Plantago lanceolata (Plantain)

Latin: Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort Plantain) Plantago major (Broad Leaved Plantain).

Also Known As: Englishman’s Foot, Broad-leaved Plantain, Cuckoo’s Bread, The Leaf of Patrick, Patrick’s Dock, Ripple Grass, St. Patrick’s Leaf, Slan-lus, Snakebite, Snakeweed, Waybread, Waybroad, (Anglo Saxon) Weybroed, White Man’s Foot

Family: Plantaginaceae

Habitat and Description: Plantain is a very low growing perennial found growing in hedgerows and by road sides as well as in grassy meadows. It grows particularly well in earth that has been packed down by many people walking along it in all seasons – down on the common near where I live, there is a footpath that has been thoroughly trampled and it is covered in plantain that grows where no other plant can manage. There are two main kinds of Plantain used medicinally – that I am covering in this monograph anyway – and these are P.lanceolata, which has ovate, fairly long, thin leaves with deep veins, and P.major, which has much larger, broad, roughly oval shaped leaves with the same familiar heavy veining. The leaves themselves are juicy but tough. If you break a leaf, the central veins that run through the leaf will take more effort to break than the rest of the leaf. The leaves on both kinds grow in a central rosette, low to the ground, with the flowers appearing on long, slim, tough flower stems that grow up to approximately 10 inches tall. Ribwort Plantain in flower is really a very pretty sight. I’ve seen the flowering heads a pale pink colour, surprisingly eyecatching against green roadsides. They somewhat resemble miniature ballerinas to those with a whimsical imagination like mine.

Parts Used: Whole plant, especially the leaves.

Constituents: Constituents found in Plantain include iridoids; flavonoids such as aspigenin, scutellarin, caicalein, nepetin and plantagoside; triterpenes; polysaccharides; plant acids such as fumaric and benzoic acid; fatty acids such as oleic acid, ursolic, phosphoric and chlorogenic acids. It also contains trace minerals including zinc, iron, calcium and sodium, as well as bitter compounds and vitamins A,C and K.

Planetary Influence: Venus

Associated Deities and Heroes: None found at present, much to my surprise given this is one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo Saxons. It’s possible that this herb can be associated with all deities, and none, as a result of it being one of the sacred herbs, but this is pure speculation. Personally, Plantain has always put me in mind of the Crone Goddesses, not so much because of action but because of its low growing tenacity.

Festival: Not known

Constitution: Cool and moist

Actions and Indications: Culpeper has quite a lot to say about this herb, after a short and rather pointed comment about the other astrologer physicians of his time regarding Plantain as being ruled by Mars. His basic assessment of Plantain is that it is astringent and soothing at the same time, being useful in the treatment of excessive loss of fluid from the body, whether this is in the form of excessive women’s bleeding, or diarrhoea, or excessive urination. He also mentions that it is particularly good for lung problems such as ulceration and consumption. He also declares that the herb is an excellent external agent as well for rheumatic complaints and gout, as well as for wounds, stings, bites and burns. Gerard has very little to say about the plant though, other than the juice is good for cooling inflammation and infection of the eyes, which would seem to indicate more of an association with the moon than with Venus!

In modern usage, Plantain is indeed used to treat conjunctivitis, however this is quite literally the least of its uses.

The herb can be used to treat respiratory problems such as asthma and hayfever as it has anti asthmatic, antispasmodic, soothing properties that combine well with nettle. It can also be used to treat coughs, bronchitis and TB, and related inflamed conditions of the respiratory tract. It soothes and promotes the healing of inflamed, damaged respiratory surfaces, as well as being expectorant, encouraging the removal of phlegm from the system. Several sources are of the opinion that ribwort plantain is the best plantain for the lungs.

For the digestive system, it can bring ease to gastroenteritis, colic and related inflamed conditions of the digestive tract. It can also be used for chronic constipation according to some sources, though this seems odd to me as it is astringent. It is possible that psyllium husk was what was meant instead of the plantain covered in this article. A tea of plantain leaves can be used to ease the discomfort of stomach ulcers and upset stomach. The plant is excellent for removing toxins from the gut, and for toning the digestive system.

It can be used to treat problems relating to the reproductive tract and urinary tract as well, as Culpeper mentioned, being useful in the treatment of excessive menstrual bleeding, and inflamed conditions of the urinary tract such as cystitis. It is used as a kidney tonic and to nourish and restore the whole urinary tract, particularly good for those with weakened systems that are prone to infection, and for those prone to incontinence.

Topically, Plantain – especially broad leaved plantain, P.major – has always had a good reputation as a wound healer. The fresh leaves can be picked and either chewed into a spit poultice or punctured repeatedly with the thumb nail and applied to wounds and stings to ease discomfort. The plant can be turned into a useful drawing ointment which is thickly applied over the top of wounds with dirt in or splinters, then loosely bandaged. The ointment will pull the muck out of the wound, and draw the splinter out of the flesh. Other plants good for this use include marshmallow and slippery elm powder.

Plantain is also an excellent herb for the mouth, great in the relief of inflamed gums and tooth infections. The tinctures can be used for this purpose as a mouthwash. I suspect probably a strong infusion of the leaves would be just as useful. The leaf, crushed and packed by the damaged area, can relieve pain and ease infection.

Plantago lanceolata (Plantain)

Spiritual and Energetic Uses: Plantain is another of those herbs that, despite having a long and venerable reputation as a medicinal herb, has little or no information associated with it in terms of what it can do for a person on a more energetic, emotional level. My personal theory for Plantain is that it can probably be used to engender toughness, and the ability to weather storms but with a calm pliability and tenacity instead of an overblown ‘I am not going to move, you will have to go around me’ mentality. But again, this is just a theory.

Magical Uses: Magically, much like many herbs, Plantain is used to bring protection to the home and car as well as to give strength to magical workings. Bound to the forehead with red wool, it can apparently remove headaches, and when put under the feet it eases fatigue. The root carried in the pocket guards the carrier from snake bites.

Folklore: The humble Plantain is mentioned in the Lacnunga – one of the Anglo Saxon medicine texts – as being one of the nine sacred herbs. It was used for poisonous bites and related injuries, and was known as weybroed, not because it tastes pleasant but because it grows on and near paths

The name ‘White Man’s Footstep’ comes from the fact that it closely followed the new settlers over in America and New Zealand, probably to the displeasure of the natives!

Plantain has been used in medicine for thousands of years, and has a reputation dating back to the Greek physicians.

Dose: A fairly strong infusion of the leaf can be drunk three times a day. Tincture dose would be up to 3mls three times a day.

Contraindications: None known at present.

Brought to you by Alex English at http://www.eldrumherbs.co.uk