Plantain

Plantain belongs to a big family of plants called Plantaginaceae.

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

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

Perennial, native to Britain, Ireland, Europe, and parts of Asia and naturalised around the world.

Habitat and Distribution

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

Parts Used for Food

Largely the leaves and seeds.

Harvest Time

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

Food Uses of Plantain

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

Nutritional Profile

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

Plantain Recipes

Herbal Medicine Uses of Plantain

Both plants have been used as a general remedy for many complaints from cuts, sores and bruises to kidney disease, bowel disorders and intestinal worms.

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

Other Uses

The seeds were once collected to feed small caged birds.

Safety Note

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

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

References

Grieve M. A Modern Herbal Vol 2 (I-Z): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs, & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses. Dover Publications; 1971.

Wyse Jackson P. Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press; 2013.

Pedersen M. Nutritional Herbology: A Reference Guide to Herbs. Whitman Publications; 2010.

Karalliedde L, Shaw D, Gawarammana I. Traditional Herbal Medicines: A Guide to Their Safer Use. Hammersmith; 2008.

Comment

  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. 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!

  4. Thanks for a great piece! I can testify from personal experience of the great benefits of this herb that grows generously on our 1.7Ha plot (micro-farm) here in Pretoria, South Africa. I have not only used it for some serious cuts, my free-range chickens are crazy about it. It is so good to learn fro a scientific view point of its many vitamins and protein content!
    Could you do an article on the Holy Thistle, too, please!
    sincerely, Moshe

  5. Hello! I have a question if you dont mind: I’ve been reading about plantain and theres also a related species, blackseed plantain, native to North America, which looks almost identical to broadleaf plantain. How is it that these plants evolved and diverged? Did the blackseed plantain simply arrive in N America tens of thousands of years earlier than European settlers (perhaps with migrating people from Asia)?

  6. This is absolutely helpful I am in Ireland on the countryside of Roscommon and it grows like wild fire. So this article is so helpful Robin and also the comments, I gonna go and forage plenty to dry and make tea out of it. I also know of a recipe for an eye cream that helps with puffy and dark rings, better from nature then the store 🙂

  7. This plant has transformed my life in summer. I am a hay-fever sufferer. This is the only treatment I have ever found works. I chew a leaf when I start getting symptoms, the relief is almost immediate. It now takes pride of place in my garden.

  8. I just discovered the Plantain lanceolata growing thickly 2 miles north of my home.
    Plantain Major is all over my yard.

    Guess what I’ll be doing tomorrow morning after my dehydrator is emptied??

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