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Costus lucanusianus J.Braun & K.Schum.

Mitt. Deutsch. Schutzgeb. 2: 151 (1889).
Chromosome number
2n = 18, 27
Vernacular names
Spiral ginger (En). Canne d’eau (Fr).
Origin and geographic distribution
Costus lucanusianus is found in the forest belt from Guinea east to western Ethiopia and south to DR Congo. It has been introduced as an ornamental, mainly in the United States and South America. In Central Africa it is often planted in home gardens for medicinal purposes.
Costus lucanusianus is commonly used as a medicinal plant in tropical Africa. An infusion of the inflorescence is used to treat tachycardia and stomach complaints. A stem decoction, warmed stem sap or the pounded fruit are taken to treat cough, bronchitis and a sore throat; the stem is also mashed or chewed to treat cough. Leaf sap is acid and is used as eye drops to treat eye troubles and headache with vertigo, and in frictions to treat oedema and fever. Leaf sap is used as nose drops and leaf pulp is rubbed on the head to calm insanity. Stem sap is applied to treat urethral discharges, venereal diseases and jaundice, and to prevent miscarriage. Stem sap is rubefacient and burns on open wounds, but it is also anodyne and healing, and is applied to mumps and measles. Rhizome pulp is applied to abscesses and ulcers to mature them, and mixed with water it is taken to treat diarrhoea. A stem decoction is widely taken to treat rheumatism. The pulped stems taken in water are strongly diuretic. In Gabon stem sap is used as eye drops to control filariasis.
In Gabon young shoots are cooked and eaten as a substitute for those of Hibiscus sabdariffa L.; they have a slightly acid taste. Stem sap is used to coagulate latex. Costus lucanusianus is commonly used for ceremonial and religious purposes. It is sold in Western countries as an ornamental container plant.
The rhizomes of Costus lucanusianus yield 0.7% total steroidal sapogenins and 0.6% diosgenin. The juice from fresh stems of Costus lucanusianus showed a significant dose-related relaxation of rat duodenum and uterus in vitro.
Different extracts from the leaves did not show any antibacterial or antifungal activity, and different extracts from the rhizome tested negative for antitrypanosomal and antiplasmodial activity.
Adulterations and substitutes
The rhizomes of Costus lucanusianus contain a higher percentage diosgenin than those of Costus speciosus (Fenzl) K.Schum., from which diosgenin is isolated for the pharmaceutical industry.
Perennial, rhizomatous herb up to 3 m tall. Leaves arranged spirally, simple and entire; sheath tubular, closed, green with purple blotches; ligule 1.5–3 mm long, leathery, with a raised ridge, long-hairy; petiole 5–9 mm long; blade elliptical, 21–24 cm × 4.5–6 cm, base rounded to subcordate, apex acuminate, margin sparsely hairy, glabrous above, shortly hairy beneath. Inflorescence a very compact, terminal, globose spike 3.5–7.5 cm long, sessile; bracts oblong, convex, c. 2.5 cm long, densely imbricate, upper ones often smaller, apex truncate to rounded, green with purple markings, each subtending 1 flower; bracteoles boat-shaped, up to 2 cm long, keel thick and ridged, pale green with pink markings and thin pink papery margin. Flowers bisexual, zygomorphic, 3-merous; calyx tube 2–3 cm long, teeth 5–6 mm long, triangular, recurved, margin shortly hairy; corolla tube c. 2 cm long, hairy inside, enclosed by bract, lobes oblong, c. 2.5 cm long, hooded at apex, acute, semi-transparent to white, labellum (lip) broadly triangular, funnel-shaped, c. 3 cm × 3 cm, opposite the stamen, dark red towards the margin, with a central yellow line not extending into the corolla tube; stamen 1, free, petaloid, narrowly triangular, c. 2.5 cm × 1 cm, entire, white, tinged red at apex, anther 8–10 mm long, attached at the middle to the filament; ovary inferior, 3-celled, style 1, filiform. Fruit an ellipsoid capsule 1–1.5 cm long, dehiscing loculicidally, many-seeded. Seeds black, with white aril.
Other botanical information
Costus is pantropical and comprises about 70 species, of which about 40 species in tropical America, about 25 in tropical Africa and about 5 in South-East Asia. The African Costus spp. are much in need of revision, especially the large forest species which are difficult to collect for herbarium collections. Costus lucanusianus and Costus afer Ker Gawl. are closely related species, mainly differing in the form of the inflorescence, the number of flowers enclosed by the bracts and the colour of the flowers. In Costus lucanusianus the inflorescence is globose, each bract covers 1 flower and the corolla is white with a red lip and yellow throat, whereas in Costus afer the inflorescence is cone-like, each bract covers 2 flowers and the corolla is white with a yellow throat. In southern Nigeria Costus afer and Costus lucanusianus produce hybrids.
Several other Costus species have medicinal uses in the forest zone of Central Africa. In DR Congo the sap of the crushed stems of Costus dewevrei De Wild. & T.Durand is used as an enema or drunk to treat abdominal pain. The sap, fresh or as an infusion, is also taken or externally applied to treat cough, fever, venereal diseases and rheumatism. The Masango people in Gabon drink the filtrate of the ground stems and leaves of Costus ligularis Baker to treat cough. Costus phyllocephalus K.Schum. is important as a vegetable because of its edible shoots, but the leaf sap is also medicinally used in DR Congo to treat eye diseases, wounds and ulcers and it is applied as an enema to treat post-partum haemorrhoids. A root decoction is taken to treat epilepsy and mental disorders.
Growth and development
Costus lucanusianus is a vigorous grower. It flowers and fruits throughout the year, depending on the humidity of the soil.
Costus lucanusianus occurs in seasonally or permanently humid localities in forest, up to 1200 m altitude. In cultivation it prefers a humus-rich soil and partial shade.
Propagation and planting
Costus lucanusianus can be propagated by seed, and also by stem cuttings or rhizome cuttings. The stems and rhizomes are cut into pieces 2.5 cm long and planted in a mixture of sand and peat moss. Seeds lose their viability rapidly, and need to be sown fresh in a rich, moist soil under dense shade. Costus lucanusianus also reproduces asexually through plantlet formation on the inflorescence (vivipary), a characteristic absent in Costus afer. In-vitro storage of multiple shoot cultures of Costus lucanusianus was successful; after 1 year of storage under liquid paraffin, high survival rates (70–100%) were found.
When grown in a container, Costus lucanusianus requires frequent repotting to control its size.
The stems and rhizomes of Costus lucanusianus are harvested from the wild or from home gardens whenever the need arises.
Genetic resources
Costus lucanusianus is a common species in the forest zone of tropical Africa and not in danger of genetic erosion.
Costus lucanusianus is widely used as a medicinal plant in tropical Africa but little is known about the constituents and their pharmacological activities. This merits further research. The diosgenin content of the rhizome is very high, and seems to be economically competitive, compared to commercial diosgenin-producing plant species.
Major references
• Aweke, G., 1997. Costaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 6. Hydrocharitaceae to Arecaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 330–332.
• Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
• Edeoga, H.O. & Okoli, B.E., 1996. Apomictic behaviour in Costus afer - C. lucanusianus (Costaceae) complex in Nigeria. Feddes Repertorium 107(1–2): 75–82.
• Edeoga, H.O. & Okoli, B.E., 1997. Anatomy and systematics in the Costus afer - C. lucanusianus complex (Costaceae). Acta Phytotaxonomica et Geobotanica 48(2): 151–158.
• Foungbe, S., Kouassi, G., Kablan, J.B. & Marcy, R., 1991. Study of Costus lucanusianus: plant juice, fraction combinations and pharmacologic estimation of natural product total activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 33(3): 221–226.
• Lock, J.M., 1985. Zingiberaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 40 pp.
Other references
• Atindehou, K.K., Koné, M., Terreaux, C., Traoré, D., Hostettmann, K. & Dosso, M., 2002. Evaluation of the antimicrobial potential of medicinal plants from the Ivory Coast. Phytotherapy Research 16(5): 497–502.
• Atindehou, K.K., Schmid, C., Brun, R., Koné, M.W. & Traoré, D., 2004. Antitrypanosomal and antiplasmodial activity of medicinal plants from Côte d’Ivoire. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90(2): 221–227.
• Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
• Foungbe, S., Sawadogo, D. & Declume, C., 1987. Etude experimentale de l’activité utero-relaxante de Alstonia boonei (Apocynacées) et Costus lucanusianus (Zingiberacées) utilisés traditionnellement comme anti-abortifs en Côte d'Ivoire. Annales Pharmaceutiques Françaises 45(5): 373–377.
• Gassita, J.N., Nze Ekekang, L., De Vecchy, H., Louis, A.M., Koudogbo, B. & Ekomié, R. (Editors), 1982. Les plantes médicinales du Gabon. CENAREST, IPHAMETRA, mission ethnobotanique de l’ACCT au Gabon, 10–31 juillet 1982. 26 pp.
• Hepper, F.N., 1968. Zingiberaceae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 3, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Overseas Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 69–79.
• Lambert, N., Baccou, J.C. & Sauvaire, Y., 1988. Screening for diosgenin in rhizomes from 3 Costus species (C. deistellii, C. igneus, C. lucanusianus). Planta Medica 54(4): 366–367.
• Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
• Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Lock, J.M., 1985. Zingiberaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 40 pp.
G. Aweke
P.O. Box 4278, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Aweke, G., 2007. Costus lucanusianus J.Braun & K.Schum. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild and planted

flowering shoot.
Redrawn and adapted by Iskak Syamsudin

flowering plant habit

leafy branch with inflorescence