Ru-rta - aromatic root of East

This plant is very often mentioned in Tibetan prescriptions. It is included into well-known compositions such as Khyung-lnga, Ru-rta-drug-pa, Li-shi-drug-pa, A-gar-brgyad-pa, Srog-'dzin-bchu-gchig, Skran-'djoms-zla-bsil, A-gar-so-lnga and many others. Due to its nice and strong smell this root is used also in Tibetan incense. In ShP it is mentioned that "both kinds of ru-rta are very aromatic, they are considered to be the chief in the world of insence". Due to the wide range of effects and often application, it is natural that in different traditions and places Tibetan doctors and pharmacologists use different plants under the name of ru-rta. This article is an attempt to investigate and to systemize available information about this raw material, on the basis of written sources and oral tradition.

Name and species: ma-nu-ru-rta. This is the common name for two kinds of ru-rta that is given in ShP. It is translated as "pleasant for spirit" (ShP). Now the most common name in prescriptions is reduced to ru-rta. It is pronounced as "ru ta" with brief "u". In Mongol and Buryat pronunciation it sounds like "ru da".
There are two kinds of ru-rta: ru-rta-nag-po (sha-pho-ru-rta). It is black or "deer" ru-rta. Such a name that was found in prescriptions was attributed to it, because the roots of this kind of ru-rta "... are empty like horns of the deer " (ShP) and "... look like broken horns of the deers ..." (VO). And ru-rta-dkar-po (khams-kyi-ru-rta, khams-ru) - white or khams ru-rta.
Other names: rab-tu-iod-'ong [favourable for mind], kha-lo-yid-'ong [good for mind concentration], mdze-chan [containing "mdze"], ro-ga (MTMD). Khyab-byed [penetrating or piercing], dbyug-pas-mtshan, smin-ldan [perfect], 'od-'bar-ma [shining flame] (KM).
In hindi sha-pho-ru-rta is called kath, uplet, kut, kuth, karvi (MTMD).
In Chinese: 云木香 yun mu xiang (AK) or 木香 mu xiang (DSh).
Khams-kyi-ru-rta in Chinese: 川木香 chuan mu xiang (AK).
One of the substitutes applicable in Mongol and Buryat tradition, Echinops latifolius (broadleaf echinops, daurian echinops) in Chinese is called 蓝刺头 lan ci tou, and its roots are called 禹州漏芦 yu zhou lou lu (
Original material is : sha-pho-ru-rta – Saussurea lappa (Aucklandia lappa), saussurea (roots) (AK, DP, DSh, DTM, MTMD, TD, TDD, etc.). Khams-kyi-ru-rta – Vladimiria Souliei, common vladimiria (roots) (DP, DTM).
Though in the most of sources sha-pho-ru-rta means Saussurea lappa, some sources (ShP, VO, TMB and others) say that hystorically ru-rta was called Costus speciosus, beautiful costus (roots). Beautiful costus is the plant that grows in tropical India and South-Eastern Asia, and later, in Tibet it was substituted by Saussurea lappa (saussurea costus) which in ShP and VO is called spang-rtsi-byar-bag-chan, or herbal, or garden ru-rta. The fact of substitution is confirmed by VO,where it is said about sha-pho-ru-rta : "roots look like brocken deer horns, are brought from the Upper Tibet". It is said off course about the substitute - Saussurea lappa, because beautiful costus is a tropical plant that does not grow in Tibet. According to some information*, may be because the roots look and smell very similar, the roots of beautiful costus were substituted by saussurea costus. It is also interesting that Saussurea lappa in English is called "costus" (TTD). As the roots of saussurea were taken as ru-rta, it is likely that they took as spang-rtsi-byar-bag-chan some other parts of this plant, as the healing properties for these two kinds of materials differ.
In his letters S.N. Rerih mentions successful cultivation of Saussurea lappa in mountain regions of the USA. It could be interesting to study possibilities of cultivation of this plant in Caucasus and in the mountain part of Crimea. This question becomes more important, since in India free sale and export of the roots of Saussurea lappa are already forbidden due to predatory collection and disappearence of this plant from the area of its growth.
In Mongolian tradition ru-rta is the root of Saussurea lappa (DM, 1985), and the root of Costus speciosus (beautiful costus) (DM, 2011). The last statement is most likely to be a mistake and Mongols usually use Saussurea lappa, because the same text says that the black ru-rta comes mainly from the "...Upper Tibet", where beautiful costus doesn't grow. In EZh it is said that ru-rta is Vladimiria souliei (common vladimiria), Aucklandia axillaris, Auklandia axillary, Aucklandia lappa, Costus speciosus (beautiful costus), without specification of the parts used.
Another kind of khams-kyi-ru-rta is given in D: Jurinea dolomiaea (Jurinea macrocephala), large-headed jurinea (the whole plant). Different kinds of jurinea are wide-spread in European part of Russia, in southern regions. Suppose it is quite easy to find among them the substitute of large-headed jurinea.
In some sources ru-rtaalso means Costus amarus, bitter costus (AP, TM), or Rosa banksiae, Banks' rose (?) (ТМ) without any indication of the parts used.

Taste: : burning, bitter. After digestion is bitter (AK).

Action : oily, warm, rough (AK).
DSh, KM, MTMD: "taste is burning, sweet, bitter, bitter after digestion, action is balancing'. DP: "taste is bitter, burning, action is warm, sharp". D: "taste is bitter, action is cool and rough". Mongolian tradition: " taste is burning, bitter, bitter after digestion, action oily, rough, warm".
If we put together all this information, we can affirm that ru-rta (first of all sha-pho-ru-rta) has mainly burning and bitter taste, may be with a mixture of sweet, that becomes bitter after digestion, action is warm and balancing, also oily, rough and sharp. As regards khams-kyi-ru-rtawe can see that its healing properties have their own specialities, and the taste and action are likely to be a bit different.

Healing properties : eliminates fight of blood and rlung, swelling in stomach, large intestine, etc. lungs diseases, gag-pa and sha-ro [blood circulation disorder that leads to necrosis of mussles and skin], cures hot diarrhea, heats gnyan and 'khrugs, destroys tumors and [accumulation] of bad-kan, helps against srog-rlung etc. (AK, DP).
Additionally from ShP: "... balances first elements. Both kinds of ru-rta cure heat 'khrugs and gnyandiseases,...kham ru-rta is considered to be the remedy from heat 'khrugs and gnyan". MTMD, DSh: "eliminates delay in menstruation...'. TDD: "helps to take out bad blood and placenta, [that remains in womb] after baby delivery. KM: "... helps from poor urinatuion or lack of urine, bad-kan-smug-po and glang-thabs...". DTM: "white specie cures disordered heat** and heat from infection, black helps against heat with predominant rlunginfluence... rlung and blood disorder and meteorism". D:" is applicable against stomach ache and diarrhea, roots are used for insense". Mongolian tradition (BS): "cures... malignant anthrax...".

Substitutes: in Mongolian tradition ru-rta is defined as the following species - Phlojodicarpus sibiricus, siberian phlojodicarpus (roots) (BS) and Echinops latifolius, broadleaf echinops (Daurian echinops) (roots) (HAB, HM).
In Buryat tradition sha-pho-ru-rta and ru-rta was called also Phlojodicarpus sibiricus, Siberian phlojodicarpus (roots) and ru-rta – Echinops latifolius, broadleaf echinops (Daurian echinops) (roots) (TMB, US). Another buryatian school takes as sha-pho-ru-rta -Rhaponticum uniflorum, single-flower rhaponticum (roots), and as ru-rta – Phlojodicarpus sibiricus, Siberian phlojodicarpus (roots) (GL). During summer practice with students Geshe Rinchen Tenzin showed Echinops spherocephalus, roundheaded echinops , and said that it's roots can be taken as ru-rta. This kind of echinops is widely spread in european part of Russia.
So, which substitute is more siutable to be used as sha-pho-ru-rta, and which is more likely to be khams-kyi-ru-rta? It's not just a question for fun, since we've seen already that black and white ru-rta have some difference in healing properties. My opinion is: sha-pho-ru-rta better siutes to phlojodicarpus, and khams-kyi-ru-rta - to echinops. Arguments are the following: the roots of phlojodicarpus have strong bitter-sharp taste, which the root of echinops does not have. According to the photos in DP, ordinary vladimiria looks more like echinops with the same wide prickly spreading leaves and straight taproot. Then, in accordance with TMB, such a specialist in Tibetan medicine as Jimba-Jamso Tsibenov identified sha-pho-ru-rta as rhaponticum. According to modern scientific research (TMB), the root of rhaponticum has spasmolitic action, that may correspond to rlungsuppression, and the root of echinops has strong contra-inflammation effect, that may be qualified as heat suppression.
In Chinese medicine it is common that the root of broadleaf echinops has the following medicinal properties: eliminates toxic heat and so cures different infections. Roots are considered to be hemostatic, antihelminthic, antiphlogistic and stimulating for lactation. It is indicated against carbuncules, mastitis with swelling and pains; lack of lactation, diathesis, skin ulcers. Moreover, it is used to stop bleeding, against skin disorders, abscesses, furunculosis, contusion, helminthiasis, gout, tumors ( And here we see that the main effect of echinops is to eliminate heat and terminate infections that coordinates with the main character of the white ru-rta - cure heat gnyan and 'khrugs.
Regarding use of Rhaponticum uniflorum (big-headed singleflower) as sha-pho-ru-rta, I've never came across such affirmation neither in written sources, nor in oral tradition. But it is interesting that in one of the Tibetan sources (M) this flower and common vladimiria are given as pushkar-mu-la. In ShP pushkar-mu-la "... can be substituted by kham ru-rta, that is close in action". Taking this into account, big-headed singleflower can be used as white ru-rta. More details will be in article about ma-nu.
This conclusion is confirmed by information from Chinese medicine (OM): under the name of 漏廬 lou lu there we can find dry roots of two plants - broadleaf echinops and Rhaponticum uniflorum . They are described as follows: "Taste is bitter and salty, action is cool. Effects meridian of stomach. Dissipates heat, eliminates toxines, removes pus, activates lactation. Applicable against sharp mastitis, agalactia, carbuncles on the back, tuberculosis af periferic lymph nodes (skrofulosis), hemorrhoids, painful swellings during purulent skin disorders".

Possible substitutes: Jurinea spp. –jurinea, some species are with single violet-rosy flowers (the whole plant). For example, Jurinea cyanoides, Jurinea sordida, (dirty jurinea), Jurinea blanda, (tender jurinea). These species grow in the middle and the southern part of Russia.
Phlojodicarpus villosus (hairy phlojodicarpus) - roots. In Soviet Union already this kind of phlojodicarpus was offered as analogue of Siberian phlojodicarpus due to very similar chemical composition of roots and healing properties. The area of growth of Phlojodicarpus villosus is wider than the one of Siberian phlojodicarpus, that is spread mainly in Zabaikalsky region, Baikal area, Tuva and soth of Krasnoyarsk region. Hairy phlojodicarpus reaches the Urals and Novokuznetsk region in the West and Chukotka in the North, spreading all over the Eastern Siberia.
Echinops spp., different species, roots. For example, Echinops crispus, (curly echinops) or Echinops ruthenicus (Russian echinops). These species look very similar to broadleaf echinops and are widely spread in the european part of Russia.
Rhaponticum satzyperovii, roots.
Time of collection and methods of preparation: roots of ru-rta are collected in autumn after the seeds have already been formed and the over ground part of the plant starts to die, or in the early spring. The roots are digged out and washed, the skin is eliminated, the place where root is connected with trunk and rotten core is also cut off. The rest is cut and dried cool. The whole plant of big-headed jurinea "is taken in September-October" (D), most likely when the seeds are being formed. It is washed and dried cool.

E.V. Wolf and O.F. Maleeva. The world resources of useful plants. Manual. Science (Nauka), Leningrad, 1969
** Eng. disturbed fever, tib. 'krgugs-tshad.

Sergey Shirshov
In square brackets are the inputs of the author of the article. In footnotes - clarifications of the author of the article.

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