The common plantain of the British Isles and Europe is Plantago Major, while the plantain in the Indian subcontinent is Plantago ovata or isphagula. The Asian one is used as a bulk laxative in the West under the trade name Fybogel and is very useful for Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers. In Pakistan it is sold as Ispaghol, made from the husks of the seeds of Plantago ovata or Indian desert wheat.
In Britain plantain has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb, and grows there as a weed. In Anglo-Saxon it was called Weybroed and was one of the nine sacred herbs. It has been used as a panacea, and this is reflected in the Scots Gaelic word for the herb, ‘Slan-lus’, the healing plant. The Anglo-Saxons used it as an antidote for “flying venom” along with hammerwort, chamomile and the roots of water dock. Later it was used as an ointment for burns, in a compound of celandine flowers (shiny yellow ones that look a little like buttercups) elderflower buds and houseleeks. Its expressed juice was mixed with comfrey, and sugar to stop the spitting of blood, although there is no medical evidence as yet to support this use.
It contains acubin which is a powerful anti-toxin, so the use of it to cure snake bites and those of other venomous creatures has a basis in medicine. In US folklore, it was said to have cured a dog after it was bitten by a rattlesnake, and Erasmus, writing in the Colloquia during the early Renaissance tells of a toad that on being bitten by a poisonous spider, immediately ate a plantain leaf and showed no sign afterward of having been bitten. Pliny said that if “it is put in a pot where many pieces of flesh are boiling, it will meld them together.” He also said that it would cure a rabid dog, however. It has been used in the past to treat a plethora of illnesses, including insect bites (rub the leaves on them) nettle rash, all skin inflammations, malignant ulcers, fevers, to heal minor wounds, burns, scalds, and to stop haemorrhages both internally and externally among other things.
Decoctions of plantain have been made with a variety of flowers, docks and comfrey, and some of these were used for kidney problems. The expressed juice was used for piles. Plantain juice mixed with lemon juice was thought to be an excellent diuretic, and powdered dry leaves were used to rid the body of intestinal worms. To stop diarrhoea and dysentery the whole plant except the roots is used; you need an ounce of the plant, chopped, and a pint of boiling water. Pour the water over the plantain and leave it to steep for 20 minutes, then strain and drink half a cup 3 times a day.
The powdered plantain seeds were used to stop vomiting, lethargy and liver disorders, and in Salmon’s Herbal of 1710 it says “The liniment mixed with juice and oil of roses eases headaches caused by heat and is good for lunatics.” He also says that when mixed with houseleeks and lemon juice essence of plantain was used in cosmetics.
There are references to plantain in literature from Chaucer onwards, and it is mentioned in several of Shakespeare’s plays including Romeo and Juliet “plain plantain” In Act I scene 2, and “Plantain leaf” was recommended for mending a broken shin.
The young leaves can be used in salads and it can also be used as a herb in soups and stews. The leaves and seeds have antibacterial, astringent, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-tussive, diuretic, expectorant laxative, ophthalmic, demulcent, and cardiac properties, and medical research has shown that it can be used effectively in the treatment of asthma, emphysema, bladder disorders, bronchitis, fever, hypertension, rheumatism and blood sugar control.
For colds and flu it is good to drink a tisane; 1 tbsp of fresh or dried whole plantain herb (seeds, roots and leaves) to 1 pint of boiling water. Pour the water over the plantain and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey to taste and drink throughout the day.
For insect bites and a night cream to prevent wrinkles, or help the skin knit together you should mix ½ lb ghee or lard with 1 pound of chopped plantain plant. Put in a pot and cover it then cook over a low heat until the mixture is green and mushy. Strain while hot and cool. This is good for burns and skin irritation too.
If you boil the roots in water this decoction is good for diarrhoea, dysentery, gastritis, peptic ulcers, piles asthma, hay fever etc. Plantain is also used to cause an aversion to tobacco smoking in some anti-smoking aids. The distilled water from the plant is also apparently, good for sore eyes.
Plantago ovata makes a very good remedy for diarrhoea and dysentery, which I can personally vouch for.
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