Plantain

As an herbalist, I have an unusual garden–it’s full of “weeds” (smile)!   In one of my earlier posts, I talked about that common beauty “The Dandelion” and it’s many medicinal and nutritional properties.  This time it is Plantain.

Plantain, like the dandelion, is usually found growing on lawns, throughout pastureland and in waste places.  It is considered by many a “crab grass” and, again, like the dandelion, is subjected to various chemicals or, at the very least, rude uprootings as Americans strive for that perfectly-manicured lawn.

Though there are many species of Plantain, there are two that are the most common.  The first is Plantago major (or broad-leafed plantain) and the second is Plantago lanceolata (or narrow-leafed plantain).  For medicinal purposes, it is Plantago major that seems to be preferred with most herbalists, though the two are interchangeable with one variety seeming to work just as well as the other.   The name “plantain” is derived from the Latin root “planta-” meaning foot, owing to the flat growth of broad leaves over the ground.  Plantago major has oval-shaped leaves; Plantago lanceolata has “lance”-shaped leaves, hence, its Latin name.  In both varieties the leaves are ribbed and the plants produce unusual flowering spikes of greenish-brown hue.  Plantain comes from the family Plantaginaceae and is also known as Englishman’s Foot, Ribwort, Greater Plantain, Cuckoo’s Bread, The Leaf of Patrick, Patrick’s Dock, Ripple Grass, St. Patrick’s Leaf, Slanlus, Snakebite, Snakeweed, Waybread, Waybroad, Wey Broaed (Anglo-Saxon) and White Man’s Foot.

However you call it, goats and sheep enjoy the foliage and poultry will seek out its seeds.  Plantain is an excellent fodder.  And, when combined with Comfrey, Plantain will soothe urine scalding–especially in rabbits.  I raise Angoras and, as I learned early on after “inheriting” my first Angora, if their backsides are not kept closely-trimmed, their fur will become saturated and matted, eventually chafing them.  If left untreated, the skin will become raw and inflamed.  It is similar to diaper rash and very painful.  Though I have since learned to keep my rabbits well-trimmed, I always keep some “bunny salve” on hand.

I have found Plantain to be an important herb not only for animals but also for human skin.  Plantain contains a soothing mucilage somewhat similar to linseed and makes a powerful healing ointment, though it can also be used as a poultice.  The leaves are macerated and then applied directly to the skin.  This seemingly miraculous poultice has been known to stop the pain of both spider and snake bites, bee stings and other insect wounds, drawing out their stingers and poisons.  It has been known to draw out infection, toxins and other embedded foreign bodies such as splinters and slivers.  In her book “Healing with the Herbs of Life”, herbalist Lesley Tierra states that she knew of one man who used plantain poultices for 5 days straight to successfully draw out slivers of metal that had been embedded in his hand (L.Tierra, 2003).  Plantain’s astringent properties may be used to heal wounds, burns, scrapes and cuts, to stop bleeding, and when combined with St. John’s Wort, Calendula and Comfrey, has been known to prevent scarring, to prevent and/or treat sunburn, to heal even diaper rash and the burning itch of psoriasis (though this combination does not eradicate the psoriasis rash).  Plantain’s soothing effect is usually felt within minutes after applying to the skin.  (It should also be noted here that although an ointment made for diaper rash contains both Plantain and Comfrey, the same ingredients as recommended for urine scalding for rabbits, both St. John’s Wort and Calendula have been found to be poisonous to rabbits; I would not recommend their use in a salve made for rabbits)

In addition to its healing properties for the skin, Plantain has also been used as a diuretic, an alterative (blood purifier), an anti-inflammatory and an aperient (herbs that promote bowel evacuation).  It has been successfully used to treat dysentery, hemorrhages, internal obstructions, ulcers, urinary tract infections, hepatitis and eye disorders in dogs.  Primarily the leaves and seeds are used but the root of Plantain has also been used successfully for the treatment of fevers.  Dosage is a standard infusion of 1 cup given 3X a day.

However, a word of caution here, the FDA has not evaluated these statements and, though I have a lot of faith in herbal medicine–more so than in most allopathic practices–the contents of this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseases and should not replace any treatment with your primary care physician.

Plantain may be used in a douche for both cleansing and the treatment of vaginal yeast infections.  It should be prepared as a strong tea in combination with any of the following herbs: goldenseal, uva ursi, comfrey, white oak bark or yellow dock, and a small amount of either white vinegar or plain yogurt to promote acid balance.  Another note of caution: frequent or repeated infections are usually symptoms of poor diet and/or general lowered resistance of the body.  The frequent use of douches is not recommended as they upset the balance of natural bacteria in the vagina.

There is a third variety of Plantain called Plantago asiatica or Chinese Plantain.  It also goes by the name Che Qian Cao.  It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to “drain dampness” and, in addition to the indications given above, this variety has been used for the treatment of diarrhea and excessive menstrual discharge, furuncle, carbuncle, jaundice, gonorrhea, leukorrhea, coughs with profuse phlegm, edema, vertigo and red, swollen eyes (L.Tierra, 2003).

I suppose it may seem strange to some the keeping of so many “weeds” in my garden but, in light of their many gifts, I think my “weedy” garden is the most beautiful in the neighborhood…