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Source of indigenous medicines and cash return

Associate Professor, 
Department of Agronomy, 
Sindh Agriculture University, 

Nov 26 - Dec 02, 2001

Psyllium seed locally known as Spangur or Isphagool is the world famous medicinal crop. Most of the species of Isphagool grown in Pakistan and Sindh are used for medicinal purposes. This crop could betterly grown in Sindh Province as a cash crop, under water shortage conditions.

Psyllium seed, a herb originates from Iran, and history indicated its spread and travel from Asia to Europe. In Asia, psyllium seed was found in Arab world, Afghanistan, Egypt, North India, Sindh and Balochistan, where it was predominantly grown as medicinal herb.

This herb is known with different vernacular names such as Buzar Qatona, Spogel, Isphagool and Spangur in widely spoken Eastern languages like Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Sindhi, respectively.

In Europe, this herb is identified with different names such as French psyllium seed, Spanish Psyllium seed and in English it was known as Flea seed or rib grass. Whereas, in Mediterranean region it was identified with name such as Plantago Psyllium, which came under cultivation, and again it spreaded in central Asia to India with names like psyllium seed, plantain , Flea seed, while such seed was used there for purgative purposes.

In sub-continent, spangur or Isphagool spreaded over from North India to Pakistan and Bangladesh. In Pakistan, the cultivation of this crop was done in southern Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. In Sindh, spangur herb is used to be grown as garden crop, in pre-partition times. It is an aromatic herb, the seed of spangur may be used as medicine for stomach disturbances. The indigenous species, plantago amplicaulis is grown as common spangur throughout Sindh. The people of Hindu community, prepare decoction of spangur or Isphagool leaves for curing of chest pain, fever and ophthalmia. The seed of this traditional medicinal herb is often used for the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery, intestinal wounds, catarrh and kidney diseases etc. The seeds of plantago ovata, produce a husk with abundant mucilage, which is used in pharmaceutical preparations and as a food thickener.

At present, India is the largest producer of this crop seed, which is grown as cash crop by using low input and unmechanized farming systems. There are reports that India earns Rs.25 million per annum by export trade of spangur or Isphagool (Psyllium seed). Where seed and husk are sold as commercial product to the world.

Psyllium seed species: Psyllium seed, plantago ovata (Forsk) is widely grown species, which belongs to family plantagin aceae. The different species and types of Psyllium seed have their medicinal use. But, in some countries like North east America, local population used it as salad or vegetable, which could be possible emergency food. Whereas, in Pacific coastal regions of America, local Indians use this herb as symbol of health in the traditional-ceremonies.

There are some popular species found throughout world with different usages, which are as under:

Plantago amplicaulis: It is commonly found in Sindh the seeds of this medicinal herb is often used for the treatment of diahorreat dysentery and intestinal wounds.

Plantago asiatica: Leaves and seeds are edible; former are boiled with cereals. It is considered as one of the most popular road side weeds.

Plantago camtschatica: Young leaves are used as boiled vegetable.

Plantago coronopus: Crow food plantain, Buck's horn, Buck thorn plantain, leaves are used for salad.

Plantago decipiens: Sea side plantain, much used as green vegetable or salad by the fishermen of Eastern North America.

Plantago depressa: Young leaves are eaten as boiled vegetable.

Plantago major: Common plantain, young leaves are eaten in Texas. In Asia, the Chinese eat the leaves.

Plantago maritima: Sea plantain, used for vegetable and salads.

Plantago oliganthos: Goose tongue, sea side plantain - Young leaves are eaten as Salad and boiled vegetable in North America.

Plantago ovata: Blond psyllium - The seed mucilage is used as a basic stabilizer in Ice cream and chocolate in India.

Plantago psyllia: Black psyllium - The herb is eaten raw or cooked in India or west Asia.

Botanical description: Psyllium seed, Rib grass or spangur is annual herbaceous (Stemless herb) crop, which is monocot plant of family plantaginaceae.

The rib grass plants are of 30 cm to 45 cm in height, leaves are alternate, spear shaped and three veined and tillers are bunchy and small in size. Rib grass plant produces more than 25 tillers from basal nodes, which are depends upon soil and climatic conditions.

The rib grass produces flower known as spike within 60 days of sowing and mature seeds after two months. The flowers are white bunches, slendrical in shape and/or small round spike in normal conditions.

The seed is reddish or blackish white in colour. The seed rate is non-saltish, mucilaginous or tasteless. The husk of psyllium seed is pinkish white, which is used in the preparation of medicines and that husk is given for safe laxative purposes.

Production technology

Psyllium seed, Isphagool or spangur is our traditional medicinal crop grown in winter climatic conditions of Pakistan. The Agro-ecological zones like Sindh, Balochistan and Southern Punjab are major growing areas of this indigenous herb. The winter is optimum growing season for this valuable medicinal crop. However, the crop is adapted to the low land tropics for dry season production, either under irrigation or using stored soil moisture. By use of low inputs and low cost production technology, it earns more income and may be a very good export commodity.

The soil and water requirements could easily be met. The light loam soils and low water requirements are among advantages of growing spangur for seed purposes. The crop is typically grown under irrigation. It has small seed and substantial seed losses can occur because of washing away under irrigation. In some countries, seed is often scattered after irrigation and planked to protect it during germination. Hence, it could be grown as Dubari crop on residual moisture after harvest of the rice crop. Therefore, the spangur, a medicinal crop may be incorporated as important cash crop in our cropping pattern under water shortage conditions of Sindh.

The crop is sown by broadcasting method in the small plots after necessary preparations of fine seedbed in irrigated areas. But in rice tract, seed is directly broadcasted on the residual moisture of the soil after harvest of the rice crop.

This crop is grown as winter crop. Optimum time of sowing is November and December months. Seed rate is 2.5 to 3 kg/acres. The seed need shallow sowing as it requires light for germination. However, high temperature could be serious problem for plantago production. After sowing, seed must be covered with light layer of soil and the soil must be soaked with slight dose of water. The second irrigation should be given after 21 days of sowing or at tittering stage, and third irrigation is to be given at the time of spike formation. The crop needs 3-4 waterings during sowing to harvesting.

The fertilizer requirements are minimal. Nitrogen and phosphorus are applied at 25 kg N and 25 P205, which are applied at sowing time. Half of Nitrogen as remaining dose may be applied at 3rd irrigation.

Weeding and interculturing is done by hand as manual method to remove weeds such as Chenopodium, Meliotus, Asphodelus, Vicia, Medic Fumaria etc. The insect pest like white grub and powdery mildew disease may attack the crop.

The spangur crop needs four months for maturity. The harvesting may be started when colour of the leaves turn yellow, which is sign of the crop maturity. The harvesting is done by manual methods by sickle. After drying of harvested material, the threshing may be done by beating with sticks. The cleaning of seed is done by using local fan or sieves.

The yield target for this crop may be 10-20 maunds/ acre. However, bold seeds have better market prices. The Spangur may emerge a new cash crop, looking at use of low inputs and low cost technology requirements for this crop. The seed of spangur may be sold at the rate of Rs.100/ kg. Therefore, one acre may earn Rs.30,000 to 40,000/ acre as cash return.


The seed of spangur or Isphagool is important pharmaceutical or treatment point of view, which is quite successful treatment against heat, fever, thirsty, controlling blood pressure or stimulation in the body.

This is better treatment for coughing, chest pain, tongue, sore throat, bile and Asthema diseases. The goggles of mucilaginous may be better cure for mouth wounds. The poultice of psyllium seed is used for curing swelling, and rest from mumps. But mucilagenous paste of psyllium seed prepared in rose water may be used on forehead for rest purposes However, rib grass leaves decoction is very beneficial for stomach disorders and diahorrea. Psyllium seed husk is used for curing intestinal wounds and diahorrea. Whereas, whole psyllium seed removes constipation and hard stools.

The rubbing of rib grass leaves on honey bee, wasp or scorpion stings may give relief from pain. The leaves of rib grass are diuretic and provide relief from piles and ulcer.