Common plantain, Plantago major, and narrowleaf plantain, Plantago lanceolata, are a common weeds in many gardens. They have been used for many centuries to combat inflammation, soothe bites and stings and treat lung diseases.
Plantago lanceolata: English plantain, lance-leaf plantain, ribgrass
Plantago major: Broadleaf plantain, greater plantain
Leaf and seeds
Plantain grows widely throughout Europe, northern and central Asia. It has been introduced in North America and Australia and is considered an invasive weed.
It is easy to identify both common and narrowleaf plantain species. Just look for the nerves in their leaves. 3 to 7 nerves run parallel from the base of the rosette to the tip of the leaf. Plantago major has round, spreading leaves while Plantago lanceolata has lanceolate, spreading or erect leaves.
Plant type: Perennial.
Height: 30cm (12 inches).
Width: 30 to 40 cm (12-15 inches).
Flowers: Tiny and white.
Leaves: Dark green with smooth edges. On the lower surface 3 to 7 nerves run parallel from the base of the rosette to the tip of the leaf. Plantago major has oval, spreading leaves while Plantago lanceolata has lanceolate, spreading or erect leaves.
Blooms: May to September.
You don’t need to cultivate plantain. It is abundantly found in nature. In case you decide to have a plant in your garden, be sure to dispose of the flowers before they set seed. It is found in the wild growing in pathways where the soils is often poor and compact. For this reason, it is called “king of the path” in German (Wegerich). It will grow larger if planted in rich soil such as the soil that surrounds fields and cultivated areas as well as in lawns, flower beds and kitchen gardens.
Hardiness: Zone 3 to 9.
Spacing: 30 to 40 cm (12-15 inches).
Soil Drainage: Well-drained.
pH: 4.6 to 7.8 (acid, neutral and alkaline)
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
Water needs: average to low.
Garden Design: Medicinal garden, salad beds near red-veined sorrel and pluck lettuce, herb garden, wild garden,
Season of interest: Summer.
Harvest the leaves when the plant is in bloom from May to September. The seeds are ready to harvest when the seedhead turns from green to tan.
Although it is better to preserve plantain’s delicate compounds as tinctures, extracts, oil and syrups, it is possible to preserve them by drying the leaves. Because the leaves contain a lot of mucilage, they are prone to molding. To avoid any mold, place the leaves side by side making sure they don’t touch each other and quickly dry them away from light. I highly recommend a dehydrator set at 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). The natural antibiotic aucubin is easily destroyed by humidity and this is shown by the discoloring of the leaves. Discard any leaves that have turned brown or black because they no longer have any therapeutic value.
2-3% Iridoid glycosides (aucubin, catalpol); 2-6.5% mucilage; flavonoids (apigenin, luteolin); 6.5% tannins; oleanilic acid; plant acids; 1% silicic acid; minerals (zinc, potassium, iron); phenylethanoid (acteoside); chlorogenic acid; vitamins (A, C and K).
Note: Young leaves contain as much as 9% of iridoids. Catalpol is the dominant iridoid constituent in young leaves and aucubin is the major compound in older leaves.
Expectorant, vulnerary, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, diuretic
Slightly bitter and salty, mucilaginous
MEDICINAL USE OF PLANTAIN
Plantain is an outstanding herb for all types of inflammation. Above all, it supports lung health and it is used for bronchitis, irritation of the lungs and dry cough. When used fresh, plantain has antibacterial properties. Since it doesn’t cause any side effects, doesn’t interfere with any drugs and has no contra-indications, it is an excellent potent herb to use in children as an alternative to store-bought cough medicine (antitussives).
The mucilage in plantain reduces irritation which relieves dry cough. It moistens and coats the air passage with a protective layer which soothes the mucosa and prevents further irritation.
The tannins in plantain have astringent properties which reduce inflammation and combat infection by depriving bacteria of nutrients. They, therefore, promote healing, still bleeding and pain.
The silicic acid strengthens the connective tissues and improves the immune system while the zinc promotes wound healing.
Aucubin is the natural antibiotic constituent found in plantain. It protects the body against germs. Aucubin inhibits the growth of many types of bacteria, including salmonella.
The seeds of narrowleaf plantain have a mucilaginous outer layer that doesn’t swell up as much as the other Plantago species. For this reason, you can take them to regulate your bowel movements. Make sure to drink a lot of water with it.
Used internally for:
- Excessive mucus (catarrh) in the sinuses, throat and lungs
- Mild bronchitis
- Dry cough
- Inflammation of the lungs
- Leaky gut (intestinal permeability) and inflammatory bowel diseases
Used externally for:
- Cold sores
- Sore throat (pharyngitis)
- Stings and bites
- Small cuts
- Skin ulceration
Recommended daily dosage
Per Commission E: 3-6 g leaves per day.
Tincture: 1:5 in 40%: 2-3 ml three times per day.
Tea: 2 to 4 g of dried herb per cup of boiling water. Infuse for 10 minutes. Drink three times per day. For catarrhs of the respiratory tract, pour 150 ml boiling water over 2 teaspoons (1.4 g) of plantain herb. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain and drink 3-4 times per day.
Gargles and rinses: Cold macerate: 2 teaspoons (1.4 g) per 150 ml cold water. Soak for 1 to 2 hours, stirring often. Strain and use 3-4 times per day.
- Infusion (tea)
- Infused oil
Plantain is a nice addition to vinegar, wild salads and soups.
Bühring, U. 2015. Alles über Heilpflanzen. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Ulmer.
Wichtl M. 2004. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals – A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: medpharm Scientific Publishers
Hoffmann, D. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester: Healing Arts Press