The seeds of the herbal remedy psyllium or the psyllium seeds - also called by other names such as the blond psyllium or the ispaghula - are sourced from the species of plantain, a plant which is native to India and Iran - which is now grown in many tropical countries around the world. The psyllium seed lacks any distinctive aroma or flavor and is very small and reddish-brown in coloration (sometimes pinkish) - which may be the only distinguishing feature. Psyllium seeds have the ability to absorb water rapidly and tend to then become surrounded with a unique mucilage - which is a substance with excellent powers of emulsification and the seeds are highly prized as a herbal laxative - their main role in herbal medicine.
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The plant called the psyllium is an annual herb which is almost stemless or is very short stemmed. The herb is characterized by the alternate or roseate arrangement of the leaves, the leaves are arranged as clasping the stem in an almost strap like manner, and on average extend from 3 to 10 inches in length and are a quarter to half an inch across. Psyllium flowers are white in color, and are rather minute, they have four distinct parts; they tend to be erect and are ovoid, or have cylindrical spikes which give them a peculiar shape. Psyllium has an ovate fruit and the top half of this fruiting body tends to separate from the rest when it ripens, and this action releases the smooth and dull ovate seeds, which can be pinkish to gray brown or sometimes pinkish white with brown streaks running along them. Every single seed of the psyllium is encased in a thin, white colored or translucent husk that is both odorless and tasteless without other distinctions. The seeds tend to expand very considerably in size when they are soaked in water, a property which is the main reason for their use in herbal medicine.
Dietary fiber forms the main constituent of the psyllium seeds. While the majority of the seed matter remains insoluble and inactive, the mucilage in the seed contains some soluble fibrous matter. This portion of the soluble mucilage is formed mainly from polysaccharides. Psyllium seeds also contain many different proteins, and other carbohydrates, they also contain oil and sterols, and some flavonoids have also been detected, at the same time, it must be mentioned that almost the entire therapeutic action is derived from the part containing soluble fiber.
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The main role of the psyllium is as a herbal bulk laxative. It is normal to ingest the powdered seeds with a lot of water, and once these are in the intestine they swell up from the water. Defecation is encouraged by the presence of this "bulk" matter, and at the same time, stool produced is softened up by the mucilage content, which makes it very easy for the passage of stool - the main role which psyllium plays as an herbal remedy. For this reason the herb is frequently recommended by almost all herbalists for the treatment of persistent and severe constipation and it is also a much approved remedy available in the majority of over the counter drug stores in the United States, where it is marketed under many brand names including Fiberall and Konsyl, Metamucil and Modane Bulk, or Serutan. Aside from the property of the herbal remedy to treat cases of chronic constipation, the psyllium is also very effective and useful as an herbal treatment of diarrhea. The administration of psyllium during one study, showed results where the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome were seen to be significantly improved in all test subjects under the study. Psyllium seeds have also been used extensively in the successful treatment of cases of diarrhea which affect people following gallbladder surgery. At the same time, preparations made from the psyllium herb can also help greatly reduce the pain and bleeding which affect a person with hemorrhoids - another disorder which is easily treated with psyllium.
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Elevated levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in many people has also been successfully treated or reduced using the psyllium seed preparations. This property of the seeds was confirmed during the course of an eight-week trial on test subjects, where the total cholesterol levels in many patients was decreased successfully by 14 percent and all the undesirable LDL cholesterol was decreased by 20 percent at the same time. Patients under treatment during trial studies lasting more than two months were seen to have their elevated triglycerides levels effectively reduced to just over half the baseline levels - which is counted as a huge success. However, the lowering effect of the psyllium seed is not universally applicable to high cholesterol levels, for example, in a trial involving twenty children with high cholesterol levels, the seeds failed to respond or act on decreasing the high cholesterol levels, it is deduced that cases of high familial cholesterol conditions may therefore not be as responsive to the psyllium treatment as other cases do. The capability to absorb dietary sugar is another useful property of the psyllium seed and this may be considered another beneficial effect of the herb. Even though this effect tends to be very subtle, it may be very beneficial to many diabetics.
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The laxative action of the psyllium is a common knowledge in the traditional herbal lore around the world. For this reason, remedies made from the psyllium are normally part of prescriptions in both conventional as well as herbal medicine, to treat cases of constipation - particularly when the problem results from an over tensed or over relaxed bowel action in the patient. Both husks and seeds of the psyllium herb contain high levels of fiber. When soaked in water, they become highly gelatinous . By maintaining a high content of water within the large bowel, husks and seeds of psyllium can increase the bulk of the stool, helping in easing its passage.
Psyllium is a very useful remedy for diarrhea. Psyllium herb is also an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's disease. In India, psyllium husks and seeds are commonly used to treat dysentery.
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The herbal action of the psyllium is extremely valuable for individuals suffering from hemorrhoids, in fact, it is one of the most effective medications for this particular disorder - the herbs help in softening the stool and produce a reduction in the level of irritation in the distended vein, resulting an immediate improvement for the suffering individual.
When soaked in water, psyllium produces jellylike mucilage which has the ability to absorb toxins within the large bowel and from the intestinal regions. For this reason, remedies based on the psyllium are commonly prescribed and taken for the reduction of auto-toxicity - this is when toxins in the body are expelled from the body along with the husks and seeds in the feces. Thus psyllium has major roles as a detoxification agent.
The entire length and breath of the intestinal tract is benefited and affected by the soothing and protective effect given by the mucilage rich husks and seeds of ingested psyllium. The treatment of various stomach and duodenal ulcers is also conducted using the psyllium, and the herbal remedy is also used to alleviate cases of acid indigestion in different individuals.
Psyllium also has an effective demulcent action whose effect can extend all the way to the urinary tract of the affected person. The herbalists in India often use an infusion of the psyllium seeds - which is the only way this remedy is used - for the treatment of urethritis in affected individuals.
An effective herbal poultice for external use can be prepared by soaking the psyllium husks in an infusion of calendula, this topical herbal remedy can be used as an herbal agent to draw out the pus of infection from boils, to drain abscesses in the body, and also in the treatment of whitlows - which are pus-filled swellings that appear on the fingertips due to physical injuries.
Areas of the world including large tracts of Southern Europe, areas in North Africa, and Asia, especially in India, have seen extensive cultivation of the three species which produce psyllium. The plants are normally propagated from stocked seeds during the spring as they require exposure to plenty of sunlight. Harvesting of the ripened seeds is carried out during the late summer and in the early autumn in most places where the plants are cultivated.
The laxative and anti-diarrhea action of the psyllium was observed during various clinical trials conducted on the herb in the US, in Germany, and the Scandinavian countries during the 1980s. The main property of the psyllium is comparable to many other herbs in that, its main role is in the restoration of normal functioning in the organs of the body.
The dosage normally taken by the majority of individuals is about 7.5 grams of the seeds or 5 grams of the husks, in single doses, about once or twice daily. The herb is always taken mixed in some water or fruit juice. An adequate intake of fluid is very important when using the psyllium in any form.
It is generally safe to use the psyllium in the recommended amounts and dosages. However, all individuals already suffering from chronic constipation should first seek the advice of a professional health care worker to check for other reasons behind the condition. The herb can induce some known side effects, these can include problems such as allergic skin reactions and problematic respiratory reactions to the psyllium dust, though by and large, the occurrence of such side effects has on the whole been limited to the people working in plants engaged in the manufacture of psyllium based herbal products.