Skip to main content
Select Source:

Plantain

Plantain

Description

Plantain, Plantago major, was considered to be one of the nine sacred herbs by the ancient Saxon people, and has been celebrated in Anglo-Saxon poetry as the "mother of herbs." There are more than 200 species of plantain and nearly as many recorded uses for this humble herb. Plantain is native to northern and central Asia and Europe. Early colonists brought plantain to North America as one of their favored healing remedies. Native Americans called this persistent herb "white man's foot" as it is often found growing along well-trodden foot paths. The Latin generic name means "sole of the foot." The indigenous Americas adopted many of the traditional European uses for this beneficial herb. They also used the plant to draw out the poison of rattlesnake bite, to soothe rheumatic pain , as a poultice to treat battle wounds , and as an eyewash. They used the fresh young leaves and seeds in their diet.

Plantain is a member of the Plantaginaceae family. Some of the familiar species, naturalized throughout North America, are: Plantago major, commonly known as common plantain, dooryard plantain, broad-leaved plantain, greater plantain, round-leafed plantain, way bread, devil's shoestring, bird seed, snakeweed, and white man's foot; Plantago media L., known as hoary plantain; and Plantago lanceolata L., also known as English plantain, lance-leaf plantain, buckhorn, chimney-sweeps, headsman, ribgrass, ribwort, ripplegrass, hen plant, snake plantain, fire weed, and soldier's herb. Two species of plantain, valued medicinally primarily for the seed, are Plantago psyllium L. and Plantago indica, also known as flea seed and plantago. The dried, ripe seeds of these species, generally called psyllium , is high in mucilage and is widely used as a bulk-forming laxative.

Plantain is a hardy and prolific perennial found in fields, lawns, roadsides, footpaths, and marginal areas throughout the temperate regions of the world. It thrives even in poor, compacted soil. The sturdy leaves and flower stalks grow in a basal rosette directly from the mass of light-brown rootlets. Depending on the species, the leaves are broadly ovate or narrow and lance-like. The dark-green leaves have distinct, parallel ribs along their length and are slightly bitter to the taste. The yellow-green stamens and the rust-colored sepals of the tiny flowers encircle the wand-like spikes at the end of each stalk. Plantain's flower spikes resemble tiny cattail spikes. The yellow-green stamens are more prominent in P. lanceolata L., encircling the flower spike like a delicate wreath. The tapered flower spikes in this species are longer than those of P. major stretching up well beyond the height of the basal leaves. Plantain flowers from June through September. Blossoms are followed by flea-size, light-brown seeds. The plant may reach to 2 ft (0.6 m) in height, and self-seeds freely.

General use

The leaves and seeds of plantain are most often used medicinally. The fresh leaves, crushed and applied to wounds, sores, insect bites, bee and wasp stings, eczema , and sunburn are healing to tissue because of the high allantoin content. Plantain is an ancient remedy used widely for relieving coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, sore throat, laryngitis , urinary infections , and digestive problems. The infusion has been used as a blood purifying tonic, a mild expectorant, and a diuretic. The juice from crushed leaves may also stem the flow of blood from cuts, and soothe the itch of poison ivy or the sting of nettle (Urtica dioica ). The root of the herb has been used to relieve toothache . The juice may relieve earache . A decoction of plantain has been used in douche preparations to relieve leucorrhea, and the juice or infusion can ease the pain of ulcers and inflammation of the intestines. All plantains contain high amounts of mucilage and tannin, and have similar medicinal properties. Plantain is high in minerals and vitamins C and K.

Plantain is used throughout the world. It is an effective treatment for chronic colitis, acute gastritis , enteritis, and enterocolitis according to the Russian Ministry of Health. The German Commission E, an advisory panel on herbal medicines for that country, lists plantain as a safe and effective herb with demulcent, astringent and antibacterial properties. A poultice (salve prepared from the leaf) or an infusion used as a skin wash, have been shown to reduce pain, itching , and bleeding from hemorrhoids . Studies in Italy and Russia have confirmed plantain's usefulness as a weight-loss remedy. In Chinese medicine plantain is considered a remedy for male impotence . The species P. major and P. lanceolata contain mucilage, the iridoid glycosides cubin and catapol, flavonoids, tannins, and silica .

Plantain seeds, particularly those of the species P. psyllium and P. ovata soaked in water and ingested, are widely used as a gentle and safe bulk laxative and anti-diarrheal. Plantago seeds from these two species are listed in The United States Pharmacopoeia XXII as an official laxative herb. Psyllium is found in numerous commercial laxative preparations. Psyllium seed has also been proven beneficial in reducing high levels of blood cholesterol . Psyllium seeds contain a high mucilage content in addition to other phytochemicals including monoterpene alkaloids, glycosides, sugars, triterpenes, fixed oil, fatty acids, and tannins. The entire plant may be used with an alum mordant to dye wool a bronze-gold color. A newer use of plantain starch is in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals; like corn starch, plantain starch can be used as an inert ingredient to mix with drugs in order to form tablets containing consistent measured doses of the drugs.

Preparations

Harvest plantain leaves throughout the spring and summer, before the herb is in full blossom. Fresh young leaves may be eaten in salads or cooked as a potherb. The juice of fresh, bruised leaves has an antibacterial effect. However this property is lost when the herb is infused with boiling water. Harvest seeds when they can be easily removed from the flower spikes. Dry the leaves quickly to avoid discoloration and store in clearly labeled, dark glass containers.

Leaf infusion: Place 24 tbsp of fresh plantain leaf, half if dried, in a warmed glass container. Bring 2-1/2 c of fresh, non-chlorinated water to the boiling point, add it to the herbs. Cover. Steep five to seven minutes. No need to decoct plantain leaves. Drink warm or cold throughout the day, up to three cups per day. The prepared tea will store for about two days in the refrigerator in a sealed jar.

Tincture: Combine 4 oz of finely-cut, fresh plantain leaf, or 2 oz dry, powdered herb with one pint of brandy, gin, or vodka, in a glass container. Cover and store the mixture away from light for about two weeks, shaking several times each day. Strain and store in a tightly capped, clearly labeled, dark glass bottle. A standard dose is 1030 drops of the tincture in water, up to three times a day.

Precautions

Pregnant women should not use plantain, particularly the laxative psyllium preparations. Nursing mothers should consult a qualified herbalist before using psyllium or treating young children with the herb. Avoid inhaling psyllium seed powder as it may induce asthma attacks. Ingesting seeds without first soaking them in water may cause gastrointestinal problems. It is critical to drink large amounts of water when using psyllium, as the seeds absorb water in the intestine.

Persons who are interested in using herbal preparations as dietary supplements or to treat minor health conditions should note that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not subject herbal preparations to the same set of regulations applied to prescription drugs. It is up to the manufacturer to make sure that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed. The FDA's role is that of post-marketing surveillance. Since the mid-1990s, there have been reports of herbal products that were mislabeled. In 1997, a young woman with a heart condition purchased a product that was labeled as "plantain" and experienced an abnormally rapid heartbeat. It turned out that the product was contaminated with digitalis, a powerful heart stimulant derived from foxglove . It is best to purchase herbs or herbal preparations only from established and reliable manufacturers. Questions about the safety of a specific product or reports of adverse reactions to a herbal product should be sent to the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, listed under Resources below.

Side effects

Psyllium seed and plantain may cause allergic reactions in sensitive persons.

Interactions

Plantain has been reported to decrease the absorption of digoxin (a heart medication) and lithium from the intestine. Its Vitamin K content may interfere with blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants). Plantain should not be taken together with prescription diuretics as it increases the risk of potassium loss from the bloodstream (hypokalemia). Persons taking any of these prescription medications should consult a physician before taking plantain as a dietary supplement.

Resources

BOOKS

Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper's Complete Herbal & English Physician. IL: Meyerbooks, 1990.

Duke, James A., Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. PA: Rodale Press, 1997.

Elias, Jason, and Shelagh Ryan Masline. The A to Z Guide to Healing Herbal Remedies. Lynn Sonberg Book Associates, 1996.

PDR for Herbal Medicines. New Jersey: Medical Economics Company, 1998.

Pelletier, Kenneth R., MD. The Best Alternative Medicine, Part I: Western Herbal Medicine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

Tyler, Varro E., Ph.D. Herbs of Choice, The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1994.

PERIODICALS

Alebiowu, G., and O. A. Itiola. "Compressional Characteristics of Native and Pregelatinized Forms of Sorghum, Plantain, and Corn Starches and the Mechanical Properties of Their Tablets." Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy 28 (July 2002): 663-672.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Botanical Council. 6200 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78714-4345. (512) 926-4900. <www.herbalgram.org>.

Herb Research Foundation. 1007 Pearl St., Suite 200, Boulder, CO 80302. (303) 449-2265. <www.herbs.org>.

United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. 5100 Paint Branch Parkway, College Park, MD 20740. (888) SAFEFOOD. <www.cfsan.fda.gov>.

Clare Hanrahan

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Plantain." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Plantain." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/plantain

"Plantain." Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/plantain

plantain

plantain (plăn´tĬn), any plant of the genus Plantago, chiefly annual or perennial weeds of wide distribution. Many species are lawn pests and the pollen is often a hay fever irritant. P. psyllium, called psyllium, or fleawort, is cultivated in Spain and France for its mucilaginous seed-coatings, exported under the name psyllium seed for use as a laxative. In the United States wild plantains are occasionally utilized locally for forage. The name plantain is also used for a starchy form of the banana; the water plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica, is another unrelated species. Plantains are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Plantaginales, family Plantaginaceae.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/plantain

"plantain." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/plantain

plantain

plantain Plant with a rosette of basal leaves and spikes of tiny, greenish-white flowers; it grows in temperate regions and was used for medicinal purposes. Family Plantaginaceae; genus Plantago. The name plantain also refers to a tropical banana plant believed to be native to se Asia and now cultivated throughout the Tropics. It has fleshy stems, bright green leaves and green fruit that is larger and starchier than a banana. It is eaten cooked. Height: to 10m (33ft). Family Musaceae; species Musa paradisiaca.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/plantain

"plantain." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/plantain

plantain

plan·tain1 / ˈplantən/ • n. a low-growing plant (genus Plantago, family Plantaginaceae) that typically has a rosette of leaves and a slender green flower spike, widely growing as a weed of lawns. plan·tain2 • n. 1. a banana (Musa × paradisiaca) containing high levels of starch and little sugar, harvested green and widely used as a cooked vegetable in the tropics. 2. the plant that bears this fruit.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-0

"plantain." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-0

plantain

plantain Adam's fig; variety of banana (Musa spp.) with higher starch and lower sugar content than dessert bananas, picked when the flesh is too hard to be eaten raw, and therefore cooked. Some varieties become sweet if left to ripen, others never develop a high sugar content. A 200‐g portion is a rich source of vitamins B6 and C; a good source of folate and copper; a source of selenium; provides 12 g of dietary fibre; supplies 240 kcal (1000 kJ).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain

"plantain." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain

plantain

plantain2 tropical plant allied to the banana; fruit of this. XVI. In early use also platan — Sp. plátano, plántano, identical with the forms meaning ‘plane-tree’.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-2

"plantain." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-2

plantain

plantain1 plant of the genus Plantago. XIV. — (O)F.:— L. plantāgō, -āgin-, f. planta sole of the foot, so called from its broad prostrate leaves.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-1

"plantain." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-1

plantain

plantain. Architectural ornament consisting of a wide flat leaf.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-0

"plantain." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain-0

plantain

plantain •assassin • Yeltsin • sasine •Solzhenitsyn • rebbetzin •biomedicine, medicine •ceresin •ricin, Terramycin •tocsin, toxin •Wisconsin • oxytocin • niacin •moccasin • characin • Capuchin •Latin, satin •plantain • captain •marten, martin •cretin •pecten, pectin •Quentin •clandestine, destine, intestine •sit-in • quintain • bulletin • chitin •Austen, Mostyn •fountain, mountain •gluten, highfalutin, RasputinDustin, Justin •biotin • legatine • gelatin • keratin •certain, Curtin •Kirsten • Gethin • lecithin • Bleddyn •Gavin, ravin, ravine, savin, spavin •Alvin, Calvin •Marvin •Bevin, Kevin, levin, Previn, replevin •kelvin, Melvin •riboflavin • covin • Mervyn

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"plantain." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"plantain." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain

"plantain." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/plantain