Plant ago major (broad-leaf plantain, white man’s foot, or greater plantain) is a species of flowering plant in the plantain family Plantagenet. The plant is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia, but has widely naturalized elsewhere in the world.
The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews and eaten. Broad-leaf plantain is not related to the fruit also known as plantain, which is a kind of banana.
Plantain herb is one of our most versatile medicinal plants. It heals many types of wounds, takes the swelling and sting out of a variety of insect bites, and can even be used for dry coughs and mucus membrane inflammation.
Despite its many attributes, the plantain weed is a humble and persistent plant. It doesn’t boast vibrantly colored flowers. Its leaves often hug the ground, or grow tall to blend in with the surrounding grass. It can thrive in hard packed soils with lots of foot traffic and it loves disturbed areas. Best of all, if you know how to spot it, you can most likely find this herbaceous perennial whenever you need it. There are about 200 species worldwide, with about 30 native and 5 introduced species in the US.
Plantain Herb for Hot Conditions
You could simply memorize many of the benefits of plantain; however, you would be missing out on understanding its special affinities. You will have a deeper understanding of its abilities when you view it through the lens of its energetic properties.
Plantain herb is energetically cooling and it excels when used to counteract hot conditions.
Hot conditions are characterized by signs of heat, including feeling hot, redness (or sometimes yellow), sharp pain, swelling, and inflammation. Burns are an obvious example of a hot condition as the burned area feels hot and turns red. A red, hot, itchy rash would be another example. A fresh plantain poultice can soothe burns and rashes by both pulling out the heat and healing the damaged tissue.
Plantain Herb for Bites and Stings
Another example of a hot condition is bites and stings from insects, spiders, and scorpions. Let’s take a bee sting for example. When a bee stings a person it releases its venom into the skin. Fairly quickly, the area around the sting will swell, turn red, and feel hot to the touch. The pain is generally sharp (as opposed to a dull ache).
Plantain herb is perfect for this “hot” condition. A fresh poultice of the leaves has the ability to pull the poisons from the skin and dramatically decrease the redness, swelling, and pain. I’ve seen this work again and again on many different types of bites and stings. For best results apply the plantain as quickly as possible after the sting and change the poultice every 20 minutes or when it feels warm to the touch. A plantain salve will also work well, especially on common itchy insect bites, like those from flies and mosquitoes.
Plantain Herb for Wounds
Plantain herb stitches together many types of wounds, from minor cuts and scrapes to blisters to hemorrhoids and postpartum tears. It makes a wonderful all-purpose salve, poultice, or sitz bath (combined with other herbs such as Calendula). Because it has the ability to draw things out, plantain is perfect for splinters, boils, or even puncture wounds. Plantain is also antimicrobial, so it helps to prevent bacterial growth in wounds as they heal.
Plantain Herb for Infections
Infections are also hot conditions where plantain excels. Examples include infected wounds (poultice or soak is best), boils, eye infections, or urinary tract infections. I like to combine Echinacea with plantain when specifically dealing with infections. My first plant teacher, Karen Sherwood, has successfully used plantain poultices on blood poisoning while she was out hiking in the back country and didn’t have access to medical care.
Plantain Herb for Excessive Histamine Response and Seasonal Allergies
Plantain herb can also be taken internally to modulate an excessive histamine response to stings or from seasonal allergies. I learned from Matt Wood (or was it Kiva Rose, or maybe jim McDonald?) that fresh plantain tincture combines well with peach leaf/twig tincture for calming overly reactive tissues that create symptoms such as runny nose, itchy and runny eyes, sneezing, or dramatic responses to bug bites. Herbalist jim McDonald recommends using slightly saline plantain leaf tea in a neti pot for nasal irritations or as a wash for eye infections (see below for instructions).
The Health Benefits of Plantain
Treats Wounds, Stops Itching
The plantain plant is also known as Plantago lanceolata or Plantago major (not to be confused with the banana-like vegetable that is commonly eaten in many Hispanic cultures). It is a perennial plant with almost worldwide distribution. For decades, it has been considered by herbalists to be a useful remedy for a cough, wounds, inflamed skin, and dermatitis.
Bruised or crushed plantain leaves are applied topically to treat insect bites and stings, eczema, and small wounds or cuts. The leaves and seeds are used to extract the beneficial compounds of this plant.
There are nearly 250 species of plantain. In addition to Plantago lanceolata or Plantago major (the most widely distributed species), psyllium is a soluble fiber derived from the seeds of Plantago ova-ta, an herb mainly grown in India. Psyllium, the main ingredient in Metamucil, is used to treat constipation.
Animal studies have suggested that Plantago lanceolata extract may aid in wound healing potentially due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-oxidant, and anti-ulcerative properties. It may also act as a pain reliever (analgesic agent), as well as exhibit immunomodulatory properties (relating to the immune system).
In a study published in the journal Biotech and Histochemistry, researchers examined 72 wounded mice and applied an ointment that contained a specific percentage of Plantago lanceolata extract (PLE)—this was compared to ointment containing vaseline.
They found that different concentrations of PLE exhibited positive effects on wound healing. Specifically, the application of 10 percent PLE ointment may be a useful strategy for wound healing, but more research is needed.
In addition, researchers examined two of the most commonly used plants found in the Balkans, which are Plantago lanceolata and Plantago major (P. major). When examining their use, researchers found that the traditional use of plants in wound healing is confirmed.
Previous studies have indicated a variety of pharmacological effects of P. major such as anticancer, antioxidant, and immunomodulatory. In one study, researches tested this theory by extracting parts of the plant and testing it against different types of cancer cells.
It was found that amongst the parts of the plantain plant, the seeds exhibited the greatest antiproliferative activity, meaning that they inhibited cell growth on tumor cells the best. The roots exhibited comparable antiproliferative and cytokines-inhibition activities to those of leaves and petioles. (Cytokines are a number of substances secreted by certain cells of the immune system that have an effect on other cells.)
In this study, the roots inhibited the inflammatory cytokines comparatively to the leaves and petioles.
Researchers concluded that the seeds of the plant exhibit the most anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
In a study conducted in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing, researchers tested the efficacy of using Plantago major extract (PME) in the treatment of mucositis (a common oral side effect present in patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation).
They concluded that compared to double sodium bicarbonate solution, the healing time took longer, but the differences were not significant.
Some manufacturers claim that these two types of plantain aid in “cleansing and detoxifying” the body as well as promoting respiratory health. Note, there is no research to date to justify these claims and that this is not a statement approved by the FDA.
Psyllium, which is derived from the seeds of Plantago ova-to, is used as a dietary supplement and is usually found in the form of husk, granules, capsules, or powder. You can also see psyllium as an added ingredient in cereals and baked goods. Psyllium husk is the main active ingredient in Metamucil, a fiber supplement often used to reduce constipation.
Studies have found that psyllium, which is rich in fiber, helps to bulk stools while also increasing the amount of water in the stool.
Psyllium a good remedy for constipation as it makes the stool easier to pass.
In addition, studies suggest that fiber supplementation such as psyllium may help to reduce after-meal blood sugar—psyllium is a rich fiber source that increases the amount of time it takes to metabolize carbohydrates, thus slowing down how quickly blood sugars rise.
Lastly, studies suggest that increasing fiber in your diet such as psyllium can help to reduce cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Psyllium is able to bind to fat and bile acids, which promotes the excretion of these substances from your body.
A study examining adolescent males found that dietary supplementation with 6 grams per day of psyllium over six weeks improves fat distribution and lipid profile (parameters of the metabolic syndrome).
Possible Side Effects
According to the American Botanical Council, there are no known side effects of taking plantain as well as no contraindications. However, some people report experiencing diarrhea and low blood pressure when ingesting plantain.
If you are someone who has allergies such as skin allergies or food allergies (to melon or the vegetable plantain), you may be allergic to plantain, too.
Avoid During Pregnancy
In addition, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, using herbal supplements may not be prudent. There isn’t enough information on herbal supplement safety and, therefore, it’s probably safer to simply avoid completely when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Avoid With Blood Thinners
It has been suggested that if you are taking Warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner, then you should avoid plantain use because it contains vitamin K. People who are taking warfarin or any other type of blood thinner need to take consistent amounts of vitamin K to reduce the risk of changing the effectiveness of their medication.
Signs You Should Discontinue Use
Gas or stomach cramping may occur when ingesting psyllium. If these symptoms do not go away or if they get worse, be sure to contact your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.
If psyllium is not taken with adequate amounts of water, it can cause constipation and possibly even cause choking, intestinal obstruction, or bezoar (indigestible material in your digestive tract).
People who have a history of bowel dysfunction, such as obstruction or spasms, should not take psyllium supplements. Whenever supplementing with fiber, it’s always a good idea to start slowing and gradually increase your dose.
Companies such as Metamucil typically put instructions on their products to help consumers reduce side effects. Whenever you are unsure, ask your healthcare provider for help.
It is difficult to cultivate a generic dosage considering the wide use of plantain. The amount and type of delivery will depend on what you are using it for. For example, the herb can be infused in tea, ingested in capsule form, in tincture form, rinsed, or gargled.
Before beginning supplementation, it’s important to speak with a medical professional. In addition, there is no reference to recommended dosing of capsule or tincture form of plantain; therefore, if you decide to use these types of delivery systems, be sure to consult with a medical professional.
According to the Institute of Medicine, women who are 50 years old and under require 25 grams of fiber each day, and men 50 years old and under require 38 grams each day. Women 51 years or older require 21 grams per day, and men 51 and older require 30 grams per day.
It’s best to aim to get your daily fiber intake from foods first before supplementing with psyllium fiber.
Active Compounds and Medicinal Uses
Dr John R. Christopher a pioneer in herbal medicine writes – The plantain fruit stimulates gastric mucus secretion and growth of the gastric mucosal cells. Plantain’s flavonoids can increase the thickness of this layer. The lectins in plantain seem to bind some man-nose oligosaccharides that are on some bacteria which help them attach to the gastric and intestinal linings.
The tannins (astringent), allantoin (promotes wound healing, speeds up cell regrowth/healing and softens skin), apigenin (anti-inflammatory flavonoid), aucubin (a glycoside, a powerful anti-toxin, increases uric acid excretion by the kidneys), baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol and iridoid glycosides in plantain are considered the major factors in making it a mild anti-inflammatory, as well as an antimicrobial, anti hemorrhagic and an expectorant. Aucubin is another glycoside in plantain. It acts as a sedative, anesthetic, alternative, antiseptic, anti-viral, anti-toxic ,anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, anti-tumor, anti-cancer, anti-carcinogenic, a diuretic an expectorant, a hypotensive and an organoleptic. This glycoside has been studied numerous times. Plantain contains high levels of beta carotene (A). It also has ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and vitamin K. Plantain also contains silica which makes plantain high in calcium. This herb is high in mucilage especially the seeds.
Also active in plantains are monoterpene alkaloids, triterpenes, phenois, sugars and the flavonoids lutelin, scutellarin, baicalein, nepetin, hispidulin, plantagoside, and acteoside transplantation. Plantain also contains other plant acids such as chlorogenic, citric, ferulic, neochlorogenic, fumaric, hydrodynamics, salicylic, ursolic, and benzoic acids. Catalpol stimulates the production of adrenal cortical hormones. This increased the
production of adrenal gland androgens, has an anti-inflammatory ability, seems to help in wound healing and increases the production of sex hormones.
How to Identify and Use the Plantain Plant
Plantain is a widespread weed found in virtually every lawn in America. It’s low profile and non-aggressive habit often leave it protected from the homeowner. However, as is common with many lawn pests we label as weeds, plantain is actually a useful herb.
Plantain is a low growing herb, with a multitude of uses. It is most often used for bee stings and insect bites. You may also know it as the ‘Bandaid plant,’ a nickname it picked up because of its quick relief and ease of use.