Plantain, not to be confused with the banana- like plant of the same name, is rather like pineapple weed in that it loves to grow in well trodden places. It has a long tradition of being used medicinally and is one of the nine sacred herbs recorded in the ancient Lacnunga (‘Remedies’), a collection of Anglo-Saxon medical texts.The leaves were used as plasters by the Roman soldiers to protect their feet and heal the blisters sustained during their long marches. The leaves have a slight sponginess to them and are mildly antiseptic, helping to prevent infection. It also is an excellent wound herb as it possesses a styptic action, (stops bleeding), probably due in part to the tannin content. You can apply the crushed leaves directly to the wound or chew the leaves first before applying as a “spit poultice”, a direct and useful application if you’re out and about!
There are around 250 species of plantain but two of the most widely distributed, and the most employed in herbal medicine are Plantago major, or broad leaved plantain, and Plantago lanceolata which has thinner, longer and rougher leaves. Either can be used to effectively treat respiratory ailments, such as bronchitis, catarrh and sinusitis and I particularly like using the herb for children who suffer from persistent dry coughs.
Plantain can also be beneficial for treating urinary tract infections, its demulcent properties dampen down inflammation and irritation and the astringent and anti infective nature of the herb tones the membranes and helps promote healing. Likewise the herb can be used for gastrointestinal complaints and may have the added benefit of lowering harmful cholesterol levels and could even help balance blood sugar levels.
If you wish to take the herb internally, you can make a tea from the leaves and drink two to three times daily to help ease sore throats, coughs and colds. Sweeten with a little honey if desired as the taste is quite bitter.