Psyllium is the common name for the seeds of the plant Plantago ovata, originating in India and neighbouring regions, the husks of which are used to produce a thickening and viscous substance called mucilage. It is used mainly as a dietary fibre supplement and sometimes to thicken food, and can help to treat symptoms of constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and even mild diarrhoea.
As well as helping process food in the intestine, several studies confirm that including psyllium as a soluble dietary fibre can help to reduce cholesterol, and thus decrease the risk of coronary heart disease. Recent research also shows that it may be effective in regulating certain types of diabetes.
Psyllium is a bulk-forming laxative, which absorbs liquid and swells up, and may be beneficial in promoting weight loss by inducing feelings of fullness, as well as stimulating gastro-intestinal movement.
Psyllium often comes in powder form and must be mixed with liquid for the fibre content to be activated. It can also be used as a bulking and binding ingredient in gluten-free baking, or combined with other foods such as molasses, which is a good carrying medium and incorporates substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals.