Herb Profile: The amazing powers of Plantain – by Tricia Curtis
When I was a little girl, I remember feeding some chooks that belonged to my grandparents neighbours. The chooks were kept in a little A-frame house that was moved around the lawn. Always, the patch of ground underneath them was denuded of any vegetation. Those chooks were always looking for some greenery to eat and I knew what they loved most. Plantain. Not that I knew what it was called back then but I knew how satisfying it was watching those chooks gobble those leaves down. They could never have enough, and they surely knew what was good for them. So many children suffer from ear-aches. How wonderful would it be for a parent to have the knowledge and wisdom to go and pick a handful of plantain leaves, squeeze out the juice and apply a few drops directly inside the ear canal for effective pain relief. Plantain has proven anti-bacterial, antiviral and antiinflammatory properties just for starters. Yup it’s more than chook food, that’s for sure. It’s the first one of Dr Christophers 10 most important herbs and one of the nine sacred herbs of the old Anglo Saxon text the Lacnunga.
Common names; Greater plantain, Common plantain, Round-leaved plantain, Rib-wort, Soldiers herb, Broad-leaved plantain, White-mans-foot, Snake-weed, Devils shoestring, Way bread
.Description; Plantago major is a hardy and prolific perennial. The irregularly oval-shaped leaves can grow up to 20cms long by 10cms across and are smooth and dark green in colour. The leaves are thick and fibrous with between 5 -9 indented/parallel veins formed along the length of each leaf. The plant grows in a rosette form squat to the ground, directly emerging from a cluster of long, tough and yellowish roots. Tall spikes of inconspicuous flowers are produced directly from the centre of the rosette. Each flower stalk can be up to 24cms long and in time will produce a crop of tiny light-brown seeds, which self-sows freely.
Parts Used; Leaves, roots and seeds.
Preparations; Tinctures/extracts, homeopathic pills and liquids, teas/tisanes, poultices, washes, infusions, ointments/salves/creams. The plant loses much of its medicinal activity by drying. All preparations should be made from the freshly-gathered roots and tops. Water or alcohol extracts the virtues of the plant.
Habitat; There are over 200 species of plantain. Plantains are indigenous to Europe and to the temperate parts of Asia. Plantago major is a hardy perennial that has naturalised world-wide throughout the temperate region. It is found in lawns, on road-sides and fields, wastelands and in cracks in footpaths. It thrives in nearly any soil, easily enduring compacted soils and prefering open, sunny situations.
Traditional & Historical uses; Plantain is listed as one of the nine sacred herbs in ancient Anglo-Saxon medicine. Different species of plantain have been used by almost all cultures. The seeds, roots and leaves all have different activities and are consequently used for treating different ailments. A few examples ; North American Indians used it to draw out the poison of rattle-snake bites and for battle wounds. In Germany it was used for lip cancer. In Chile, Peru & Venezuela for tumours/cancers. In Mexico for diarrhoea dysentry and fevers. The Tikuna Indians of the Amazon used plantain for fevers and bronchitis. In Costa Rica as an eyewash on cataracts and for conjunctivitis. Hawaiian medicine used plantain to treat boils, diabetes, as a laxative and for reproductive ailments. Japan as an analgesic and demulcent, and on tumours. The Chinese used plantain as a diuretic and for UTI’s, coughs, diarrhoea and dysentry. Malaysia for treating male infertility, gonorrhoea, diabetes mellitus and dysentry. In North Africa for wounds, burns, abscesses, bites and inflammations, haemorrhoids and fevers. In the past plantain has been used to treat symptoms of tuberculosis. Modern research supports this.
Therapeutic Actions; antibacterial, antiviral, antiinflammatory, laxative, vermifuge, diuretic, demulcent, astringent, antiseptic, analgesic, vulnerary, emollient, decongestant, expectorant, antitussive, haemostatic, cardiac, antitumour, immunoenhancing, cytotoxic
Constituents; Acids; chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, p-coumaric acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid, caffeic acid, salicylic acid, citric acid, benzoic acid, fumaric acid. Alkaloids. Amino acids. Carbohydrates; L-Fructose, D-glucose, saccharose, sorbitol, mucilage. Flavonoides; apigenin. Iridoids; aucubin. Allantoin, invertin, emulsin, betacarotene, lipids, terpenoides, tannins, Vitamin C, A, K & B1, calcium, potassium, protein.
Current Herbal uses Externally; Wounds, cuts, abrasians, for healthy scar tissue formation, ulcers, pussy sores, skin inflammations, burns, sunburn, boils, carbuncles, eczema, ringworm, insect bites, dandruff, eye-wash for inflamed eyes, conjunctivitis, as a douche for vaginal infections (not to be used thus if pregnant) The fresh juice applied for otitis and earache. Internally; Its astringency is used for treating intestinal inflammation, aiding in the relief of diarrhoea, haemorrhoids and stomachaches. The fresh juice for treating mild stomach ulcers, bleeding gums, chronic colitis, acute gastritis, enteritis, enterocolitis. Plantain seeds can be used medicinally, having mild laxative effects similar to the seeds of psyllium, a close relative of plantain. For respiratory tract diseases it acts as a gentle expectorant while also soothing inflamed and painful membranes, making it ideal for coughs, bronchitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis and aphonia. For urinary tract infections, childhood enuresis and as a blood purifier.
Contra-indications; Laboratory studies have reported uterine stimulatory activity hence plantain is not recommended for use during pregnancy without professional guidance.
Food uses;The young leaves are gathered in spring before the plant has produced any flowers and are eaten raw in salads or cooked as a pot herb. Once the plant matures, the leaves become tough, stringy and bitter.
P.O Box 251, Silverdale, Auckland, NZ