Broadleaf plantain Plantago major
Lance (narrow) leaf plantain P. lanceolata
Native Plantain P. rugelii
Plantain is an old-time remedy used for its soothing, cooling and healing effect on wounds, sores, skin irritations and ulcers. Calling it waybread, the ancient Anglo-Saxons considered plantain one of their nine sacred herbs. Navajo call this plant "life medicine" and regard it as a panacea. My children always called plantain the band-aid plant.
Plantain is topically healing. Widely used as a remedy for eczema and psoriasis, it is also an excellent healer for cuts, burns, rashes and hemorrhoids. I apply an infused oil made of freshly gathered plantain leaves directly to the skin to soothe or heal, or use it as the primary ingredient in a salve. When stung by a bee, wasp or nettle bush, my children immediately went to find a fresh plantain leaf to chew and apply. It relieves the pain and stops swelling.
Plantain has a long history of use as a kidney tonic. It nourishes the entire urinary system, helping soothe infections and irritations. To help relieve urinary discomfort, I make an infusion of the dried leaves and drink one cup, or take 20 drops of fresh leaf tincture, three times a day. Plantain is a relaxing antispasmodic tonic to the mucous membranes. For centuries, plantain leaves have been used to help those with coughs, asthma and bronchial problems. It is a soothing demulcent expectorant, which heals inflamed surfaces and brings up phlegm.
The Abenaki poultice wounds, inflammations and swollen joints with plantain, as do the Cherokee, Chippewa, Tête-de-Boule, Ojibwa and Potawatomi. Omaha remove splinters by applying hot plantain leaves. Penobscots in Maine use plantain root to treat cancer. I've known people to find relief from stomach ulcers and gastric disturbances by drinking soothing plantain infusion or taking the fresh leaf tincture. Astringent properties give plantain a long-standing reputation as an effective remedy for relieving diarrhea.
P. lanceolata, the narrow leaf plantain, called Plantago lanciuola and centonervi, is most commonly found growing along roadsides and country roads in Southern Italia, and is the species of plantain most used by my neighbors there. The leaves are valued for their anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties. A poultice of the leaves is placed on hot, inflamed body parts and the crushed leaves are placed between two cloths and applied on insect or animal bites to relieve pain. An infusion of the leaves is used to wash delicate or reddened skin and to soothe eyes suffering from conjunctivitis. The infusion of dry leaves counters bronchitis, respiratory distress and colds. The leaves, and especially the mucilaginous seeds, are eaten to stimulate intestinal peristalsis. The decoction, syrup and tincture are all used as an astringent to stop bleeding.
Plantain seeds may be substituted for the seeds of Plantago psyllium or flax seeds. As a bulk-builder, they are especially beneficial for people who do not eat whole grains and fiber-rich foods. I pour a cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of the seeds and allow it to cool. Drinking this mucilaginous liquid once a day adds bulk to a sluggish or irritable bowel, stimulating bowel movement. Applied as a poultice, plantain seeds relieve the pain, bleeding and itching of hemorrhoids. In addition, one study found that taking a teaspoon of plantain seeds three times daily for eight weeks significantly lowers cholesterol levels. The seeds are laxative and thus not recommended for internal use during pregnancy.
Flower Essence Plantain flower essence helps to clarify our intentions by removing doubts and negative self-talk.
Magical Lore Old wives said that writing the name of an ill person on a piece of paper three times, wrapping the paper in a plantain leaf (tied with red string) and then laying that leaf on the heart of the patient while offering prayers on their behalf, will help to chase out the disease and restore good health and vitality.
Culture I love this herb's sturdy presence. Plantain simply heals and heals simply. It has a "be here now, I am what I am" philosophy. Cool, steady and ever ready, that's plantain. Put a leaf inside your shoe to absorb this plant's secrets and cool and soothe your feet. Plantain is a familiar plant, growing all around the edges of lawns, and along driveways and well-trodden paths. Some of the plants get quite large, and all of them have distinctive, deep green, almost rubbery leaves with 5 parallel veins or ribs that grow in the form of a rosette.
Both varieties of plantain have the same medicinal properties and differ only in the size and width of their leaves. Plantago lanceolata has long thin leaves, while the leaves of Plantago major are broad. Around our farm in Maine, broadleaf plantain grows thick and stunning alongside paths and in any spots it chooses around the gardens. The plant has created a vibrant green mass in an area that was previously a driveway. I gather plantain leaves any time they are growing, usually all summer and well into fall. I tincture the freshly gathered leaves in alcohol or vinegar, and infuse a lot of them in oil for salve making.
Plantain leaves can be dried on screens or hung by the stems in small bunches. After the broadleaf plantain flower stalks have gone to seed, I harvest them by using my fingers to strip the seeds right from the stalk while it's still on the plant. I dry plantain seeds in shallow baskets and sprinkle them on my breakfast cereal or bake them in bread.