Traditional and Modern Uses of Ribwort and Greater Plantain

Greater Plantain (Plantago major) and Lesser Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) belong to a big family of plants called Plantaginaceae.

Greater and lesser plantain are also known as common plantain and ribwort plantain respectively. Plantains are a versatile wild edible and herbal remedy.

Common Name

Greater Plantain and Lesser Plantain.

Scientific Name

Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata.

Family

Plantaginaceae.

Botanical Description

Greater Plantain (Plantago major): the leaves are broadly oval, long-stalked, ribbed and green. The flower spike is long, cylindrical spikes covered in tiny flowers with purple anthers.

Lesser Plantain (Plantago lanceolata): the leaves are long, lance-shaped, ribbed and green. The flowers are tiny in tight brownish spikes with yellow anthers.

Status

Both greater and lesser plantain are perennial, native to Britain, Ireland, Europe, parts of Asia and naturalised around the world.

Habitat and Distribution

Both species grow vigorously at waysides, in fields and lawns.

Parts Used For Food

Largely the leaves and seeds.

Harvest Time

  • Greater plantain – spring to summer.
  • Lesser plantain – spring to autumn.

Food Uses

Plantain leaves are picked and used as a salad green, vegetable or potherb. The seeds have been ground to make flour.1

Nutritional Profile

As a wild edible, plantain species are considered highly nutritious, containing vitamins A, B, C and K, calcium, fibre, fat, protein, silicon, sodium, zinc, tannin and mucilage.2 The nutty-flavoured seeds are also considered a good source of protein.

Plantain Recipes

Traditional Medicine Uses

Greater and ribwort plantain has been used as a general remedy for many complaints from cuts, sores and bruises1 to kidney disease, bowel disorders and intestinal worms.3

It was considered a great healer and, in particular, a vulnerary herb for its ability to prevent external bleeding.3

Other Uses

The seeds were once collected to feed small caged birds.3

Cautions

Eating too much plantain may have a laxative effect and could even lower blood pressure.4

There is little data on the plant’s toxicity and therefore it is best avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding, or for use for a specific medical condition, without further medical advice.

References

1. Jackson, PW. Ireland’s Generous Nature. The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. St Louis, Missouri, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-915279-78-4.

2. Pedersen, M. Wendell, W. Nutritional Herbology . Whitman Company. Warsaw, 1998. ISBN: 1-885653-07-7.

3. Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal. Tiger Books International. London, 1996. ISBN: 1-85501-249-9.

4. Karalliedde, Dr L. Gawarammana, Dr I. Traditional Herbal Medicines. A guide to their safer use. Hammersmith Press Ltd. London, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-905140-04-6.

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  1. Hi could you identify each plant to the pictures at the top of the article? I know of plantago major as the one on the left and lancelota on the right but the one in the middle looks like a combo of the two. Thanks very much

  2. It saved me when I was camping and developed a tooth ache, I was in agony. Drank cup after cup of boiled plantain and wedged wads of it on infected tooth (half of my head had swollen I looked like the elephant man!) 24 hour’s later I was fine.

  3. I drink it as a tea, sometimes with mint. NEVER sugar. It acts as an expectorant and opens the tubes! Makes breathing easier.

  4. All Plantagos are remarkable plants, medicinally invaluable to herbalists in our practice.
    Just to mention that you describe the leaves of both main plantain species as “long” – but Plantago major differs from P. lanceolata (apart from the arrangement of the inflorescence on its stalk) precisely by its broad leaves, as the common name suggests. I’m sure it was just an editing oversight.
    Best wishes, and waiting for more of your monographs!

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