No not the bananas!
This is another weed that I can almost guarantee you will have on your allotment or in your garden. It grows well in compacted soil so is more often seen in lawns and paths than in your beds. It can put up with a lot of abuse and seems to simply shrug off being mowed or walked upon.
Although there are over 200 species of Plantain (Plantago) in the world I will only be discussing the two main types of Plantain common in the UK and these are Ribwort and Rat’s Tail plantain.
Ribwort (Plantago Lanceolata) has long spear like leaves with tough raised ribs running along the length of the underside. The flowers are at the end of long leafless stems and form a bullet shaped seed head surrounded by a ring of small light coloured flowers.
Rattail Plantain (Plantago Major) also known as Broad leaf or Greater Plantain produces a rosette of oval leaves with raised veins on the underside. The flowers form along a leafless stem and look like a rat’s tail.
Plantains are perennial, wind pollinated and are propagated by spreading seed. The seeds are often carried on the feet of animals and humans and this could explain why they spread along rights of way.
Plantain originated in Europe and Asia but because it is such an important healing plant it is now found all over the world. It was introduced to the Americas by the first European settlers and quickly became established. It was so synonymous with the incomers that the indigenous peoples called it ‘White man’s foot’ because wherever the white man walked, Plantain would soon follow. The native tribes quickly realised the benefits of Plantain and it was integrated into their own herbal traditions. Interestingly the plant is known as ‘Englishman’s Foot’ in New Zealand. presumably for the same reason.
All parts of the Plantain are edible and the leaves and seeds have a mild mushroom taste but they are not renowned as a food although I like the taste and it does contain quite a few beneficial nutrients including Vitamins C and K, Calcium and Potassium.
Where Plantain really come into their own is as a herbal medicine.
The crushed leaves of the plantain have very good wound healing properties so are great for treating minor cuts and grazes.Tannins and Allantoin in Plantain speed up cell regeneration helping wound heal quickly. Just chew up a couple of leaves to form a pulp poultice, place this on the wound and bandage loosely to hold poultice in place. Plantain is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. It also helps draw infection, poisons and foreign bodies from the wound so is great for treating insect bites, stings and splinters. Plantain is better than Dock leaves for treating Stinging nettle rash and can also be used to calm sun burn.
I have used Plantain to relieve the pain of toothache and is great for treating gum infections and mouth ulcers. You can chew a couple of leaves and hold it in your mouth against the problem tooth or ulcer plus you can make an infusion of the leaves in hot water, allow it to cool and use it as a mouthwash. Powdered Plantain root is also useful for toothache but if you don’t have the powdered root handy you can just dig up the root, clean it and chew it to ease the pain.
An infusion of Plantain leaves can be used to treat sore throats and acts as both a decongestant and expectorant and due to it’s antibacterial properties is great for treating a wide range of respiratory complaints.
Another area where Plantain is effective is in the treatment of digestive disorders. A teaspoon of dried leaves made into a tea or infusion is very good for treating Diarrhoea, inflammation of the colon, IBS, stomach ulcers and is said to kill worms in the stomach and intestines. Plantain is also very effective in the treatment of Haemorrhoids so next time you think all the weeds in your garden are a pain in the butt, think again.
Up until now I have mainly talked about the benefits of using the leaves of the plantain but the seed have their uses as well. The seeds can be dried and ground into flour for making gluten free flat breads and because Plantain is rich in mucilages it can be used to thicken soups etc.
The mucilages in Plantain relieves irritation of mucous membranes by forming a protective film so helps combat the symptoms of cold and flu. It also acts as a cough suppressant especially with dry coughs. The seeds are also used to treat constipation.
Plantain really is a very powerful plant that is literally growing right under your feet. It is very easy to identify and can be found all year round. I have only just touched on a few of the wonderful things Plantain can do and I hope I have sparked enough of an interest that you will do your own research into what plantain can do for you.
I am not an expert in any sort of medicine including herbal remedies so it is important that you use your own judgement on what will work for you and if you are in any doubt please consult your Health Care Professional.