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Tragacanth is a gum derived from the dried sap of several species of shrub of the genus Astragalus (e.g. Astragalus gummifer), commonly known as Goat’s Thorn or Locoweed. The plant is native to western Asia and southeastern Europe, with Iran and Turkey being leading producers. The gum is exuded by the plant when damaged and solidifies into tear-shaped lumps or ribbon-like coils on contact with the air. It is harvested by puncturing the roots or bark and collecting the exudate once it has dried.
Tragacanth is sold in the form of flakes or a powder, which form a gel when mixed with water (hydrocolloid) and can be stirred into a paste. Alternatively, it can be dissolved in water, forming a viscous solution that is tasteless and odourless. Food and pharmaceutical grade powders are available.
Tragacanth is used as a food additive that functions as an emulsifier, stabiliser and thickener in sauces and dressings, as well as in ice cream and syrups. In baking, it is used as a binding agent in icing and made into a paste to create cake decorations.
Tragacanth is used as an ingredient in candies.
Tragacanth is used as a binding agent in the manufacture of tablets and lozenges, and as a suspension agent for insoluble powders. It is used as an herbal remedy to treat coughs and diarrhoea, and can be formed into a paste to treat burns. It is also used as a demulcent, an agent that forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane to relieve minor pain and inflammation.
Tragacanth is used to bind aromatic materials together.
Tragacanth is used as a fabric stiffener and in calico printing. It is also used as a burnishing compound for vegetable-tanned leather.
In the Art industry, Tragacanth is a binder used to make pastels. It does not adhere to itself when dry, unlike other gums.
In the Tobacco industry, Tragacanth is used as an adhesive in the rolling of cigars.
In the Personal Care industry, Tragacanth is used as an emulsifier for creams and lotions and an ingredient in hair shampoo, anecdotally promoting hair growth.