You may recognise this common weed that springs up from the cracks in footpaths, on roadside verges and in lawns.
Native to Eurasia, Plantain is a hardy little plant that will settle in areas where there has been much disruption by humans; it will continue to grow happily whilst being trodden underfoot. Native Americans knew the herb as ‘white man’s footprint’ as it seemed to appear, wherever the settlers colonised; also the Latin name ‘Plantago’ is derived from ‘planta’ meaning sole of the foot.
Plantain was once regarded as one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons with a reputation for clearing poisons from bites and infections. It may not be in favour with gardeners today, but it is still highly regarded by herbalists as a gentle acting herb, suitable for children and is a valuable wayside remedy for bites, cuts and stings.
Each medicinal herb is like a miniature pharmacy, containing an array of natural plant chemicals necessary for its own functioning.
In a delicate and intricate interplay, these substances interact in the human body to produce biological effects. Researchers have isolated and tested their individual effects within the body.
|PLANT CHEMICAL NAME||EFFECT1|
|Iridoid glycosides (aucubin and catalpol)||Anti spasm effect
Epithelising (skin healing)
|Flavonoids (apigenin and luteolin)||Inhibits the release of histamine
|Mucilage (arabinogalactan and glucomannan)||Forms a protective layer against irritations
Regulates the immune system2
|Tannins||Astringent / tightening effect on body tissue|
Put these effects together into one herb and its uses become apparent; for coughs, the antispasmodic, immune stimulating and soothing effects come into play. For dermatitis the skin healing, anti-inflammatory and protective properties offer relief. Plantain’s key uses are in the treatment of bronchitis and to ease coughs associated with upper respiratory tract infections; also for allergies including hay fever and inflammatory skin conditions.
Standardised extracts are produced when one active constituent is extracted from the original herb and concentrated to a standardised level, making it more like a drug. In doing this we risk reducing aspects of the plant that are crucial to its functioning and side effects occur. A medicinal preparation made from the whole herb harnesses the balancing effect of all the plant’s actions.
HARVESTING PLANTAIN AND HEALING COUGHS
There are two species of plantain commonly found in Wales: Plantago major (Greater Plantain) and Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort Plantain). Plantago lanceolata has elongated, pointed leaves, with ribs running lengthwise along them, the leaves of Plantago major are broader and more rounded. Both are effective but Plantago lanceolata is preferred for the treatment of coughs.
The leaves start to flourish from the end of March and can be picked throughout the year; some will even be in good condition (green and healthy with no brown patches or signs of disease) in the winter months.
For minor complaints, make use of the medicine on your doorstep! For a chronic or persistent cough consult a practitioner to understand and treat the cause.
PLANTAIN COUGH SYRUP
– Ribwort plantain leaves (around 4-5 cups)
– Raw honey
– 1 Tablespoon cider vinegar in a litre of water
Wash the plantain leaves then leave to soak for 5 minutes in the cider vinegar solution to ensure they are clean. Rinse well with running water. Put the leaves through a juicer and measure the volume of liquid produced. Mix with an equal quantity of honey and stir gently until combined. Pour into sterilised bottles and keep refrigerated, use within one month. One teaspoon can be taken when required (up to 4 times daily.)
NOTE: When trying any wild plant for the first time test for sensitivity before use. At The Herbal Clinic a full case history is taken to establish patient history.
- Büechi S, Wegener T. Spitzwegerich (Plantago lanceolata). Neue Erkenntnis zu einem alten Heilmittel. Schweiz Zeitschr GanzheitsMedizin, 2005, 17:167-170
- Strzelecka H, Glinkowska G, Skopínska-Rózewska E, Malkowska W, Zwierz W, Sikorska E, Sokolnicka I. Immunotropic activity of plant extracts. Influence of water extracts of chosen crude drugs on humoral and cellular immune response. Herba Pol 1995, 41:23-32