The common plantain comes from the botanical genus Plantago. It comprises about 200 species, among which the most outstanding regarding their phytotherapeutic applications are psyllium and three species of plantain (lance-leaf plantain, common plantain, and hoary plantain), which have been used as medicinal herbs since the times of the ancient Greeks. The name Plantago refers to the footprint-like shape of their leaves.
Common Plantain Scientific Facts
- Similar species: Plantago media L (Hoary plantain), Plantago lanceolata L. (Lance-leaf plantain).
- Other names: (Common plantain): broad-leaved plantain, dooryard plantain, greater plantain, round-leaved plantain, way bread, white man’s foot. (Lance-leaf plantain): Buckthorn, chimney sweeps, English plantain, headsman, ribgrass, ribwort, ripplegrass, snake plantain, soldier’s herb. (Hoary plantain): Gray ribwort, wooly plantain.
- French: Plantain.
- Spanish: Llanten.
- Environment: It grows all over Europe and is naturalized to America. The common plantain grows in wet soils, the hoary plantain on roadsides and slopes, and the lance-leaf plantain in calcareous soils.
- Descriptions: Plant of the Plantaginaceae family, growing from 10 to 60 cm high. All three species have root-growing leaves with parallel nerves which join in the tip of the leaf. The length and size of the leaves are different for each species and the flower spikes.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The whole plant (leaves, flower spike, and root).
Healing Properties and Indications
All three species of plantain contain a large amount of mucilage, which gives them emollient, expectorant, antitussive, and bechic properties; tannin, to which they owe their astringent, hemostatic, and cicatrizant properties; pectin; and chromogenic glycosides (aucubine and catalpol), with anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
The common plantain contains phenolic acids, flavonoids, choline, and noscapine, an alkaloid with antispasmodic and antitussive properties. Plantain soothes and dries simultaneously due to the combined action of mucilage (emollient, soothing) and tannin (astringent, which produce desiccation and constriction). This gives plantain an overall anti-inflammatory effect, which is useful for healing many respiratory and digestive mucous membrane afflictions. These are their principal applications:
- Respiratory disorders: Acute or chronic bronchitis, bronchial catarrh, asthma. The plantain thins secretions, easing their elimination, and reducing the inflammation of the bronchial mucous membrane, and ease coughs. The plantain has been used against pulmonary tuberculosis and pneumonia as a complement to their specific treatment. Among these plants, the common plantain is the one with more potent antitussive properties.
- Mouth and throat disorders applied in gargles and mouth rinses. The plantain is recommended in the case of stomatitis, gingivitis, pharyngitis, tonsilitis, and laryngitis. The plant’s active components reduce the inflammation, heal itching and throat irritation, and alleviate coughing from whooping cough.
- Digestive disorders: colitis, aerocolia (gas in the colon), abdominal distension caused by an excess of gas or bad digestion, intestinal putrefaction, diarrhea, dysentery, chronic constipation with inflammation of the large intestine.
- Hemorrhoids: Sitz baths and enemas with a plantain decoction are very effective in reducing the inflammation of hemorrhoids.
- Eye ailments: In the form of irrigation, a decoction of plantain alleviates eye diseases such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids).
- Varicose ulcers, bleeding or suppurating wounds, burns. In these cases, you can apply compresses with a plantain decoction or plantain leaves directly, previously blanched in boiling water.
- Insects and reptile bites: Dr. Leclerc states that weasels rub themselves on the plantain plants before fighting snakes to become protected against reptile poison. In the case of bites of insects, spiders, bees, or scorpions, vigorously rub the affected area with plantain leaves, then apply a dressing or poultice made with plantain leaves.
In the case of snake bites, the usual emergency treatment is required (cut the area, tourniquet, anti poisonous serum), then a lotion and a dressing or poultice with plantain leaves.
How to use Common Plantain
- Decoction with 20-30 g of leaves and/or root per liter of water, boiling for three to five minutes. Drink from three to five cups daily.
- The same decoction, however, more concentrated (50-100 g per liter), is used in gargles, eye irrigations, compresses on the skin, sitz baths, or enemas.
- Leaf dressings: Previously wash the leaves, and blanch them in boiling water for one minute to sterilize them. Then, put them on the wounds and ulcers with the help of a pair of sterilized forceps. Fix them with a bandage and change them two or three times daily.
- Poultices of boiled and mashed leaves.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. Vols. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 325, 326. Print.