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Herb of the week: Plantain.

Photo: Plantago major 4. A short-short profile:

Latin: Plantago major, P. media, P. lanceolata and other species of Plantago.
Family: plantain family, Plantaginaceae.
Parts used: Leaf, seed.
Taste: Bland, mucilaginous.
4 humors: Cool, moist.


  • cooling, mucilaginous
  • nice woundhealer
  • good for coughs
  • nice in salves
  • good for various insect bites and their itches
  • very good for poisonous spider bites, scorpion bites and the like


  • "They" say that ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is the best. If that was growing here, I'd say that it's the best too: in good spots you get a BASKETFUL of leaf with one grab-around-the-center and one cut. The other species need picking leaf by leaf by leaf by leaf ... the most common one we have is common plantain (Plantago major), and while it's possible to find half-meter tall plants (2'), they're usually tiny (2").
  • Plantain is edible, but the leaf ribs of any species I've seen are stringy (except for those of sea plantain (Plantago maritima)). Slice them straight across the ribs and you're ready to add them to salads or stews.
  • If you crush leaf you're intending to dry, the crushed parts will turn black. A few black spots have never bothered me, but if it's all black, well ... the dried bulk plantain in herb stores still works, too, so just use your blackened leaf. After all, you picked it.
  • Plantains are found everywhere: I've seen them in the sands of the SW US desert (teensy tiny plants!) and on the shore of the Baltic (thickly string-leafed plants that can take a few salty drownings). And of course on dry four-seasoned land.
  • You can pick the seed, but it's cheap and available in all health food stores: look for "psyllium" or "ispaghula" or "plantago" ... they're all the same thing: plantain seeds. (I have picked the seeds a few times. I much prefer not to: it's tedious, except when you find a sandy field with nothing but plantain in seed.) (We only have common plantain, for all practical purposes. That means that I have no idea how easy it is to pick the seeds of other species.)


  • The leaf is nice for various itches.
  • Use it in salves for skin care and wound healing, instead of calendula. Or use calendula instead of plantain in your salves and oils ...
  • Give the leaf as a tea in dry hacking coughs. It's nicely soothing and cooling.
  • Give the leaf as a tea in various digestive upsets: it's nicely soothing and cooling. And healing to the mucous membranes.
  • Give the leaf as a tea in urinary tract irritations: it's nicely soothing and cooling ... (see a theme, there?)
  • Give the seed in water as a revolting frog-eggy drink. Add something acidic to it to actually make it ingestible: I quite like black currant juice for that. Lingonberry juice works as well, and a dollop of cranberry juice (unsweetened please!) would also do the trick. Why would you ingest this disgusting mess, you ask? It's great for an irritated gut.
  • Those same frog-eggs? Great to make "dry" people hold their water. Dry people drink a glass of water, and pee out that same glass of water 10 minutes later. (Anybody else see great water-saving potential here? ... umm, sorry!)

Comments on Facebook:

  • Patty Hager:
    Good for greens, cooked and then sauted in oil. With cornbread of course.
    30 July 2012 at 17:39
  • C Karen Stopford:
    The seeds in TCM are used to treat, among other things, urinary tract infections (asiatica species). An amazing plant.
    29 July 2012 at 21:48
  • Kathryn Hall:
    You can use a bit of the leaves in your dog's food for bad breath. Yep!
    30 July 2012 at 00:02
  • Lyndsay Officer:
    plantain vinegar tastes really lovely too!
    30 July 2012 at 00:16
  • Judith Richmond Archer:
    One of my "jobs' as a little kid was picking plantain seed stems for the (MANY!) budgies.
    30 July 2012 at 18:49

Comments on the herblist:

  • From Sharon H-R:
    Date: 29 Jul 2012 11:05:16 -0700

    Leaves can be put into diapers for diaper rash, bruise the leaf up a bit and put it in whole over the irritated skin... Works wonders

  • From Tony M:
    Date: 29 Jul 2012 21:12:38 +0200

    Plantago makes great kids toys.

    Pick a seed stalk as long as possible.
    With one hand hold the stalk just below the head.
    Wrap some of the stalk just behind the seed head and pinch it tight.
    Then pull and the seed head goes flying like a bullet.

  • From Christophe Bernard:
    Date: 29 Jul 2012 22:29:42 +0200

    Plantago sempervirens is what is being used here in the south-east of France. It does not look like a plantain at all, very tiny leaves like pine needles. And very potent I find.

    French research a few years back showed that P. sempervirens activates white blood cells which participates in the vulnerary properties of the plant. I would speculate that all plantagos have an action on macrophages and help clean-up wounds that way (along with the cooling, mucilaginous, anti-inflammatory properties).

    Also used for eczema and psoriasis and any skin issues, taken both internally and externally (interesting as the internal use might be considered as depurative, "detoxing" the skin condition).

  • From Miriam:
    Date: 30 Jul 2012 00:00:41 +0300

    Oil of plantain makes excellent drops for eachache - in olive oil of course. I also include oil of plantain in moisturizing lotion for dry skin and eczema.

    Fresh, crushed plantain leaf for insect bites and nettle sting. (Although after many years of gathering nettles, I hardly mind the stings anymore.)

    Fresh plantain macerated in vinegar for burns - sunburn, cooking burns.

    There many uses for the soothing, tissue-healing properties of plantain. The most dramatic story I have is a neighbor who sustained a nasty dog bite. She had the anti-rabies procedure and the puncture site treated in hospital. Two weeks after the incident the punctures were still open, an ugly, swollen (and painful) wound. I made a fresh tea of plantain, chickweed and marigold every day, in which my neighbor soaked a cheesecloth bandage, changing it with fresh tea and cloth at least three times daily, and more often if it occurred to her. In two days, the swelling and pain were gone; in a week, the punctures were healing visibly.

    Marigold to disinfect. Chickweed to draw out toxic stuff. Plantain to reduce inflammation. All tissue healers! And isn't it a thankful thing that all are in season at the same time?

  • From Jason B:
    Date: 30 Jul 2012 15:02:49 -0700

    Plantain is amazing. A friend of mine broke her ulna cleanly in two and her recovery was agony. All I had on me for pain at the time was plantain, but in tincture form. I rubbed the tincture on the areas close to the cast but could not get it underneath. It stopped her pain, even though it wasn't a salve. Pretty amazing stuff. She took it internally too and it helped a bit.

  • From Debbie:
    Date: Mon, 02 Jul 2012 08:49:26

    Recently I was finishing my morning run and just as I was coming down the hill to my driveway, something flew up my nose and STUNG me! It was so painful, it about brought me to my knees. We live in a rural area and we have a long driveway. All I could think of was to get to my house and put ice on it, then suddenly I thought . . . Plantain! Not caring a bit at this point about dirt or germs, I picked some handy plantain leaves, chewed them up and stuffed them up my nose. The pain relief was almost immediate. When I got to the house, I picked more plantain from my yard (washed it this time) and chewed it up for another application. By then the pain was gone. I left it in for an hour or so, and had no pain or swelling after that. It was amazing! Love this herb!

It's in my book "Practical Herbs 2.

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments.