Plantain is common roadside weed with a wide array of medicinal uses. The ribwort variety grows in the western United States and chances are you have already got it growing in your lawn or at the edges of your garden. These plants form long narrow, ribbed spikes with conspicuous yellow stamens that stick out and bloom from May to September.
Plantain will flourish in any soil in sun or part shade. It is a handy weed to keep around for a quick fix to stop bleeding or soothe a bee sting. Crushed plantain leaves have anti-inflammatory effects. They can pull out the toxins from acne, insect bites or stings, treat sunburn, burns, blisters and cuts and even take the itch out of poison oak and ivy. The root can be chewed to ease a toothache. An infusion of plantain can be used as a skin lotion, salve, ointment or liniment. Plantain also contains anti-microbial substances which can heal skin infections.
Furthermore, the leaves can be heated and applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, and sore feet. It has been a folk remedy for many centuries in treating sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis and mouth sores. Further studies have indicated that plantain may also reduce blood pressure and that the seeds of the plant may reduce blood cholesterol levels. The active ingredients in plantain are tannin – which helps draw tissues together to stop bleeding – and allantoin – a compound that helps promote the healing of injured skin cells.
In “Irish Wild Plants: Myths Legends and Folklore” the author, Niall MacCoitir, notes that in Ireland, ribwort plantain was known as “Slánlus” – health herb – and believed to have great healing properties. Additionally, he wrote, “Plantain traditionally spreads with the arrival of agriculture, and pollen samples of ribwort plantain have been found in Ireland dated from about 4,000 to 3,000 B.C., which demonstrate that cultivation was taking place in the country at the time. Similarly, greater plantain followed the first settlers to New England, and became known there as ‘white man’s foot’ as it sprang up wherever the English had travelled.”
So leave some plantain growing in your yard as part of an herbal first-aid kit.
Ruth Madocks handcrafts local, organic products. She owns the Branch Mill Organic Farm & Retreat Center.