Psyllium, a member of the plantain family, was called the "mother of herbs" in Anglo-Saxon days. The astringent psyllium leaves have long been used to administer to minor bites, stings, blisters and abrasions. However, today it is revered more for its seeds than its leaves.

The small dark psyllium seeds have a gelatinous coating that expands in moisture. It makes an effective bulk laxative by absorbing excess water from the intestines and forming soft stools. It can be beneficial for constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticular disease and hemorrhoids. For people who don't get enough whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables in their diet, psyllium makes an inexpensive source of soluble fiber.

Recently, scientists have found that psyllium lowers cholesterol levels, especially the bad LDL cholesterol that can clog arteries and lead to heart disease. It may also help prevent the formation of gallstones and may aid weight-loss efforts.

Whether you take it in powder or capsule form, always take psyllium with plenty of water to prevent over-bulking that can lead to intestinal blockages.

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