Plantains.. our first weed!

Well here I am.. Finally embarking on my weedy ventures. Something I have been so badly wanting to do for years now.

Today I want to talk about a herb that the Native Americans call ‘White Mans Foot’.  It was observed that wherever White Man set foot, this plant would begin to naturalise, obviously being spread in the tread of shoes or via livestock they were keeping.  The plant I am referring to, Is Plantain. Well actually, its two plants- because there are two ‘extremely common’ weeds in our backyards which go by the name of Plaintain. Herbally, they are used the same way, so ill talk about them here as a collective.

Plantains can be found in almost any sunny places south of QLD.  It is very widespread throughout southern Australia, and is common in paddocks, gardens, on roadsides or even growing between the cracks of a concrete slab!  Needless to say the Plantains are tough little cookies that are pretty much always found on cultivated (and neglected) parcels of land.  It is best to harvest the leaves early in the morning, before the warm sun evaporates some of the goodness out! You can harvest them any time throughout Spring and Summer, and they can be used fresh or dried and stored in your Herbal Medicine Cabinet for later use. 

Plantago major

The first of the two plants is Broadleaf Plantain, or Common Plantain (Plantago major).  Note the shorter, rounded leaves which form a ‘rosette’ at the base of the plant.  Broadleaf Plantain has a single central spire with its seeds on top.  These seeds closely resemble Psyllium husks, and can be used in the same way – to help soothe in irritated digestive tract or relieve constipation. 

The other variety is Plantago lanceolata, otherwise known as Narrowleaf Plantain, or Ribwort.. Ribwort has longer, more elongated leaves which resemble lances, and has multiple central stems on which the flowers and seed heads sit upon. The leaves of both Plantains have soothing, or demulcent properties.  Traditionally they have been prepared into infusions and drunk to help soothe the digestive tract, or even bladder irritations.  Plantain has a gentle expectorant action, and for this reason I use it frequently in children’s cough syrups.  It is one of the more pleasant tasting expectorant herbs as well.

Plantago lanceolata

One of the definitive features of both Broadleaf and Narrowleaf Plantain (otherwise known as Ribwort) are the veins which run from the inside of the leaf to the outer edges in a centrifugal manner.  These veins are more prominent on the underside of the leaves, (as shown in picture to the left).  The leaves are also mildly astringent, and can help to alleviate the irritation from insect bites almost immediately- just pick a few leaves, crush them and apply to the site as soon as possible.  Alternatively, a healing balm or ointment can be made from the leaves of the Plantain plants.  I often include other plants such as Comfrey, Chickweed, Calendula and Lavender.. (really, whatever is around at the time!)… A combination like this is soothing to the skin, and can be useful for things like rashes, bites, fungal skin infections, and minor cuts and scratches.  The Plantains are definitely one ‘weed’ I always keep in my garden..