Plantain (Plantago major & Plantago lanceolata)
Plantain commonly grows on lawns and waste ground. There are two species growing in the UK, great plantain which has fat spear shaped leaves and ribwort plantain which has long thin spear shaped leaves. The leaves grow in a rosette formation on both plants and bare deep grooves which when picked make a strange pinging sound like snapping guitar strings. Brown and white seed bearing flowers grow from the centre of the leaves on long stems.
Contains vitamin A, B, C, and K plus calcium, cobalt, copper, magnesium, phosphate, potassium and sodium
Astringent, antacid, anti-biotic, anti-histamine, antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-haemorrhage, anti-inflammatory, coolant, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, laxative
Both kinds of plantain share the same edible and medicinal properties, however the thin leaved ribwort is more commonly used in remedies.
The main property of Plantain is as a healing plant with a long history of treating a wide range of ailments. Ancient herbalists believed it to be something of a cure all, and consequently it is an ingredient in many old remedies.
It was once known as waybread, due to its tendency to grow along roadsides and presumably because it is also edible. The entire plant can be eaten raw or cooked but it is quite bland and slightly bitter. It is advisable to remove the tendon like strings from the leaves before consuming, which is a fiddly and tedious task. I have only tried a little nibble of the leaves, preferring to make a tea from it. I drink the tea for its strong antacid actions and it is the perfect plant for anyone who suffers from hyperacidity. This is made with a couple of handfuls of freshly picked, washed leaves in a tea pot filled with boiling water. You can also dry the leaves for use over the winter months.
It is considered useful by herbalists to aid digestion and to calm internal inflammations throughout the digestive system, including the bowel. It was once a common folk remedy for dysentery and whooping cough. The plant is certainly known to help with respiratory problems and has been used to treat asthma, chest infections and even pneumonia. It is also a common treatment for catarrh, sinusitis and inflamed throats. A natural anti-biotic, Plantain is the ideal remedy for all types of infection and as an anti-histamine it is also a good remedy for allergies, specifically hayfever.
One of its most simple uses is as a quick treatment for nettle stings or insect bites when out on a walk. Its cooling and anti-inflammatory actions immediately relieve swelling and discomfort. When made into an ointment it soothes burns and scalds.
Plantain was once used as a wound herb probably due to its antiseptic and anti-bacterial qualities. It is also able to stop bleeding, and is a proven anti-haemorrhage plant. Due to an astringent action the juice mixed with salt was used as an anti-dote for poisonous bites. The leaves were traditionally made into a poultice to draw splinters from inflamed flesh.
The herb has a long history as a kidney purifying herb and is still used by some herbalists for this purpose. It certainly has a diuretic qualities and the tea is helpful in the treatment of bladder infections. The seeds of the flower are known to be a strong laxative and have been used as a constipation cure for centuries.
Added to this I have read that plantain tea is excellent in the treatment of menopausal symptoms, balancing emotional highs and lows and cooling hot flushes.
Aside from its medicinal properties Plantain leaves were also historically used by manufacturers to make paper and stiffen linen during the finishing process.
These are some of my personal experiences using Plantain combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate, in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult with an herbalist or your GP. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.
Happy Hunting, Claire Fleetneedle
LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.