Karaya gum is also known by its scientific name, Sterculia urens, or by one of its common names, Indian tragacanth, mucara, sterculia, or Bassora tragacanth. Although it is often used in both food and cosmetics, it is also used as a laxative. The bark is commonly used as an astringent, as well. Native to Pakistan and India, Sterculia urens is a tree that grows in dry, rocky areas. If the tree is bruised or injured, it releases a soft gum called karaya gum. In areas where the tree is cultivated simply to harvest the gum, the tree is intentionally scarred and holes are drilled directly into the trunk of the tree. Then, the gum oozes from the scars and is collected, cleaned, and dried. The gum is then graded and sold.
How the karaya gum is used, determines its purity. For example, if it is used in food, the gum is typically pink, yellow, or white and smells like vinegar. If it is used as an herbal remedy, it is practically clear.
One of the main medicinal uses for karaya gum is as a laxative. Although it is water insoluble, it does swell greatly when it comes in contact with water. Research has shown that .04 ounces (1 gram) of karaya gum can bind nearly 1.4 ounces (40 grams) of water together. The binding action lowers the re-absorption of water from the colon. Because the water is not reabsorbed, the intestines become larger in volume and this raise in volume actually works to move the intestines, creating a bowel movement.
Besides being used as a laxative, karaya gum is also sometimes used as a dental adhesive and to treat skin ulcers. In that case the gum is usually in the form of powder. The powder is brushed across the dental plate of dentures. It then swells and sticks to the damp surface of the person’s gums. In addition, many homeopathic remedy practitioners recommend the gum for patients who have ulcers on their skin.
As with any natural remedy, it is always best to consult an expert in the field of homeopathic medicine or a doctor before using karaya gum. Some people who consumed the gum for a week reported abdominal discomfort. People who inhaled the powder often suffered from allergy-like symptoms. In all, there is little known toxicity toward people who use it. It should always be used in the proper doses and for the recommended length of time.