Common Plantain (Plantago major L.) and its Uses

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While plantain shows up just about anywhere (walk around your yard and you’re sure to find it somewhere), that wasn’t always the case.  Plantain is said to have come to the New World with the European settlers.  Native Americans began referring to the plant as “white man’s footprint” because it seemed wherever white man had been, plantain started appearing!  Two most common plantains – broad-leafed, which is discussed here, and narrow-leafed- are interchangeable in usage.

Found: The common (or broad-leafed) plantain is found just about anywhere and thrives in areas with very compact soil – take a look around a heavily trafficked footpath or in waste areas.

Identifying: It is a perennial that grows to about 6 – 18 inches in height.  The leaves are broad and oval-like, and are deeply ribbed with a grooved stalk.  

Parts Used: Leaves, seeds

Medicinal Use: The plantain is a folk remedy for cancer throughout Latin America. Confirmed as an antimicrobial.  Stimulates healing.  Leaf tea is good for coughs, diarrhea, dysentery, and bloody urine.  Good for bronchodilation; this has been confirmed scientifically and is used in Europe for bronchitis.  As a treatment of upper respiratory catarrh and for inflamed mucous membranes of mouth and throat, it has been approved in Germany.  Leaves can be crushed and directly applied to insect stings, snake bites, poisonous spider bites, skin irritations (even poison ivy), blisters, sores, swelling.  Good for thrush in children. Mild antibiotic and anti-inflammatory – great for cleaning wounds.  Has great ability to draw out and close up infection; in fact it’s one of the best drawing herbs in Western herbalism.  Therefore, it’s also quite useful for boils and abscesses. Plantain seed mucilage sometimes used for lowering cholesterol levels.  Native American remedy for Bell’s palsy.  If you’re prone to bouts of the scurvy, plantain is loaded with Vitamin C and was a common European Renaissance herb used for this purpose.

Preparation:  As a poultice, the crushed leaf can be applied directly to a wound, bite, or skin irritation.  For abscesses around the teeth, inflamed tooth roots, or remaining infection after a root canal, Matthew Wood recommends the plantain leaf highly and says he’s even seen it save teeth that were otherwise doomed to be lost.  For wounds, stings, bites etc., you can even chew the leaf first and apply the chewed leaf directly to affected area which makes it a good plant to know if you plan on a camping or hiking trip. As an infusion in milk, plantain can be used on hemorrhoids.  Plantain can be dried and used as a tea for winter, or used fresh during the summer.  (It is also often available fresh in the winter months, even beneath the snow!)

Allergic Reactions/Warnings: Occasionally, plantain will cause contact dermatitis in some individuals, but this is rare.

Note: These posts are not meant to be a medical guide but an overview.  Consulting an herbal specialist is always recommended.

1 comment to Common Plantain (Plantago major L.) and its Uses

  • A. Grillo

    Oh my!!! Here I thought that it was just a nuisance and for years applied herbicides. Plantain has so many medicinal uses I never imagined possible. Thanks for the tip.