Plantain: how to use it and grow it

Plantain is a weed that has long been used in countryside for its medicinal properties. Here is some information on its possible uses in herbal medicine and its growing conditions.

Plantain: how to use it and grow it

Therapeutic uses of plantain

Plantago lanceolata, P. major.

  • Usable parts: the leaves
  • Because of its mucilage components, plantain is used in cases of inflammation or lung irritation and helps relieve congestion.
  • It can also relieve gastrointestinal ulcers, gastritis and colitis.
  • It is used as a mouthwash or gargle against inflammation of the mouth and throat, and ointment against hemorrhoids, cuts and scrapes.

Plantago psyllium, P. ovata.

  • Usable parts: seeds, pods.
  • Psyllium is an excellent laxative. The soluble fibre of the seeds, which absorbs water, regulates and facilitates intestinal transit. Clinical trials have confirmed its effectiveness against constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • It may also be useful in case of hemorrhoids or anal fissures after anal or rectal surgery.
  • The soluble fibre also makes psyllium, an ingredient of choice in a diet for lowering cholesterol.

Beware: For proper use of plantain, see your doctor or herbalist. Plantain is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, unless medically advised.

Gardening

Nobody wants to grow an ordinary grass like plantain, but there are interesting ornamental varieties, less invasive, in pots or in borders.

Varieties

  1. Greater plantain is an evergreen plant of 15 centimetres (six inches) with a basal rosette of veined leaves, from which emerge cylindrical flowering spikes of tiny green flowers. There are two remarkable forms: rubrifolia, beet colour, and Rosularis or plantain rose, the flowering spikes resembling leafy green roses.
  2. Ribwort plantain or English plantain has herbal medicinal properties identical to those of P. major , ribbed spear-like leaves and shorter flowering spikes. Streaker and Golden Spears are respectively the variegated and golden forms.
  3. Asian plantain looks like the major plantain but with long flowering spikes of 50 centimetres. Variegata is a variegated form of white mottled leaves.
  4. Brown plantain or black psyllium is an annual plant of 40 centimetres (15 inches), with narrow whorled leaves and clusters of small round inflorescences. P. ispaghula or blood plantain is also used, as are, to a lesser extent, black psyllium and plantain sands.

Location

P. psyllium and P. ovata prefer full sun and well-drained soil. P. major likes wet soils, P. lanceolata prefers grasslands.

Multiplication

Directly sow seeds in the spring once the soil has warmed.

Care

Cut the seed heads to prevent the plantain from overly reseeding.

Pests and diseases

Powdery mildew attacks P. major during weather.

Harvest and conservation

  • Cut the leaves as needed, and dry them for medicinal purposes.
  • Collect the flowering spikes when the seeds begin to mature and dry them to collect the seeds.

Some people have called the plantain "the footprint of the white man", because its seeds were carried away by the pant cuffs of settlers and reseeded elsewhere. So next time you look at it, you'll see it as more usefull!

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