Botanical Name: Plantago psyllium, Plantago afra.
In recent years, the Latin name Plantago Afra has been deemed the correct scientific name of the plant. Still, Plantago psyllium is most commonly used and what is used in most herbal books.
The common name psyllium can apply to at least three plant species (Plantago psyllium, Plantago arenaria, Plantago ovata) or/and their seeds and seed husks.
Other Common Names
- African plantain
- Glandular plantain
- Black psyllium
- Flea-seed plant
- Fleawort, Flohkraut (German)
- Herbes aux puces (French)
- Loppekjempe (Norwegian)
- Loppfrö (Swedish)
- Loppefrø (Danish)
- Rohtoratamo (Finnish).
Black psyllium (Plantago psyllium, Plantago afra) and French or sand psyllium (Plantago arenaria) are native to the Mediterranean, Central Europe and parts of Asia.
Blond psyllium (Plantago ovata) has its natural range in India and Iran.
The species are grown commercially in India, Pakistan, Iran, and southern Europe.
Black psyllium (Plantago afra) is an annual plant that grows 10-35 cm high. The stalks are erect, thin and hairy and produce very narrowly lanceolate, gray-green leaves covered with tiny soft hairs.
The numerous whitish flowers are small and have four sepals and four petals. The seeds are 2.5-5 mm long, boat-shaped, shiny, dark brownish red and smooth.
The plant is hermaphrodite (male and female organs on the same plant) and is pollinated by wind. It prefers well-drained, dry and moist soil. It does not tolerate full shade.
Plant Parts Used
The seeds and seed husks are used medicinally.
The seeds of black psyllium (Plantago psyllium, Plantago afra) and French psyllium (Plantago arenaria) are dark reddish or almost black, while the seeds of blond psyllium (Plantago ovata) are pale brown or pale pink.
The seed husks of blond psyllium are easily detached from the seeds and sold as a separate product.
Once the seeds and the seed husks get wet, they swell and get a gelatinous consistency. The seeds and husks have a mild in flavor.
Medicinal Applications and Health Benefits of Psyllium
Active Ingredients and Substances
The seeds contain 5-10% lipids, unsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid, oleic acid, and palmitic acid), sterols and 10-15% mucilaginous polysaccharides consisting of xylose, arabinose, galactose, rhamnose, and galacturonic acid.
In addition, the seeds contain 15-20% protein, 5-13% fatty acids, small amounts of phytosterols, triterpenes, iridoid glycoside (aucubin and several alkaloids (plantagonin, indicain, and indicamin).
It is the swelling ability of the polysaccharides that is responsible for the herb’s laxative effect. (1)
Psyllium is Regarded as a Safe and Effective Laxative
Psyllium is a well-known and popular herb for the digestive system. The seeds and seed husks are loaded with dietary fiber and can be used both to prevent and treat constipation.
Psyllium is prescribed in both conventional medicine and herbal medicine for constipation, especially when the condition is because of too tense or too lax colon.
People who are not physically active may need to stimulate the normal bowel reflexes, and the fiber-rich psyllium seeds can contribute to this necessary stimulation.
The plant mucilage contained in the seeds swells up when it comes into contact with water and causes the feces to increase in volume and become softer, which causes the intestinal walls to expand. When the intestinal walls are stretched to adapt to the increased volume of the stool, the peristalsis increases and in turn ensures a comfortable bowel movement.
Because of the high mucilage content psyllium can improve lubrication and healing without irritating the gastric mucosa and it can also absorb toxins from the colon and remove them from the body through the stool.
Most health authorities agree that a typical Western diet contains too little fruit and vegetables and too much of processed food resulting in an insufficient content of fiber.
Adding psyllium to the diet can be an easy and cost-effective way to rectify this.
When consuming the seed husks, it is necessary to start carefully and in small doses and to give the body time to adapt to the increased fiber volume. Taking too much, in the beginning, can cause gas formation and stomach discomfort.
When adding extra fiber to the diet, it is very important to drink plenty of water, usually 8-10 glasses a day. (2)
Psyllium Uses for Other Digestive Conditions
Although psyllium is primarily used as a laxative, it has also been used as a treatment for diarrhea, excessive production of gastric acid, peptic ulcer (gastric and duodenal ulcers), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In India, the herb is used for dysentery.
Diarrhea due to gallbladder surgery has been treated successfully with psyllium seeds. Since the seeds swell and give a feeling of being full, they can also be helpful to control appetite.
The high content of mucilage in the seeds may form a barrier that protects against mechanical and chemical irritation both of the respiratory and digestive system. This property is valuable when treating mucosal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and throughout the gastrointestinal tract.
It is also thought that the seeds can relieve a disorder called autotoxicosis, which is a state where the body poisons itself by producing and absorbing excess waste from the intestine. Some believe that psyllium can help remove these undesirable substances. (3)
A Beneficial Remedy for Hemorrhoids
Psyllium can also reduce pain and bleeding resulting from hemorrhoids and anal fissures. The reason it is useful in this regard is that the stool becomes soft and thus reduces irritation on the swollen and twisted veins in the anus.
In a clinical trial consisting of 51 human test subjects suffering from hemorrhoids, it was observed that after regular use of psyllium seeds husks, a great improvement in bowel movements occurred in 84% of the participants. (4)
Psyllium Can Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Psyllium is also used to reduce high cholesterol levels.
In one study that lasted eight weeks, total cholesterol was reduced by 14% and the “bad” LDL cholesterol by 20%, while there were no significant changes in triglycerides and the “good” HDL cholesterol. (5)
A clinical trial from 1998 with 125 patients concluded that intake of 5 grams of the seed husks three times daily helped to lower blood lipids. (6)
The seeds have also been reported to reduce the absorption of sugar from food, which can be beneficial for people who are struggling for high blood glucose levels.
Psyllium has been used topically in the form of a compress for extracting infections, alleviate a toothache, to treat ulcers, skin irritations, and paronychia.
Due to the high content of mucilage, it can also be used as a binder of sorts when making compresses that include other herbs. (7)
Psyllium as Food
The young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and in Central Europe, the leaves along with dandelion have been used in a certain type of salad which is regarded to have blood cleansing effect.
The seeds can also be allowed to germinate and then added to salads.
The mucilage from the seeds is used in factory-made dressings and as thickener and stabilizer in milk-based desserts.
Dosage and Administration
Today, there are countless natural laxative products on the market and those that contain psyllium husks or seeds are the most popular.
For adults, the recommended dosage is 5 to 10 grams of the seeds which can be taken up to three times daily. The recommended daily dose is between 10 and 30 grams of the seeds or between 4 and 20 grams of the seed husks.
In the case of diarrhea up to 40 grams daily can be used. Children from 6-12 years of age are treated with a half-adult dose.
The seeds or seedlings should be soaked in warm water for several hours before ingestion. It is important to drink plenty of water when using the seeds and husks, usually a few liters a day.
As a treatment for hemorrhoids, capsules containing the seed husks can be used. Take one 200 mg capsule three times a day.
For all commercial products containing psyllium, the manufacturers’ instructions should be followed.
One should take psyllium between meals and at least one hour after any medications. It is often recommended to take the seeds or husks before bedtime, or in the morning before breakfast.
It should be kept in mind that it can take up to two or three days to obtain the desired effects.
Side Effects and Interactions of Psyllium
Psyllium is generally considered as a mild and safe laxative, and side effects rarely occur if the recommended dosages are adhered to.
There are no known restrictions on the use of the seeds or husks during pregnancy and lactation.
The seeds and seed husks have been known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
Those suffering from asthma, should not use psyllium, as it has been known in some cases to trigger asthma attacks.
Also, laxatives should never be used if constipation is caused by volvulus. If constipation or diarrhea lasts longer than a few days, it is important to consult a professional healthcare provider to determine the cause of the problem.
The indigestible fiber in the seeds and husks can cause excessive gas production in the large intestines which can result in pain in the abdominal region.
If psyllium is not ingested with sufficient amounts of water, it can form clumps which can close the gastrointestinal tract and thereby cause constipation rather than resolve it. Therefore, the intake of sufficient fluids is an absolute necessity.
Prolonged use of the seeds and seed husks can interfere with the absorption of nutrients such as iron, calcium, zinc or vitamin B12 if taken alongside food or vitamin supplements.
The fibers can also affect the absorption of conventional drugs, and in order to avoid this psyllium should be taken at least one hour after taking any medication. (7)
Supporting References – Online
- R. Madgulkar, Ashwini & Rao, Monica & Warrier, Deepa. (2015). Characterization of Psyllium (Plantago ovata) Polysaccharide and Its Use. 871-890. 10.1007/978-3-319-16298-0_49.
- Masood, Rashid & Miraftab, Mohsen. (2010). Psyllium: Current and Future Applications. Medical and Healthcare Textiles. 244-253. 10.1533/9780857090348.244.
- Assessment report on Plantago afra L. et Plantago indica
L., semen. European Medicines Agency. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). 14 May 2013 EMA/HMPC/599745/2012.
- Rao, Monica. (2014). Characterization of Psyllium (Plantago ovata) Polysaccharide and Its Uses. 10.1007/978-3-319-03751-6_49-1.
- Solà, Rosa & Bruckert, Eric & Valls, Rosa-Maria & Narejos, Sílvia & Luque, Xavier & Castro Cabezas, Manuel & Doménech, Gema & Torres, Ferran & Heras, Mercedes & Farrés, Xavier & Vaquer, José-Vicente & Martínez, José-Miguel & Almaraz, Maria & Anguera, Anna. (2010). Soluble fibre (Plantago ovata husk) reduces plasma low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, oxidised LDL and systolic blood pressure in hypercholesterolaemic patients: A randomised trial. Atherosclerosis. 211. 630-7. 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2010.03.010.
- Rodríguez-Morán, M & Guerrero-Romero, Fernando & Lazcano, Gloria. (1998). Lipid- and Glucose-Lowering Efficacy of Plantago Psyllium in Type II Diabetes. Journal of diabetes and its complications. 12. 273-8. 10.1016/S1056-8727(98)00003-8.
- Assessment report on Plantago ovata Forssk., seminis tegumentum. European Medicines Agency. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC). 14 May 2013 EMA/HMPC/199775/2012
Supporting References – Offline
Antol, Marie Nadine: Healing Teas. New York, Avery Publishing Group 1996.
Blumenthal, Mark: Herbal Medicine. Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, Texas, American Botanical Council 2000.
Bown, Deni: The Royal Horticultural Society New Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses. London, Dorling Kindersley 2002.
Duke, James A.: Det Grønne Apotek. Aschehoug Dansk Forlag A/S 1998.
Foster, Steven: Herbs for Your Health. A handy guide to knowing and using 50 common herbs. Loveland, Colorado, Interweave Press 1996.
Graedon, Joe & Teresa Graedon: The People’s Pharmacy. Home and Herbal Remedies. New York, St. Martin’s Press 1999.
Mars, Brigitte: The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine. Laguna Beach. Basic Health Publications, Inc. 2007.
van Wyk, Ben-Erik & Michael Wink: Medicinal Plants of the World. Portland, Oregon, Timber Press 2004.
Weiss, Rudolf Fritz: Herbal Medicine. Göteborg, AB Arcanum 1988.
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