Plantain, Common

Plantago major & related spp. – Plantain, Common

Plantain, CommonPlantago major & related spp.

Plantago = plan-ta-go, sole of the foot. Some West coast Indians consider this plant “white-man-foot-print”, as it came with the white man and could be found everywhere they went.

Identification: Common plantain has a flowering stalk 10 – 30 cm high, topped by a dense spike of greenish or sometimes white flowers. The leaves, all basal, are broad, oval to ovate. This common plant is easily recognized but has many variable features.

Distribution & Habitat: Common plantain is often found growing along roadsides and in waste areas and lawns. When mowing the lawn, people remove plantain s flower spike but do not damage the basal leaves.

Preparation & Uses: Plantain is high in vitamins C, A and K. The young leaves can be eaten raw like lettuce and are better cooked when older and tougher. Chopping plaintain leaves finely will often make it easier to eat.

Medicinally this plant is listed as alterative, astringent, diuretic and antiseptic. The seeds are high in mucilage. The bruised leaves were used as a poultice for wounds (a use which has been scientifically supported) and bruises. The Shoshone mixed plantain with an equal part of clematis bracts for this purpose, as well as to reduce swelling, rheumatic pains and boils. I have frequently used the chewed leaves as a poultice for bites and stings. Blaine, whose photographs grace much of this book, especially recommends the plant for wasp stings. Crush the leaves and place on stings. The pain will disappear in under ten minutes. Do not remove the leaves or the pain will return. This herb is even said to draw the poison out of snake bites.

Internally the infusion is an aid in normalizing stomach acids and secretions. Moore writes “the fresh juice of plantain can be almost miraculous in mild stomach ulcers. It can be preserved with 25% vodka or ten percent grain alcohol”. The seeds of a related species P. psyllium are a very popular bulk laxative. Plantain’s gentle diuretic effect works on dropsy, water retention and kidney and bladder infections. The seeds of all Plantago spp. have been shown to lower cholesterol. Plantain ointment has a soothing effect on hemorrhoids.

The roots were chewed by the Indians for toothaches.