, poor digestion, abdominal gas, and stomach pain. In laboratory studies, aucklandia has been shown to be an antispasmodic, accounting for its effectiveness against such symptoms as nausea and diarrhea. It is also sometimes used to treat gallstones and jaundice, although no scientific studies have confirmed its effectiveness for these uses.
Aucklandia is used in many places in Asia to treat asthma, bronchitis, and uncontrolled cough. The anti-spasmodic component of the root extract causes the airways to relax and open more widely so that breathing becomes easier. This same property causes it to mildly lower blood pressure by relaxing the artery walls. However, it does not lower blood pressure as effectively as some other herbs.
In India, aucklandia is used primarily as an antiseptic, an insecticide, and a fungicide. It is also said to be effective against yeast infections. Some research suggests that aucklandia may be effective against infections such as cholera and typhoid.
A 1991 study published in the Journal of the Pakistani Medical Association found that oral doses of an extract of the root of Saussurea lappa significantly reduced nematode infestation in children. Nematodes are parasitic roundworms. Another 1998 study done in Korea found that an extract of Saussurea lappa killed tiny brine shrimp. One compound isolated in the brine shrimp investigation is known to be moderately effective in killing some types of human tumor cell types in laboratory settings. It appears that the use of aucklandia as an antiseptic has some basis in scientific fact.
Other uses of aucklandia that have not been investigated in regulated scientific studies include using it as a treatment for water retention and lung tumors. In addition to its medicinal uses, aucklandia is a fragrance and fixative in perfumes, shampoo, and hair dye. It is used in the Asian food industry to flavor alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and sweets.
Aucklandia can be prepared as either a distilled extract or as an essential oil. The dried roots are chopped fine and softened in warm water, then distilled with steam. The resulting water-based distillate is then subjected to a solvent extraction to remove the active ingredients. The resulting yellow-brown fluid has a long-lasting woody or musty odor. In Chinese medicine, aucklandia is classified as acrid and bitter.
Aucklandia is used in formulas to treat both digestive and respiratory complaints. The best known of these formulas is Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan. It is used to relieve pain and encourage digestion. Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan is also used to treat chronic hepatitis, newly developed cirrhosis of the liver, and abdominal pain. This formula is commercially available as pills, with the recommended dose of eight pills twice a day.
Several other common formulas contain aucklandia. Ginseng and longan formula (Gui Pi Tang) is used to treat gastrointestinal upsets and various kinds of physical and emotional stress. Rhubarb and scutellaria formula (Li Dan Pian) is used to treat gallstones. Tang Gui and indigo formula (Chien Chin Chih Tai Wan) is used to treat vaginal discharge and vaginal infections, as well as lower body pain.
The oil of aucklandia is more commonly used in India than in China, and it is also used in Western aromatherapy. It is applied externally or inhaled. The oil also is used by the cosmetic and perfume industry, where it blends well with other fragrances such as patchouli and floral fragrances.
In Chinese medicine, aucklandia should not be used by people with deficient yin, which means people who are dehydrated or have a lot of dryness.
When used externally, aucklandia causes skin irritation (contact dermatitis) in some sensitive individuals.
Aucklandia has been used safely in Asia as a medicinal herb and a food and cosmetic additive for centuries. It is often used in conjunction with other herbs with no reported interactions. Since aucklandia has been used almost exclusively in Asian medicine, there are no available studies of its interactions with Western pharmaceuticals.
Lawless, Julia. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Rockport, MA: Element, 1995.
Molony, David. Complete Guide to Chinese Herbal Medicine. New York: Berkeley Books, 1998.
American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM). 433 Front Street, Catasauqua, PA 18032. (610) 266-2433.