A native of Europe, plantain, like the dandelion, was carried to the Four Corners in the white man’s attempt to own the world. The colonial regimes are gone, but many of the plants they brought with them remain. And this excellent tonic plant is one of them.
Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life” by Dr. Douglas Schar
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians
Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life” by Dr. Douglas Schar
Just take a good look at this plant, you have seen this one far and wide, just about everywhere you step its leathery leaves are not far away. This is the original weed, and I have an admission, until I started rooting around for the thirty top health herbs, I didn’t know the plant was good for anything besides the compost heap. Once I scratched the surface I discovered so much that it was virtually impossible to sort out all the claims worldwide for the plant’s abilities.
Firstly, the plant is native to Europe , currently resident of the world. Like the dandelion, plantain has been carried to the four corners on the heels of the white man in his previous attempt to own the world. The colonial regimes are gone, but the plantain carried on his feet are still around. Stayed. I think everybody in the world knows the health this plant has to offer, save the Americans. We are not known for our herbal knowledge, and our ignorance of this most readily available plant is a symptom of our ignorance.
In Macer Floridus, actually written some time in the ninth century, is a good look into what the ancient Europeans used plantain for. I have read through the book, something a sane person that wants to maintain his eyes would not do. In the process of reading the book I noticed that the author rarely has much more than a few words to say on each plant, let’s say an average of four comments. Take a look at what he or she had to say about plantain, a bit more substantial than most plants’ lists of uses.
For/woundes. For wounds
For the flux. For the flu
For blake spottes. For black spots
For the / brennyng.
For houndesbyting. For dog bites
For kernel. For the swellings of the lumph glands
For pe dropsie and fallyng evel. For swelling and epilepsie
For/wondes in pe moup. For wounds in the mouth
For festris. For festering wounds
For ignis sacer.:
For pe tysyk.:
For pe blody meneson. For excessive bleeding during menstruation
For pe eyen. For the eyes
For pe gomes. For the gums
For pe hed-ache. For the headachce
For styngynge of scorpions. For the stinging of scorpions
For pe bladdere. For the bladder
For pe cough. For the cough
For pe feuere tercian. For fevers
For bocches of pe eyen. For bad vision
For ahce of pe wombe. For pains in the uterus
For pe wormes in pe wombe. For worms in the uterus (yuck)
For bolnynges, for parotida, and for wondes. For boils and carbuncles
For pe quarteyn.
For pe ach of feet. For sore feet
For pe bladder. For the bladder
For bocches. For spots
Hey, that’s some list isn’t it? And the list goes on, and on, and on. Our ancient herbalist friend that is usually a little short in the word department is clearly in great support of this plant. Who would have thought that such a little weed would actually be so good for so many parts of the body.
This common weed, inhabiter of abandoned yards, parking lots, and untended flower gardens, is one of the most universally used medicinal plants. On every continent people collect it and use it to stay well and treat illness.
In America the plant goes by several names, such as dooryard weed, great plantain, Englishmans foot, devils shoe string, hen plant, birdseed, waybread, rabbit plantian ribwort. Plantago major, or common plantain as we know it, means literally the main sole-like plant. Plan means sole, and ago means like, so this plant is said to be sole like. This refers to that fact the plant’s leaves look vaguely like the sole of a shoe, not the astral body that goes who knows where after the present life.
In the olden days, when people flocked to the countryside to gather the wild herbs of spring to cook up for some spring tonic, plantain was one of the spring favorites. One woman directs that the best wild green plate is made out of mustard greens and plantain greens cooked together with a ham hock or some bacon fat for seasoning. Well, the ham hock or bacon grease might not be that healthy, but the two green ingredients sure would be healthy.
Have you ever heard the story of the white man’s flies? It seems the Indians came to know when the white man was encroaching upon his land and on the way to attempt to displace him from his rightful home when he saw bees. Honey bees do not naturally exist in America , and when the Natives saw bees, they knew white civilization was moving closer. The same was true with plantian, when the birds spread the plantain into their villages, they knew whitey was drawing closer. It was somewhat of a godsend that the bees and the plantain arrived at the same time, as the leaf of the plantain was used to draw the venom of the bee out of the sting, something the Indian and the white man agreed upon. The plant came to be known by the Indians as Englishmans foot. The Indians came to know and to use the plantian, and the Delawares used it to treat the summer complaint, that’s Victorian for diarrhea.
Well known in Germany for medicine, when the Germans arrived in America they were already quite aware of using the plant. The Pennsylvania Dutch called plantain sei-ohra bledder, and used the juice of the plant to sooth tired and abused feet, to treat an insect bite, and to lessen the pain associated with a bad case of hemorrhoids. The utilitarian people used the plant as a spring green and found the seeds very effective in getting rid of a dose of the worms. They also used lance leaf plantain, plantago lanceolate, for all of the above, and also to cure lungs that are in distress. In case you should need some while in Dutch Country, just ask for some schpitza wedderich.
In the Arab states a sweet syrup is made with the whole plant, the plant being dug and boiled in water, then sweetened. This homemade tonic is used to treat bronchial colds, bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary tuberculosis. Internally, the plant is considered the best in treating any problem with the lungs and externally, supreme in irritated skin, be that in the throat or on the sitter. The plant is considered to be generally good for you, improved lung function is bound to improve health.
The Chinese are quite familiar with this dooryard weed, called che chien, and the fact that the plant is perennial and seed producing has insured its spread all over mainland China . The Asians feel that the plant is quieting, curative for rheumatism, and above and beyond all else, a beautiful spring tonic. In addition, the plant is used to increase semen, and consequently fertility, nourishes the liver, helps in a problem delivery. Like the Delaware Indians, the Chinese say that plantain will take care of a case of the trots. It is thought to be diuretic, helping to clean the urinary tract out of gravel and infection. Topically it is applied to wounds as it slows bleeding. Last but most importantly, it is used in treating people suffering from wasting conditions. The list of Chinese uses almost tops Macers long list.
The Chinese feel the plant enters through the kidney, bladder, and liver channels, as you may note, all the organs in charge of cleansing the body out of toxins. Remember, toxins are what kills you and makes you sick. The Chinese suggest dry frying the plant to promote urination and frying it in wine for kidney problems.
On a scientific level, the Chinese have done studies proving that plantain does, in fact, stop diarrhea in children, which can be quite lethal for the little tikes. In addition to tacking down the country belief of relieving the summer complaint, they have backed up the belief that the plant leads to healthy delivery of a child. In a study of women with fetuses in bad positions prior to delivery, the use of plantain saw a ninety percent reversal in position, almost all of the women treated had normal presentations at birth.
As you peruse the world of tonic plants, there are your middle of the road tonics, and then there are the serious tonics, the serious tonics always have listings as being used to treat wasting conditions, which indicates the body is just wasting away. This indicates how restorative people have found the plant to be. The plant is thought to be powerful enough to reverse this process, and if it can do this for a failing body, imagine what it can do for a body that is in OK condition.
The plant made its way with the Spaniards to South America , where it took hold, of course, and is doing just fine. Take a look at what the South Americans use it for:
salve for wounds, burns, bruises
ulcers in the mouth
Some list, several islands’ cultures believe the plant must be left outside at night, and collected in the morning with dew on its
leaves to be effective. Plantain has a pleasant taste and in times of tea shortage, the plant has been used as a substitute, which according to its international reputation might not be a bad idea.
Time to get personal again, back to bathroom talk. Plantain contains a lot of mucilage, particularly in its seeds. This substance is actually much like gelatin, and in the intestinal tract swells like gelatin does when you add sugar and water. The effect in the intestines is that it cleans them out, gets all the toxins out, and keeps the functioning smooth and regular. I keep going back to this as regular elimination is one of the keys to health, and most importantly staying “not sick.”
Gerard had more than a few things to say about plantian, let’s take a look:
“Plaintain is good for ulcers that are of hard curation, for fluxes, issues, rheumes, and rottenness, and for the bloody flux: it stayeth bleeding, it heals up hollow sores and ulcers, as well old as new. Of all the plaintains the greatest is the best, and excelleth the rest in facultie and virtue.”
“The root of plaintain with the seed boiled in white wine and drunk, openeth the conduits or passages of the liver and kidneys, cures the jaundice, and ulcerations of the kidneys and bladder.”
The leaves are singular good to make a water to wash a sore throat or mouth, or the privy parts of a man or woman.
Oops, there I go and get personal again. Sore privy parts, we all know what that means. Gerard is probably referring to privates that are plagued with a venereal disease, which is at least a major source of discomfort. His reference isn’t solo, the plant has been prized for a very long time in treating herpes sores, some say it cures them straight away.
As I mentioned earlier in this little book, the nobility only use the best, the best doctors, the best medicine, interior designers, etc. Well, at the time Gerard was writing a certain, “M. William Godowrus Sergeant Surgeon to the Queens Magestie” was in the habit of prescribing plantain to the king and queen. Would the dear guy use it if it didn’t work pretty well?
The common weed has got some use in the United States on the folk curing level to be sure. In the bayou the fresh leaves applied to sores to spread healing and the dried leaves are put in the linen closet to perfume and keep insects out. Nothing nastier than putting a shirt on and feeling bugs crawling around on your back I always say. An informant in North Carolina said that plantain leaves placed on the wrist of someone with a fever would cure it, the leaf being left on until the heat of the sick person browned the leaf. Bee stings and dog bites get lots of listings as well.
A use that comes to us from around the world made me laugh, take a piece of the root and insert into the ear to treat a tooth ache. Sounds like something I would tell my sister to do, and when she did I would bust out laughing at her for believing me. Well, believe it or not, this is a serious listing.
From the gypsies we get a delightful recipe for a home hemorrhoid creme, the ingredient include lard, salt free, plantian, and ground ivy. The recipe suggests boiling the ingredients and pressing the resulting mess to get all the power out of the plants. Once cool, the salve is placed liberally you know where.
Kapakopa as the Maori people call it, was also used by the New Zealand residents in healing. They believe that the plant has the power to draw out infections from wounds and speed the healing process. The Moari believe that the upper part of the leaf, as in the part that is exposed to the sun is the healing part, and the under side is the soothing part. As such, leaves wilted on the camp fire were first placed on the wound top side touching the wound, and when the healing was under way, the flip side was applied to the wound. Sounds pretty specific to me.
As well, the Moaris use plantain in combination with sow thistle and red clover to make certain all the placenta has been expelled during child birth, a little left over can cause deadly infection.
For hemorrhoids, the plant is placed in a steaming pot of water, and the afflicted part hung over the pot, what we like to call a little butt steam. Could be a dangerous proposition if you ask me.
The plant has received much attention in Burma , it seems to be one of the local favorites in Rangoon . In this steamy part of the world the plant is used to treat high blood pressure, sores, and fevers so well known in that part of the world.
The Burmese have spent some time looking into the physical realities of plantain and they have found a number of interesting facts. Firstly, plantain in water or alcohol solutions does indeed produce a drop in arterial pressure in dogs.
The plant used to treat stomach aches worldwide, has been proven to do just that. Not that we doubt the fact that people have used it to treat stomach aches, this alone says it works, but it’s fun to feel justified. The Burmese determined that a substance contained in the plant, plantaglucide, cuts down the ulceration in rats’ stomachs by twenty percent. They found the substance increases secretin of gastric juices and reduces contraction in the intestines. The New Zealanders, Indians, and Pakistanis, in fact, use the plant to treat intestinal inflammation and pain, and the reduction in contractions would cause a reduction in pain. They found the drug an effective treatment in a number of stomach disorders, oh well, we already knew that.
In New Zealand our kiwi friends prefer the lance leaf plantian in medicine to the common plantain, feeling that the plant is excellent in treating earaches and toothaches, hey there’s that combination again. They, of course, use it to treat diarrhea and wounds from all sorts of accidents. They also use it to stop bleeding from the stomach. One use they do sight for the common plantian is as an antismoking potion.
In Ireland , the plantain is associated with St. Patrick, and is called way bread. St. Patrick is, of course, the patron saint said to have lead all the snakes out of Ireland , and other miraculous actions. The plant is thought to hold the power of the saving saint held in its leaves.
Who would imagine that stupid weed was so famous all over the world? As you can see, plantain is quite the famous well being plant. Some years ago, most Americans knew about it. I was in the hills of West Virginia the other day gathering morels, a wild mushroom, with a friend who lives in those parts. We dropped in to visit a friend of his who lives in a log cabin built three hundred years ago. The man apologized for his wife not coming out to visit, mentioning that her face and body were entirely covered with poison Ivy. He told us that she had been to the woods to gather some jewel weed, but this time it just wasn’t doing the trick. When I looked down at his feet resting off the steps while he was relaying his wife’s plight I noticed they were resting on a big patch of plantian growing between the cracks in the walkway. I told him about plantain, and at least an American has remembered about plantain.
Three generations ago plantains’ use was common knowledge, and now, and this includes me until very recently, realizes the plant is something more than a weed. Now that you know something about the plant and what it looks like, walk around and notice how it is absolutely every place you turn.
So what happened, how did we forget about this plant you cannot avoid. Not that this particularly relates to our topic, but it is an interesting aside. One hundred years ago, people doctored themselves except in the case of a medical emergency. In those days most of our families were living on farms and were surrounded by relatives. One relative was always better at curing and knowing the plants than others, and this person acted as the family doctor. The family healer had the knowledge of the plants and the plants were readily available in the backyard, and when Sister Sue came down with a rash, the great aunt directed her mother to the plantian out back. Then we moved to the city, grocery stores were built to feed us, and the great aunt died in the country. And we forgot.
Until now. There isn’t much sense in growing your own plantain in that it is such a readily available weed. Take a walk with a trowel and a used shopping bag, and you will come home with more than you can use. The plant is evergreen so whenever you decide to make your tonic, plantain will be waiting outside your door ready to share itself in your brewing pot.
Notes from the Eclectic Physicians
1854. John King. Materia Medica. – PLANTAGO MAJOR
Properties and Uses – Plantain is refrigerant, diuretic astringent, alterative, and antiseptic. The tops and roots in strong decoction, have been highly recommende in syphilitic, mercurial, and scrofulous diseases, in the dose of from two tofour fluidounces, three or four times a day. It is likewise reputed beneficial in menorrhagia, leucorrhea, hematuria, diarrhea, dysentery, and hemorrhoids. The juice taken internally, in doses of one fluidounce every hour, and also applied to the wound, is in high repute as an antidote to the bites of venomous serpents, spiders, and insects. Externally, the bruised leaves, or an ointment made with them, is useful in wounds, ulcers, ophalmia, salt-rheum, erysipelas, and some other cutaneous affections. The best form of administration is the juice dissolved in diluted alcohol, and evaporated by gentle heat to the consistence of the extract.
enuresis: nocturnal enuresis with profuse discharge of colourless urine.
1895: Watkins: PLANTAGO, SP MED:
Nocturnal enuresis with profuse discharge of colorless urine. One to five drops every four hours.
1898: Felter and Lloyd – PLANTAGO – PLANTAIN
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage – Plantain is alterative, diuretic, and antiseptic, once considered vulnerary. The tops and roots, in strong decoction, have been highly recommended in syphilitic, mercurial, and scrofulous diseases, in the dose of from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, 3 or 4 times a day. It is likewise reputed beneficial in menorrhagia, leucorrhoea, hematuria, colic, cholera infantum, aphthae, diarrhoea, dysentery, incipient phthisis, pulmonary hemorrhage, dysuria, and hemorrhoids. The specific medicine may be employed in these disorders. The juice taken internally, in doses of 1 fluid ounce every hour, and also applied to the wound, is in high repute as an antidote to the bites of venomous serpents, spiders, and insects. It is a remedy for toothache from dental caries, the cavity being cleansed and specific plantago major applied on cotton to the sensitive pulp, renewing every half hour. Its internal use is said to control toothache through its effects upon the trifacial, tie-douloureux being benefited in the same manner. The same preparation, locally applied, often relieves carache. Bedwetting in children, due to relazed vesical sphincter, with profuse colorless discharge of urine, is said to be relieved by plantago. Externally, the bruised leaves, or an ointment made with them, is useful in wounds, ulcers, ophthalmia, eczema, erysipelas, and some other cutaneous affections. The best forms of administration are the juice dissolved in diluted alcohol, and evaporated by gentle heat to the consistence of an extract; and specific plantago major, the dose of which is from 1 to 5 drops.
Specific Indications and Uses – Locally, toothache and earache.
This remedy is often a successful one in the treatment of nocturnal enuresis among children. It is applicable to cases of relaxation of the sphincter vesicae, where the urinary discharge is profuse and colourless.
1901 : Harvey W Felter (Appendix) – PLANTAGO – PLANTAIN
SYNONYMS – Rib Grass, Ribwort.
BOTANICAL ORIGINS – The root, leaves and tops of Plantago major , Linne. Nat. Ord., Plantaginaceae. A perennial, stemless plant, abundant in Europe and American, growing in rich, moist soil, in grass plats, fields, and by roadsides.
This remedy is valued chiefly as a remedy for earache (internally and dropped into the ear) and for toothache. A pledget of cotton saturated with specific plantageo may be inserted into the carious tooth and frequently renewed. It may also be given internally, and is said to influence tic douloureux. The fresh juice is one of the best local applications to insect bites and stings that we have ever employed. Plantago deserves a trial in nocturnal enuresis due to relaxed sphincter vesicae, with copious discharge of clear urine. The dose of specific plantago is from 1 to 10 drops.
1905: Petersen – PLANTAGO MAJOR:
Syn – Plantain leaves
P. E. – Whole plant
N. O. – Plantaginaceae
N. H. America and Europe
Properties: Alterative, diuretic, hemostatic
Use: Very good remedy in facial neuralgia in which the submaxillary nerves are involved. In such cases it is beneficial in toothache.
In the nocturnal incontinence of urine, in young children, accompanied with a large flow of colourless urine, this agent has produced curative results in many cases.
Diseases of the the gastro-intestinal mucous surfaces, when there are pinching or colicky pains, inflammatory affections of the skin, when there is pricking, ithcing or burning pain, toothache and earache. THis agent is employed internally and locally in erysipelas, inflammation of glands, especially the mammary glands, erythematous skin diseases, earache, toothache, the carious tooth should be cleansed, and the medicine applied on cotton. Locally it is applied diluted to accessible. Plantago major is alterative,diurtic, antiseptic, astringent, anodyne and demulcent.
1919: Ellingwood: PLANTAGO – PLANTAGO MAJOR
Synonyms – Plantain, Rib wort, Rib grass, Ripple grass.
Constituents – The leaves contain a resin, citric and oxalic acids. There is no alkaloid or glucoside.
Preparations – Specific plantago. Dose from one to five drops. The juice of the leaves is used, dissolved in alcohol.
Therapy – The remedy is of value in the internal treatment of all diseases of the blood. Scrofula, syphilis, specific or non-specific glandular disease, and mercurial poisoning. It is used in ulcerations of the mucous membrane, due to depraved conditions. It may be given in diarrhoea, dysentery, the diarrhoea of consumption, cholera infantum, and where there are long-standing hemorrhoids. it is also given in female disorders, attended with fluent discharges, and in hematuria, also in dysuria an dsome forms of passive hemorrhage. it would thus seem to possess marked astringent properties, as well as those of an alterative character. The older physicians ascribe an active influence to it, in the cure of the bites of venomous serpents, spiders and poisonous insects. A simple but important influence is that exercised in tooth-ache. The juice on a piece of cotton applied to a tooth cavity, or to the sensitive pulp, has immediately controlled intractable cases of toothache. It seems to exercise a sedative influence upon pain in the nerves of the face, and relieves many cases of earache and tic-douloureux. In nocturnal incontinence of urine, in young children, accompanied with a large flow of colorless urine, this agent has produced curative results in many cases.
Plantago is of immediate benefit, Dr. Kinnett says, in the treatment of snake bites. It should be made and given freely and a poultice of the leaves applied to the wounds.
Plantago relieves inflammatory infection of the skin, especially if accompanied with burning pain or itching. Inflammation of the intestinal tract which involves the mucous membranes and is accompanied with colicky pains will be relieved by plantago.
Old Dr. Smith from southern Illinois applied plantago in the form of a saturated tincture as a dressing for fresh cuts, wounds, or bruises. he could thus secure healing without the formation of pus. He made his tincture of the entire plant an droots, pounded up in alcohol. He applied one part usually to four of water.
Where the teeth have developed sudden tenderness an dseem to be too long from ulceration of the roots, Dr. Turnbaugh gives plantago, ten drops of a three x dilution every three hours. He given the late Dr. E. M. Hale credit for the formula.
Dr. Wallace dips a teaspoon into hot water, drops into this five drops of the specific plantago, and purs this into the ear for earache, filling the ear afterwards with cotton. He claims immediate relief in aggravated cases.
Externally the bruised leaves have been applied in the form of a poultice, to chronic ulcers, and skin disorders, resulting from depraved blood. The juice may be combined in the form of an ointment. One physician told the writere that he saw an Indian woman pound up a large quantity of Plaintain leaves, put them into a skillet, and pour enough lard to cover. This was boiled for some time, then strained. When cool, the produce was a smooth, greenish colored ointment. With this a chronic an dpreviously absolutely intractable skin disease, similar to a dry form o feczema, was rapidly and permanently cured. This ointment in appearance and action very closely resembles the proprietary preparation, known as cuticura.
Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.