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Kutki is strong anti-inflammatory, particularly within the musculoskeletal system


Picrorrhiza kurroa Scrophularaceae

Kutki is a very bitter root that has wonderful anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It grows in the freezing climate of the Himalayas and evidently absorbs some of this ‘cooling’ property from its surrounding environment. Katuka literally means ‘pungent’ which is strange as it is a very bitter tasting herb.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Critically endangered in the wild. Listed on CITES or National Red Lists. Read more about our sustainability guide.

The sustainability status of Kutki:

CITES Appendix 2

Potential replacement(s): Andrographis, Barberry,

Key benefits
  • Counteracts effects of cold on the body
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • How does it feel?

    Kutki is a perennial herb confined to the alpine Himalayas, growing at altitudes of between 2500 and 3600 metres. It is a small, woody herb with a curved and irregular-looking root. The leaves appear to have serrated edges and grow to between 5-10cm in length. The flowers are very small, oblong and displayed in spikes with a dark violet colouring. Picrorhiza kurroa is an endangered plant species, presently CITES Appendix 2 listed and suppliers must have a certificate to prove source of cultivation

  • What can I use it for?

    Constituents found in kutki have been found to protect the liver from drug-induced injury, providing strong hepato-protective qualities. Kutki also decreases levels of bilirubin, improving recovery rates from conditions such as jaundice.

    Kutki is a strong immune-modulatory agent that modulates antibody and macrophage activity and also the non-specific immune response. It is also a strong anti-bacterial. In the respiratory system, kutki has demonstrated the ability to reduce the severity and longevity of asthmatic attacks and has been attributed to compounds such as androsin and apocynin.

    The constituent’s kutkin, picroside and kutkoside have demonstrated strong anti-inflammatory activity, particularly within the musculoskeletal system.

  • Into the heart of kutki

    Kutki has been used for many centuries in various medicinal cultures across India, Greece and Arabia. Kutki is traditionally used as a hepatoprotective, antiasthmatic, immunomodulator and anti-inflammatory. It has an incredibly bitter taste, which is indicative of its activity in the liver.

    Kutki is most widely recognised for its protective and regenerative effects upon the liver, protecting against long-term damage and bacterial infection that can be influenced by chronic drug consumption or abuse. Kutki will also improve circulation within the liver, ensuring that it is working and metabolising efficiently, supporting detoxification. Its stimulating effect upon the liver means that kutki also stimulates digestive metabolism and can be quite purging and clearing for the bowels, particularly where there is chronic congestion or toxicity.

    Its profound effect upon the immune system, the allergic response and strong anti-inflammatory activities, make kutki an excellent choice for those with autoimmune based conditions and hypersensitivities such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic asthma and Crohn’s disease.

    Kutki protects the liver against damage from the hepatitis virus. It increases the flow of bile and reduces such bilious symptoms such as sour or bitter tastes in the mouth, acidity and nausea. It is used in all forms of liver damage, cirrhosis and inflammation of the liver.

    Kutki clears heat from the blood and can benefit the heart; especially palpitations.

    Kutki’s anti-inflammatory effect is used for immune reactions and hypersensitivity to environmental allergens; asthma, rhinitis, eczema with signs of heat. It is also used in bronchial asthma for its expectorant properties.

    It is indicated in auto-immune conditions as an immune stimulant with inflammation; arthritis, psoriasis, acute and chronic infections. Clinical trials for inflammatory and allergic conditions showed significant improvements.

    Low dose (less than 1g/day) can increase digestive metabolism and peristalsis. Large doses will purge the bowel. It scrapes toxic accumulations from the intestines and blood. This scraping action is also used to clear fat from the body.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • Did you know?

    Kutki was once known as Dhanwantarigrasta ‘the plant that was administered by Dhanwantari’. Dhanwantari is one of the fathers of Ayurveda and often referred to as the ‘God of medicine’.

Additional information

  • Interactions

    No drug herb interactions are known.

  • Dosage

    500mg–2g/day dried root or 3–12ml/day of a 1:3 in 25% tincture

kutki illustration
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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