When you hear the word “Plantain” the fruit in the banana family most likely springs to mind. But a common “weed” found in most backyards is also commonly called Plantain. Although considered a weed by many lawn care enthusiasts, this common plant is actually used both medicinally and as a natural food source.
In this article, I’m going to focus on Plantago major, also called broadleaf plantain. This is the type of plantain I am most familiar with, as well as seemingly the most common type I find in our area of the Ozarks. Broadleaf plantain is known by many names. Native Americans called it “white man’s foot” because it seemed to spring up anywhere that the settlers made a home. There are over 200 species of plantain worldwide.
Plantain Medicinal Uses
Plantain contains 3 major chemical constituents that account for its natural healing properties.
- Aucubin- according to this study aucubin “exhibits impressive pharmacological effects such as antioxidation, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and liver protection. In recent years, it has also been explored for its roles in anti-fibrosis, neuroprotection and bone protection”.
- Allantoin- You may have heard about the lab-created allantoin that is being touted for its anti-aging properties in skincare products. This is one of the plants with naturally occurring allantoin, and it explains its uses for the skin by herbalists.
- Mucilage- mucilage relieves irritation of mucus membranes. It is used in some medical applications and is naturally occurring in this plant also. This explains an additional use in traditional herbal medicine.
Here are some ways you can use this common “weed” medicinally. It can be used fresh or can be used to make an infusion, tincture, balm, or salve.
For The Skin
The simplest way to use plantain for the skin is to remove a leaf, chew it or roll it between your palms or fingers to bruise the cells, and apply it directly to bug bites, stings, or itchy rashes. You can also apply it to splinters that are too embedded to pull out with tweezers. Pick a leaf and roll it between your fingers. Cover the area with the plantain leaf. Use gauze over the leaf and fix it in place with tape.
You can make an infusion (tea) from dried leaves and use it to treat acne. Let the tea cool and place it in a spray bottle. It can be carried with you and used when needed for bug bites, itchy rashes, and other skin irritations. It can be stored in a spray bottle and sprayed directly on the itchy rashes caused by stinging nettle, poison ivy, and poison oak.
Since it has antimicrobial properties as well as renewing properties for the skin, it can be used as a soothing face treatment before bed to help your skin look younger, or as an acne treatment to kill the bacteria in the skin and help it regenerate and heal.
You can also make a soothing plantain skin salve to carry with you for bug bites and other skin conditions. The analgesic properties of the chemicals in the leaves can help to relieve pain from burns and minor skin wounds, as well as prevent infection of the wound and help the skin to regenerate. This has the effect of helping the wound heal faster.
For Digestive Health
You can consume the tea or eat the young, tender leaves to help with conditions such as constipation, diarrhea, gastric ulcers, and inflammation of the bowels.
The seeds can be crushed and used as a dietary fiber to treat constipation. In fact, psyllium husks that are used in the fiber laxative Metamucil come from a plant within this species, Plantago ovata. Although it might be better to buy the commercial product than try to collect the seeds due to the small size of the seeds from Plantago major.
For Oral Health
The astringent and anti-inflammatory properties make it good for treating ulcers of the mouth and gum disease. It can reduce bleeding and inflammation in swollen gums. It has also been shown to be effective against the Herpes Simplex virus, which causes cold sores. The antimicrobial properties also help to control germs in the mouth.
For Respiratory Infections
The mucilage contained within plantain is great for the home treatment of coughs, colds, sore throat, allergies, and even mild asthma. The anti-inflammatory properties help to decrease inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. Drink the tea up to 3 times a day to help combat a sore throat or cough due to irritation. Do the same to help relieve the cough from colds or flu. It helps decrease mucus secretions in the lungs, so it may even help with bronchitis or asthma symptoms.
Plantain Uses For Your Diet
Plantain is also an edible plant. The leaves are high in fiber and contain essential vitamins A, C, and K. In addition, it has large amounts of iron and magnesium, as well as trace minerals such as copper, manganese, and potassium. The leaves can be used the same as any other green leafy vegetable. Use the tender young leaves, as the older leaves will become tough and stringy. You can use the older leaves and dry them for use in tea, or you can cut them across the leaf and use small pieces to add to soups and stews. This will prevent the stringy veins in the leaves from ruining your meal. As a side note, the strings in the leaves are very strong and can be used in a survival situation to weave into a string, fishing line, or even rope to tie down equipment.
For the young leaves, you can sauté’, stir-fry, or boil them. You can add them to dishes just as with other greens. You can also add the fresh young leaves to salads to add vitamins, minerals, and a unique taste. It is said that the leaves taste somewhat green with a hint of pepper. Others describe the taste as nutty with a flavor similar to asparagus.
Plantain grows from early spring into fall, so you can harvest and use the plant most of the year. You can also dry and store the leaves for use during the winter. I use a food dehydrator to dry the leaves and then crush them and store them in a jar for use during the winter months.
Now that you know about plantain, keep a lookout for it as you are outside. Make note of where you found it so that the next time you need it, you can find it easily. The time to look for it is BEFORE that next wasp or bee sting.
You may find that the easy availability and amazing benefits of this so-called weed will make it one of your favorite herbal remedies and food sources too.
As always, make sure to make proper identification when using any wild plants. Avoid harvesting from any place where pollution from pesticides, herbicides, or car exhaust may be present. Remember that edible does not mean allergen-free. Consult your health care provider if you are taking any prescribed medications. Nursing and pregnant women should probably avoid most wild foods, as there is not enough evidence about the effects on mother’s milk or the unborn child from wild herbs and medicinal plants. Better to be safe than sorry.
For more information about other wild medicinal plants and essential oils, you can visit our list of articles.
Disclaimer: This article should not be construed as medical advice. The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise a cure for any medical condition. Consult with your health care professional before considering any natural supplement or plant remedy for your health and wellness. We assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using manufactured or natural medications.