Plantain (Plantago major – broad-leafed, or plantago lanceolata – narrow-leafed)

Plantain (Plantago major – broad-leafed, or plantago lanceolata – narrow-leafed)

Other common names: Ripple grass, slan-lus, waybread, cuckoo’s beard, Englishman’s foot, white man’s foot, Weybroed, snake weed (careful there are other “snake weed” plants out there), Che Qian Zi (China), Breitwegerich (German), Erva-de-Orelha.


Plantago lanceolata: Diagram courtesy of

Be careful not to confuse great plantain with buckhorn plantain, water plantain, or other similar sounding plants.

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Family: Plantaginaceae


Anti-pruritic, styptic, decongestant, demulcent, antihistamine, antispasmodic, detoxifying, mild bitter, expectorant, mild cholagogue, astringent, diuretic, refrigerant, vulnerary, emollient, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, deobstruent (opens the natural ducts of the body and removes obstructions), anti-hemorrhagic (external only), anti-catarrhal.

NOTE: Plantain is only antimicrobial while it is fresh. Once dried, it loses the constituents that make this happen. Also, the allantoin constituent is not extracted when the herb is processed in oil, however it can be extracted by water.


You can harvest plantain any time between early spring and winter, but it is best if taken when the leaves are young and tender (in spring) as they can become rather coarse and fibrous as the plant matures.

Part used: Whole herb (aerial parts, and root). Fresh is preferred greatly, although dried can be used for non-microbial complaints.


Plantago major: Photo courtesy of


Aucubin, beta carotene, vitamin K, calcium, sorbitol, allantion, iridoids, flavonoids such as aspigenin, scutellarin, caicalein, nepetin and plantagoside; triterpenes, baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol, polysaccharides, silica, zinc, potassium, fumaric and benzoic acids, fatty acids such as oleic acid, ursolic, phosphoric and chlorogenic acids; bitter compounds and tannins.


Used to soothe insect bites, reduce excessive menstrual flow (or any excess fluid production), to cool and heal burns, remove toxins and foreign bodies from wounds, calm itching or rashes or allergic reactions, or any other skin irritations. Also useful internally for allergies, irritated tissues in the respiratory, digestive or urinary tract, promoting the flow of urine, or healing bleeding hemorrhoids.

Medicinal preparation:


Use a fluid extract, tincture or tea for respiratory infections, coughs, urinary tract/bladder and kidney infections, bronchitis, swelling and other inflammation. Reduces phlegm. Use in a herbal steam for dry coughs, phlegm in the throat or congestion.


Plantago lanceolata: Photo courtesy of


Use in a poultice or make a spit poultice (chew it up and stick it to the bite, sting or wound) – the latter is not ideal due to bacteria found in the human mouth, but if you’re out in the bush and have no access to clean water, it’s better than nothing. The antimicrobial nature of the fresh herb will counter any microbes in saliva. Of course, you would ask the patient to chew it so it’s their own saliva used. The plantain poultice can be used for burns, stings, bites, removing foreign bodies, nettle stings, rashes, hemorrhoids, chafing (any hot, inflamed skin condition, and external bleeding). You can apply a hot compress to the chest to open the airways and encourage phlegm reduction.

It also makes an excellent ear drop ingredient, eye wash for infections, dryness and inflammations in the eye, or a skin wash for rashes, eczema (esp. weeping kind) and other topical issues. Oral washes with plantain are used for any kind of inflammation or bacterial/viral/fungal issue in the mouth.

plantago major

Plantago major: Diagram courtesy of

You can also infuse it in oil or tincture it and add to any salve or cream for skin irritations, bug bites, burns, etc. Or, you can make it into a suppository and use it for hemorrhoids.


Do not use if pregnant or nursing. Allergic reactions to topical use (contact dermatitis) may occur in sensitive individuals. Do not use in patients with kidney stones, obstructed bile duct or gallstones, intestinal obstructions or abdominal distress from unknown causes. High internal doses can result in diarrhea and decreased blood pressure, so use caution in those with naturally low blood pressure and generally avoid using in excess.

I suggest consulting a pharmacist or physician before starting any herbal supplement if you are taking a prescription medication or have serious underlying health concerns. 

Energetic/traditional use:

Has cool, moist energy, affiliated with water, ruled by Venus, feminine in nature. Plantain teaches us to be gentle but tough – she can handle being stepped on, yet still come back and be the same soft, gentle, healer that she always was. Resilience does not necessarily mean being over-vigilant or aggressive. One can quietly reclaim one’s place and purpose in life no matter what challenges come our way.

Pliny spoke of its ability to heal flesh, and many old folk tales indicate its usefulness for extracting venom and healing poisonous bite wounds. It was also one of the nine sacred herbs valued in Anglo-Saxon medicine.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended as general education on herbs and is not intended to take the place of medical care. Please consult a health care professional before embarking on any health regime.

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