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Psyllium husks are primarily used within the digestive tract


Plantago ovata Plantaginaceae

Psyllium seed husks are one of nature’s finest bowel healers, containing soothing mucilage and soluble fibre.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Soothes and protects membranes
  • Supports digestive tract
  • Laxative
  • How does it feel?

    Psyllium husks are derived from the Plantago plant which is an annual that is grown in Southern Europe and North West Africa; it has become a very common plant that naturally grows in many locations across the globe. It is characterised by rosettes of large, oval leaves and large, upright dense spikes of flowers that can reach up to 15 cm in height. The flowers form small clusters around large stamens and are green-brown in colour. The plants seed is an ovoid-oblong shape up to 2-3mm long and are a pinkish brown in colour. The seed is covered by the seed ‘husk’, which is the part of the plant used in a medicinal and culinary fashion. The husk separates easily from the rest of the seed for cultivation and harvesting purposes.

  • What can I use it for?

    Psyllium husk is the fibrous material that protects the actual seed, by forming a layer of mucilage around it. The husk contains approximately 30% mucilage and is considered to be a source of pure fibre. It is these two qualities that are responsible for the primary medicinal actions of the plant. The mucilage is an excellent demulcent that soothes and protects damaged or inflamed mucous membranes. The fibrous content of the husk make it excellent for supporting the healthy functioning of the digestive tract, encouraging peristalsis and encouraging the removal of toxic congestion. The husk has a unique ability to absorb water and form a bulk mucilage which also makes this plant an excellent bulk laxative.

  • Into the heart of psyllium

    Psyllium husks are primarily used within the digestive tract acting as a demulcent, bulk mucilage and pure natural source of soluble fibre. The seed husks absorb large volumes of water that make it a wonderful lubricant laxative. The mucilage retains its moisture during gastrointestinal transit, and can promote the passage of a soft stool even after transit times of up to 12 hours. Psyllium is a very useful demulcent bulk laxative, particularly for treating constipation from dryness. The mucilage also acts as a protective coat for the digestive mucosal membranes, providing relief from hot, irritation and allowing time for cellular regeneration and repair.

    Increasing the soft fibre content within the diet will help to maintain regular bowel movements and prevent chronic congestion. Low levels of fibre in the diet are linked with constipation, dry stools, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. Psyllium husks are a natural source of pure soluble fibre that supports regular bowel movements and ensures effective elimination of toxicity.

    GIT: As a bulking agent, psyllium helps to relieve both constipation and diarrhoea. The seeds are used for diarrhoea and dysentery and have been shown to be effective against different species of Entamoeba. It helps to absorb mucus and bacteria in inflammatory intestinal conditions and drag toxins out of the alimentary canal. It is also particularly beneficial for treating peptic and duodenal ulcers.

    Lungs: The mucilage content of psyllium acts as a soothing demulcent to the lungs. It can ease the dryness of unproductive coughs and facilitate expectoration.

    Urinary and kidney: The sympathetic reflex of mucus production between the intestinal tract and lungs is continued into the urinary system where painful urination is eased, through soothing hot and inflamed membranes within the urinary tract.

    Blood fats and sugars: Soluble fibre has been shown to reduce LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol and in controlling blood sugar levels in hyperglycaemia. Psyllium will bind to the LDL cholesterol and help to draw it out of the body.

  • Traditional actions

    Western Actions

    Ayurvedic 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?

    The common name in India for this plant is derived from the Pesian words ‘isap’ and ‘ghol’ which mean ‘horse ear’. Even the Sanskrit for this plant, Ashvakarnam, means ‘horse’s ear’. This term relates to the shape of the small pink seed resembling an equine ear.

Additional information

  • Safety

    It may slow the absorption of other medication. It is best taken 1/2 hours after prescribed allopathic or other herbal medication. It is also wise to ensure cardiac glycoside, carbamazipine and lithium salts are taken as far away as possible from psyllium to ensure clinical doses are received. Diabetic medication may need to be reduced.

  • Dosage

    5–10g/day taken with plenty of liquid to prevent intestinal obstruction.

psyllium 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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