Skip to main content

Spiral Ginger

Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD

Scientific Name:

Costus pictus [Syn. Costus mexicanus]

Botanical Family:

Costaceae (˜Zingiberaceae)

Other Common Name:

Insulin plant, Insulin flower, Painted spiral ginger, Sour ginger, Spiral flag, Spotted spiral ginger, Steladder, Stepladder plant, Huilamole, Pahtsab,Ye totzi (Quattrocchi, 2000; 2012; Erhardt et al., 2002; White, 2002; Sánchez-Monge, 2001).

Common names in Spanish:

Apagafuego, Camote de lipana, Camote de ipana, Caña de Cristo, Caña agria, Caña de jabalí, Caña de tigre, Caña de venado Cañuela, Chula laga, Hierba del jabalí, Tirabuzón (Quattrocchi, 2000; 2012; Adame and Adame, 2000; Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; White, 2002; Sánchez-Monge, 2001; Martínez, 1994).

Where is it found?

This rhizomatous herb is native to tropical Mexico; Central America; western South America (Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru), as well as in the Caribbean region. It is also cultivated in India (Quattrocchi, 2000, 2012; Mabberley, 2008; Johnson, 1999; Morton, 1981; Liogier, 1990; Nunez-Melendez, 1981).

Parts of the plant used:

The leaves, flowers, rhizomes (underground stems), and tubers (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Berdonces, 2009; Mabberley, 2008; Sánchez-Monge, 2001; Adame and Adame, 2000; Martínez, 1989; Morton, 1981; Liogier, 1974).

How is it used?

The roots, leaves, flowers, and rhizomes can be decocted in water and taken as tea. The crude drug (whole tubers) are sold in certain marketplaces in Mexico.

What is it used for?

The main uses for this plant in Mexican traditional medicine are to treat diabetes, urinary problems, venereal disease (gonorrhea), as a diuretic, and to treat kidney cancer (Adame and Adame, 2000; Johnson, 1999; Martínez, 1989; Morton, 1981). The young stems are edible (Berdonces, 2009).Various species belonging to the genus Costus are used for food, paper or medicine throughout the American, Asian, and African tropics (Berdonces, 2009; Sánchez-Monge, 2001; Morton, 1981; Burkill, 1966).
The species C. spicatus is native to the American tropics and commonly known as spiked alpinia, spiked spiral flag, Indian head ginger, and sour cane. In Spanish and Portuguese, the plant is commonly known as caña de Cristo, caña agria, caña de jabalí, caña de puerco, caña de venado, costo de Arabia, canna de macaco, and canna do brejo (Wieresma and León, 2013; White, 2002; Sánchez-Monge, 2001; Schoenhals, 1988).

In Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the leaves are decocted in water to make a tea to treat flatulence and rheumatism. A tea made from the rhizomes and roots is taken to treat urinary problems, kidney stones, nephritis (kidney inflammation), inflammation of the urethra, as a diaphoretic (to promote sweating), as a diuretic, and as an emmenagogue (to promote menstruation). The acidic juice from the young rhizomes (stems) is taken to treat diabetes, bronchitis, headaches, colds, and fever. The roots are decocted in water to make a tea to treat gastritis, liver problems, and snakebite. The juice from the flowers is taken against internal parasites and for the treatment of vaginal infections (Berdonces, 2009; Liogier, 1990, 1974; Morton, 1981; Nuñez-Meléndez, 1981).


Safety / Precautions


  • Avoid taking this plant during pregnancy and lactation.
  • If you are taking any type of prescribed oral anti-diabetic medications, consult with your healthcare professional before taking products made from this plant.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with your health care professional first. Avoid self-diagnosis and self-medication: Always be on the safe side!



  • Adame J, Adame H. Plantas Curativas del Noreste Mexicano.
    Monterrey, N.L.: Ediciones Castillo; 2000; p. 60.
  • Berdonces JL. Gran Diccionario de las Plantas Medicinales.
    Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Oceano; 2009; p. 279.
  • Burkill IH. A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula. Vol. 1.
    Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Ministry of Agriculture; 1966 pp. 680-682.
  • Erhardt W, Gotz E, Bodeker N, Seybold S. Zander Dictionary of Plant Names 17th ed.
    Stuttgart: Eugen Ulmer; 2002; p. 326.
  • Johnson T. CRC Ethnobotany Desk Reference.
    Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1999; p. 235.
  • Liogier HA. Diccionario Botánico de Nombres Vulgares de la Española.
    Santo Domingo: UNPHU; 1974: p. 376.
  • Liogier, AH. Plantas Medicinales de Puerto Rico y el Caribe.
    San Juan, PR: 1990; pp. 445.
  • Mabberley D. Mabberley’s Plant Book 3rd ed.
    London: Cambridge University Press; 2008; pp. 222.
  • Martínez M. Las Plantas Medicinales de México.
    México, D.F.: Editorial Botas; 1989; pp. 389-390.
  • Martínez M. Catálogo de Nombres Vulgares y Científicos de Plantas Mexicanas.
    México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica; 1994; p. 1092.
  • Morton JF. Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America: Bahamas to Yucatán.
    Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas; 1981; pp. 108-110.
  • Nuñez-Meléndez, E. Plantas Medicinales de Puerto Rico.
    San Juan, PR: Editorial Universitaria de Puerto Rico; 1982; p. 11.
  • Quattrocchi U. CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names (Vol. 1).
    Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2000; pp. 626-627.
  • Quattrocchi U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants (Vol. 2).
    Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; pp. 23-24.
  • Sánchez-Monge E. Diccionario de Plantas de Interés Agrícola Vol. 1.
    Madrid: Ministerio de Agricultura; 2001; pp. 328-329.
  • Schoenhals L. A Spanish-English Glossary of Mexican Flora and Fauna.
    Mexico City: Summer Institute of Linguistics: 1988; p. 140. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2003; p. 157.
  • Wieresma J H., León B. World Economic Plants, a Standard Reference 2nd ed.
    Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2013; p. 205.