A common ingredient in traditional folk medicine is that plantain herb is still commonly foraged thanks to its easily identifiable shape and ease of application. Still used today to treat several conditions, knowing how to use this vital medicinal herb can come in handy more than you might think.
Native to areas of northern Europe and Asia, individuals today can find broadleaf plantain all over the world. Believed to be one of the first plant species to be brought into North America from another continent, plantain is now growing in fields, gardens, and even cracks in concrete. Unrelated to the banana variety commonly called ‘plantains,’ the broadleaf plantain is a small perennial herb that grows in stout rosette shapes close to the ground.
Plantain leaves are bright green and feature several fibrous ribs, similar to leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard. The plantain flowers sprout from the center of the leafy rosettes, reaching heights up to 6 inches. Tender and easily crushed when young, the plantain herb leaves become tough and stringy as the season comes to an end.
Traditionally, broadleaf plantain has been grown and harvested both for medicinal purposes and as an edible crop. Based on analysis of peat bog pollen grains harvested from English bogs, plantain grew in Europe – and likely elsewhere – long before recorded history. Now commonly thought of as a weed, people once planted plantain purposefully in monasteries, botanical gardens, and home gardens around the world in the same way we now grow kale or spinach.
In addition to its culinary uses, plantain is also a vital medicinal herb, used for centuries to cure aching muscles, wounds, skin irritation, and burns. In southern Europe, plantain was commonly used to treat snake bites or to treat injuries sustained during farming. A simple poultice of crushed fresh plantain leaves applied to the wound helps calm and soothe the area. It has even proven effective in reducing inflammation and the effects of toxins. Dried plantain leaves were commonly brewed into a tea and used to treat fever, infections, and respiratory illness.
Thought to have originated in Northern Europe and parts of Asia, broadleaf plantain was one of the first herbs to be spread worldwide. Today one can find plantain almost everywhere. Officially named in 1753, the use of this medicinal herb was documented as far back as 1265.
Found growing wild in abundance in Hawaii, plantain, or lua kahi, has an important place in traditional Hawaiian medicine. Also used by Hawaiians to treat topical wounds and inflammation, lua kahi was also commonly made into a tonic and used to improve strength and natural laxatives. Tea made from the leaves was widely used for bacterial infections like UTIs. To relieve constipation, individuals eat the soaked seeds.
Today, plantain remains a popular medicinal herb, offering soothing relief for several ailments with minimal effort. If you live somewhere where broadleaf plantain grows, you can harvest it yourself to use fresh or dried. Some benefits of using plantain may include:
Plantain leaves are high in anti-inflammatory compounds like terpenoids, flavonoids, and tannins, making the herb effective against minor inflammation like bug bites. When taken as a tea, plantain may help ward off chronic inflammation, which can cause severe pain or discomfort for people living with chronic conditions.
Our bodies are pretty good at healing themselves, but it never hurts to give them a little boost. Applying plantain to wounds and injuries has proven effective for reducing healing time and easing discomfort and pain during the process.
The seeds of the broadleaf plantain are high in crucial dietary fiber, promoting healthy digestion and ‘regularity,’ and can be used to treat constipation. On the other hand, the leaves can be used to slow the digestion process and are a common treatment for diarrhea or indigestion.
Easy to find, easy to identify, and easy to use, plantain is a great herb to forage for if you are new to plant medicine and want to give it a try. To get started, try one of these easy herbal remedies using broadleaf plantain:
If you like hiking, wandering through the woods, or spending any time in nature, you have probably encountered a stinging nettle. Nettles are another common herb found around the world, and though they too have medicinal properties, coming in contact with one can leave you with an itchy, painful rash. Where nettles grow, so does plantain, so next time you run into a patch of stinging nettle, treat the itch with quick herbal treatment.
Find a few mature plantain leaves, rip them up to release their juices, and then apply them to the affected area. Continue applying with gentle pressure until the area feels cool or until the redness is reduced.
Nothing ruins a night by a campfire or an evening under the stars more than being covered in mosquito bites, but if you have a patch of plantain nearby, the itch doesn’t have to last long. Using the method described above, apply crushed fresh plantain leaves to the bug bites to reduce itching and swelling.
Used for centuries to cure common ailments, making your own cold-fighting plantain tea is super easy.
When used topically, plantain leaves can be used liberally since it is unlikely using extra will cause any problems. When taken as a tea, healthy adults can enjoy 2-4 cups of plantain tea per day, with a serving size of 1 tablespoon of dried plantain leaves per mug.
When taken as a tea, some individuals may experience bloating, diarrhea, nausea, or stomach cramping, but this is common when taken at low doses. When applied topically, some people may experience an adverse reaction to the leaves, which could aggravate existing wounds or create skin irritation.
If you do not experience any adverse reaction to low doses of plantain, it is safe to take regularly as part of a balanced diet. Avoid over-using plantain, as this can affect your digestive system, but feel free to use this medicinal herb to supplement the rest of your wellness routine.
Most frequently found in lawns or large fields, identifying plantain is easy once you have done it once. The broadleaf plantain has bright green, 1-3 inch long egg-shaped leaves that grow in clusters to form loose rosettes. Each plate has a thick stem and a series of fibrous veins that resemble the internal structure of larger leafy greens like kale. When crushed, plantain leaves reveal slightly darker green flesh and produce a grassy scent.