Source of indigenous medicines and cash return
By Dr. SHAMSUDDIN
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
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
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
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
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
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
Plantago depressa: Young leaves are eaten as
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
Plantago ovata: Blond psyllium - The seed
mucilage is used as a basic stabilizer in Ice cream and chocolate in
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
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
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.
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
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
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.