Plantago lanceolata and major are both common plants that grow across most of the United States and United Kingdom and are a member of the Plantaginaceae family. Plantain, as commonly known, likes to put down roots near human activity and is often found along roadsides, popping up through sidewalk cracks, in meadows and other areas where the soil has been disturbed. Not surprisingly, plantains in the garden are common and are usually considered unwelcome weeds. This is unfortunate because plantain is considered one of the most important healing herbs in the Materica Medica and is probably more nutritious than most of the leafy greens typically cultivated in garden patches.
Household names for Plantago lanceolata include Greater Plantain, Hen-Plant, Soldier’s Herb and Ribwort. Native Americans called the plant “White Man’s Footprint” because it grows readily wherever people walk. Plantago major is also known as Broad-leaved plantain, Englishman’s Foot, Cuckoo’s Bread, Snakeweed or Ripple grass.
The qualities of Plantain leaves are cooling, bitter and astringent, having affinity to the respiratory and urinary systems as well as digestive and circulatory systems. Native to North America, Asia and Europe, where it was once thought to be a sacred herb the leaves have been used medicinally for millennia to treat urinary problems, sore throats, respiratory disorders, stomach ailments, skin irritations, heart problems, sore muscles and rheumatism. Native Americans understood how to put plantain to good use to cure fever, heal wounds and treat snake and insect bites. Leaves contain anti-bacterial properties and silica and are consequently effective in preventing infection, especially in minor cuts and wounds as well as for healing open wounds.
Properties of Plantain
Essentially both P. lanceolata and P. major have similar plant constituents that are important for healing. Both contain iridoids called aucubin and catapol which are anti-inflammatory, as well as flavonoids (antioxidants) that strengthen blood vessels. Plantain also contains mucilage that soothes sore and inflamed mucous membranes, especially in the respiratory system including coughs and mild bronchitis. The polysaccharides contain anti-bacterial properties that means plantain has the power to be protective against streptococcus.
From an ancient Chinese perspective, Plantain drains dampness. This means Plantain is good for treating “damp” conditions in the body. Therapeutic actions include cooling alterative (blood cleansing), diuretic, styptic (stops bleeding), astringent, antiseptic, vulnerary (wound healing), anti-venomous and anthelmintic. The diuretic properties make it a good remedy for the treatment of water retention and for alleviating bladder and kidney infections. The astringent properties of Plantain can be used to treat haemorrhoids as well as excessive menstrual discharge.
Why Choose Plantain as a Healing Herb?
Aids with Digestive Disturbances
Plantain leaf is both astringent and soothing, countering irritation in the stomach and bowels, including reducing spasm and colic, and may be used for gastritis, diarrhoea and colitis as well as bowel infections. (Avoid if suffering from gastro-oesophageal reflux)
Drawing Remedy for Skin Infections, Bites and Stings
This is a very useful herb that can come to the rescue when you cut yourself when out walking and hiking or get stung by an insect, as the leaves when masticated and applied externally can stem any bleeding. Used as a poultice, Plantain leaves will stop the pain from bites and stings and when left on for a few days is effective at drawing out the stingers and poisons. For deeply embedded splinters a Plantain poultice can be used and left for up to five days. If the site is infected the poultice will draw out the infection and reduce inflammation while drawing out the embedded splinter.
Strengthens the Immune system
Plantain leaves have immunomodulating properties, whilst the cooling effect clears heat and toxins to reduce fevers. It also has expectorant and decongestant properties clearing chest infections and catarrh.
One of my favourite uses for Plantain is the treatment of allergies and hay fever. If suffering from hay fever and out on a walk, simply chew several of the leaves without swallowing them. Within about 20 minutes this will dry up the mucous membranes in the nose and eyes. At the same time it will alleviate any coughing and sneezing that might accompany the runny nose and watery eyes. (Avoid if suffering from gastro-oesophageal reflux)
This abundant herb that is at its peak in around July and can come to the rescue in many situations when you are out and about enjoying Mother nature. You will not have to go far to find either the elongated, ribbed and pointed leaves of P. lanceolata or the round flat, ribbed leaves of P. major. Whilst the leaves might have too much of a drying effect, if you have forgotten your sandwiches you can also eat them to gain an abundance of vitamins and minerals.
Drug Interactions: If you are taking insulin, do not take Plantain internally without consulting a trained herbal practitioner. If pregnant always take herbs with caution.
Take herbs 2 hours apart from any pharmaceutical drugs.
McIntyre, Anne and Boudin Michelle (2012) Dispensing with Tradition, Great Britain: Anne McIntyre and Michelle Boudin.
McIntrye, Anne (2010) the Complete Herbal Tutor, Great Britain: Gaia, Division of Octopus Publishing Group.
Tierra, Lesley (2003) Healing with the Herbs of Life , New York : Crossing Press, Division of Random House Publishing Group.
Christopher, John, Dr. (2014), 15th edition, School of Natural Healing, Utah, Christopher Publications, Inc.
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