Plantain

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plantain-Plantago-major-seediing
plantain going to seed

Botanical: Plantago major

Family: Plantaginaceae

parts used: leaves

energetics: cooling, moist, astringent (a most interesting mix!)

actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, astringent, vulnerary

common names: Rib Grass, Ripple Grass, Waybread, Slan-lus, Waybroad, Snakeweed, Cuckoo’s Bread, Englishman’s Foot, White Man’s Foot, Pony Tails, Devil’s Shoe String, Buckhorn, Chimney Sweeps, Headsman, Soldier’s Herb, Healing Blade.

plantago-major
Anglo Saxons called Plantain “Weybroed” as it often grew on trackways

‘Plantago major means literally “main sole-like” as the plant’s leaves look like the sole of a shoe and this is also reflected in another North American name of “Devil’s shoe string”. The Anglo Saxons called Plantain “Weybroed” or Waybread as it often grew on trackways. In the Highlands of Scotland, the Plantain is still called ‘Slan-lus,’ meaning ‘plant of healing’ from a firm belief in its healing virtues. In Scotland it is also called Healing Blade from its use in treating wounds where the leaves were heated and used to staunch blood flow and encourage repair to damaged tissue.

In the United States the plant is called ‘Snake Weed’ from its benefits in treating cases of snake bites and also called “Englishman’s Foot” because it followed the Settlers. Dr. Robinson (New Family Herbal) states that a Native American received a great reward from the Assembly of South Carolina for his discovery that Plantain was ‘the chief remedy for the cure of the rattlesnake.’ [1]

People often ask “What is the best herb?” What is your favorite herb? What is the most valuable herb?
The answer to all three questions is at our feet… Plantain. It grows everywhere. It works. It has qualities almost too numerous to mention. I remember a day when I thought that the most important and valuable herb needed to be exotic and cost a lot of money to acquire. But the most truly valuable herb is one found in abundance right in your backyard or the woods close by and it is a most versatile herb.

“Plantain is the Watson of weeds.”
~ Valorie Paul

Growth & Habitat Plantain is a perennial “weed” that can be found almost anywhere in North America and much of Europe. In fact it first came to us via the Europeans, who seemed to leave the plant growing wherever they traveled. Thus Native Americans called it “white man’s foot” and immediately set out to discover its uses. Most people know plantain by the name of “psyllium.” Plantago psyllium provides the seeds for many over-the-counter laxative preparations, like Metamucil ®. Other species of plantain are also used commercially for varied medical purposes, since all have the same basic healing properties. It will grow in sun to shade, and in almost any soil.

The plantain we grow at Our Herb Farm was originally harvested by Oolagah Lake (in NE Oklahoma), growing in the shade of some old scrub oak trees. We dug some up and now reseeds itself freely every year. If you want it to grow without transplanting it, cut off a seed head when it is fully dried and put the whole seed stalk in a a long shallow hole. Next year you will have a bunch of new seedlings.

Plantain is fairly low-growing, some of ours, with great afternoon shade and plenty of water, grow to a foot and a half, not counting the seed pods which can reach up to three feet. It is a beautiful green plant with oval, ribbed short-stemmed leaves. The leaves form basal rosettes. The longer they are left to grow, the more variety of leaf size. Older leaves closer to the ground can sometimes reach a foot in length and eight inches across. The leaves also vary greatly in size depending on soil and light they receive. Plantain sends up a leafless flower stock in summer and fall.

plantain-Plantago major-in bloom
plantain bloom

There are over 200 species in the plantain family, and they are found worldwide. Many have herbal uses. Plantago major is the most common in North America, but Plantago lanceolata can also be found. Both have the same medicinal uses, and are similar in appearance. Plantago major has wide rounded leaves, with a flowering spike covered with small seeds; Plantago lanceolata has longer, slender leaves, and a mostly bare flowering stem, with a cone-like cluster of flowers on the top.

Culinary Uses for Plantain

The leaves are a delicious substitute for spinach when harvested young. The older leaves are edible but the ribs make very stringy chewy and can get nice and bitter. Plantain can be eaten raw or cooked and used almost anywhere you would use lettuce or greens. Young leaves are good in salads, salsa, pesto, smoothies, and great for juicing.

Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C), and vitamin K.

The seeds have a nutty flavor and may be parched and added to a variety of foods or ground into flour.

Cosmetic Uses for Plantain

Salmon’s in his Herbal (1710) also tells us that a good cosmetic is made with essence of Plantain, house leeks and lemon juice. In the Louisiana bayou the dried leaves were put in the linen closet to perfume the contents and keep insects out. [2]

Using Plantain for Wellness

Properties of Plantain

Among the more notable chemicals found in plantain are allantion, apigenin, aucubin, baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol, and tannin. Together these constituents are thought to give plantain mild anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antihemorrhagic, and expectorant actions.

Plantain contains beta carotene, calcium, ascorbic acid, vitamin K, allantion, apigenin, aucubin, baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol, and tannin.

Plantain also contains allantoin (also in the makeup of comfrey and has been proved to promote wound healing, speed up cell regeneration, and have skin-softening effects.

Plantain was one of nine sacred herbs suggested to be included in a salve as an antidote to poison and infection in the pagan Anglo-Saxon “Nine Herbs Charm” recorded in the Lacnunga, a 10th-century herbal [3]. Plantain was called waybrede, expressing the habit of the plant to grow along waysides and cart paths, and the broad-leaved nature of P. major’s leaves. [4]

It is one of the greats for supporting wound healing, skin health, and skin softening.

“And of Plantaine he hath his herb sovereine”
~ Gower (1390)

  • Plantain has been used as a remedy for cough irritations and hoarseness and for gastritis and enteritis.
    It has also been used for a range of respiratory problems including bronchitis and asthma and especially those involving mucous congestion.
  • Externally, the fresh leaves are crushed for application to eczema, burns, ringworms, shingles, scalds, wounds, running sores, ulcers, cuts, scratches, boils, tumours, insect bites, nettle stings and hemorrhoids. It was also widely used as a laxative, to combat inflammation and to sooth tired feet.
  • The juice or infusion dropped into the eyes cools inflammation in them.
  • The herb is used in inflammation of the skin, malignant ulcers, intermittent fever, etc., and as a vulnerary, and externally as a stimulant application to sores.
  • Rubbed on parts of the body stung by insects, nettles, etc., or as an application to burns and scalds, will help in relief of the pain.
  • It is said to be good against epilepsy, dropsy, jaundice and opens obstructions of the liver, spleen and reins.
  • It helps in stopping the bleeding and encourages the repair of damaged tissue.
  • The common plantain is also useful in clearing stomach and bowel infections as well as urinary infections, cystitis, prostatis as well as urethritis or infection of the urethra.
  • Ointments or lotions prepared with the common plantain leaves may be used to cure hemorrhoids, fistulae or anomalous channels in the skin as well as ulcers.

Dose: 2 teaspoons of dried herb in 8 ounces of hot water, steep for 10-15 minutes, drink 3-4 cups/day; 3-6 mL of a 1:2 tincture 3x/day

Plantain to Help to Stop Smoking?

The Materia Medicas (Boericke-USA, Clarke-England, Juanny-France) all note that Plantago Major can cause an aversion to tobacco. Acubin has been reported in the Journal Of Toxicology as a powerful anti-toxin.

I have read that, used as a tea, spray, or tincture internally, plantain not only can reduce cravings for smoking, it also can reduce smokers lung inflammation and also can help to clean out the smokers and even non-smokes lungs. Note: I will post more research on this article when I get it put together… this is just information I have read somewhere and need to document.

More on herbs to quit smoking.

Video! A most common plant, a most useful herb. The story of plantain is told by Jim McDonald, Matthew Wood and Brigitte Mars.

And, you, Waybrede, mother of herbs,
open to the east, mighty within;
Over you carts rolled, over you queens rode,
over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
All you withstood then, and were crushed;
So you withstand poison and contagion
and the loathsome one who travels through the land.

*All doses come from the book Herbal Therapy and Supplements by David Winston and Merrily A. Kuhn.

References:

  1. Malcolm Brown. Plantain. http://wightdruids.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=136:plantain&catid=37:flower-of-the-month&Itemid=152. Updated August 08, 2012.
  2. Salmon, 1710: Botanologia. | Henriette’s Herbal Homepage. http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/salmon/index.html. Accessed Sept 4, 2015.
  3. R.K. Penn State Medieval Gardens | Plants in the Saxon World. http://www.psumedievalgarden.com/sacred_saxon_herbs.html. (n.d.)
  4. Mountain Man Traditional Healing (n.d.) https://ozarkhealingblog.com/2015/06/11/addendum-to-day-56%e2%80%b3-on-the-name-plantain/
  5. The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook by James A. Duke, Ph.D