Saussurea involucrata: A review of the botany, phytochemistry and ethnopharmacology of a rare traditional herbal medicine

Wai-I. Chik, Lin Zhu, Lan-Lan Fan, Tao Yi*, Guo-Yuan Zhu, Xiao-Jun Gou, Yi-Na Tang, Jun Xu, Wing-Ping Yeung, Zhong-Zhen Zhao, Zhi-Ling Yu, Hu-Biao Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)
91 Downloads (Pure)


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Saussurea involucrata Matsum. & Koidz. is an endangered species of the Asteraceae family, growing in the high mountains of central Asia. It has been, and is, widely used in traditional Uyghur, Mongolian and Kazakhstan medicine as well as in Traditional Chinese Medicine as Tianshan Snow Lotus (Chinese). In traditional medical theory, S. involucrata can promote blood circulation, thereby alleviating all symptoms associated with poor circulation. It also reputedly eliminates cold and dampness from the body, diminishes inflammation, invigorates, and strengthens Yin and Yang. It has long been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cough with cold, stomach ache, dysmenorrhea, and altitude sickness in Uyghur and Chinese medicine. Aim of the review To comprehensively summarize the miscellaneous research that has been done regarding the botany, ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry, biological activity, and toxicology of S. involucrata. Method An extensive review of the literature was carried out. Apart from different electronic databases including SciFinder, Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), ScienceDirect that were sourced for information, abstracts, full-text articles and books written in English and Chinese, including those traditional records tracing back to the Qing Dynasty. Pharmacopoeia of China and other local herbal records in Uighur, Mongolian and Kazakhstan ethnomedicines were investigated and compared for pertinent information. Results The phytochemistry of S. involucrata has been comprehensively investigated. More than 70 compounds have been isolated and identified; they include phenylpropanoids, flavonoids, coumarins, lignans, sesquiterpenes, steroids, ceramides, polysaccharides. Scientific studies on the biological activity of S. involucrata are equally numerous. The herb has been shown to have anti-neoplastic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-oxidative, anti-fatigue, anti-aging, anti-hypoxic, neuroprotective and immunomodulating effects. Many have shown correlations to the traditional clinical applications in Traditional Chinese Medicine and medicines. The possible mechanisms of S. involucrata in treating various cancers are revealed in the article, these include inhibition of cancer cells by affecting their growth, adhesion, migration, aggregation and invasion, inhibition of epidermal growth factor receptor signaling in cancer cells, hindrance of cancer cell proliferation, causing cytotoxicity to cancer cells and promoting expression of tumor suppressor genes. Dosage efficacy is found to be generally concentration- and time-dependent. However, studies on the correlation between particular chemical constituents and specific bioactivities are limited. Conclusion In this review, we have documented the existing traditional uses of S. involucrata and summarized recent research into the phytochemistry and pharmacology of S. involucrata. Many of the traditional uses have been validated by phytochemical and modern pharmacological studies but there are still some areas where the current knowledge could be improved. Although studies have confirmed that S. involucrata has a broad range of bioactivities, further in-depth studies on the exact bioactive molecules and the mechanism of action are expected. Whether we should use this herb independently or in combination deserves to be clarified. The exact quality control as well as the toxicology studies is necessary to guarantee the stability and safety of the clinic use. The sustainable use of this endangered resource was also addressed. In conclusion, this review was anticipated to highlight the importance of S. involucrata and provides some directions for the future development of this plant.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-60
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Ethnopharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery

User-Defined Keywords

  • Saussurea involucrata
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Uyghur local medicine
  • Phytochemistry
  • Ethnopharmacology
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


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