Common Names

Psyllium, Ispaghula
Botanical Name
Plantago psyllium, Plantago ovata
PLANTAGINACEAE ~ Plantain Family

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What is it?

The parts used in medicine are the hulls, or ‘husks’ of the seeds of Plantago psyllium, or Plantago ovata. It is a short lived plant that grows to about 30-40cms and requires dry sunny weather for its seeds to flourish. Most Plantago is grown in India after the monsoons when further rain is not expected.

There are two main forms of Plantago, usually called Psyllium, on the market. You have to look closely at them to see the difference. The first is a well ground powder, the second is much rougher and you can see the individual ‘husks’. They both work but the Plantago husks are the better of the two.




How has it been used?

Plantago seeds are often found in grain seeds and that is how they have spread all over the world.

It was called "White man's footprint" by Native Americans because it sprouted up wherever European settlers had spent any amount of time. It was also called "Soldier's herb" due to its use as a field dressing.

The "waybread" mentioned in the Nine herbs charm of Wodin or Odin is believed to be plantago.

Plantago has been used for many centuries as a safe and natural method to improve bowel health. People with altered bowel function, either constipation or diarrhoea, can benefit from Plantago.

Plantago is widely used in pharmaceutical preparations as a bulk fibre (e.g Metamucil, Bonvit, Fybogel) however the large percentage of additive sugars and flavouring chemicals in these products could be said to be creating a second problem whilst fixing the first.

In recent times a lot of attention has been given to Plantago’s ability to reduce blood cholesterols and also to help with weight loss through its bulking effects in the stomach.

Safety of Plantago
Plantain is extremely safe to use in high or frequent doses if necessary and may be taken by the young or old, whilst pregnant or during breastfeeding with confidence.

General safety note on herbs

Therapeutic substances, and this certainly all includes all medicinal herbs, can do good and, therefore, also have the potential to do harm. The maxim that 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us and the ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. So, not only are we careful to do our best to use the right herbs but, equally, we take care to not give too much of them or use them overlong.

For some years now, against this old, proven and safe way of herbalism, there has been a rising tide of excessive caution and scare-mongering in many parts of the world. The same authorities and medical publications that no so long ago decried herbal medicines as ineffectual have now taken up a different kind of adversarial position. That they are dangerous substances that should not be taken for a long list of reasons and really should only be prescribed by Doctors, who of course have zero training in them.

Lists of '10 popular herbs and why you should avoid them' include things like Garlic and Ginger that might 'thin your blood'. It is absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver, and fear has also been long proven to be effective when used to manipulate and control others.

I realise that the reader who comes to a page like this is unlikely to be swayed by such misinformation, but I nevertheless want to remind you that the reason that herbs cannot be patented or owned by any individual or corporation is that they are the people's medicine. They belong to us all and it is my great hope that you will learn how to use them safely and wisely for yourself and the people you care for. Be safe but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

I have used truckloads of Plantago husks in my years in practice (which may not be as much of an exaggeration as it sounds!) A lot of people in the modern world do not have good bowel health. Maybe this is because we are not eating enough fibre but it may equally just be because we don’t move around in general as much as we need to. I almost never need to use laxatives for my patients but I do use a lot of Plantago. It works like a kind of ‘rough sponge’ massaging through the entire bowel, cleansing the walls and moving any stuck material down and out.

Most importantly Plantago in no way causes the bowel to become dependent on it being there to work. One of the quirky things about Plantago is that it can also be used in cases of mild but chronic diarrhoea to help the bowel get back to normal. How something can help both constipation and diarrhoea is worth thinking about. Plantago clearly has a gentle and normalising effect on the bowel. It is unable to be absorbed so however much you put in is all going to come out, but in the process it seems to make the bowel work better, regardless of what was going wrong in the first place.

My practice in using Plantago husks (these levels may not work so well if using the psyllium powder) is to prescribe a dose range of 2-4 tsps, as heaped as they can be, 1-2 times each day. This means that a person may take as little as 2 tsps a day all the way up to 8 tsps a day. I usually recommend starting with 2 tsps twice a day and then to go up or down from there according to what happens next. The thing with Plantago is that of course you get to find out how well it is working pretty quickly by what happens when it comes out the other end.

If the problem is not obviously responding within 48 hours then you have to go up to 3 tsps, and then possibly up to 4 tsps twice a day if necessary. In my own experience even the worst cases of disordered bowels have been seen to respond so long as the dose is sufficient.


How to take Plantago easily

If you can drink a glass of water reasonably quickly then you will have no problem taking Plantago husks.

Put your Plantago husks in a clean, dry glass. The more tsps. you have to take the bigger the glass needs to be. Run the tap to get the water to a temperature that you know you can easily drink quickly then slowly fill the glass whilst you are stirring in the husks.

Ideally as soon as the glass is full you have already stirred in the husks and so can straight away drink it all down in one go.

The less time the Plantago spends in the water before you take it the better.

It is important that you drink plenty of water overall while you are using Plantago husks.

Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Plantago is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

Part of the reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This useful and rather fascinating subject is introduced further here

Another big part of using the right herb when it is most needed comes from understanding the need to treat what is going wrong for the person that had led up to their getting a health condition. In this light, Plantago can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!




© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd