This Little Weed Is One Of The Most Useful Medicines On The Planet

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This Little Weed Is One Of The Most Useful Medicines On The Planet. Graphic © Photo – Wikipedia (P.D. attribution)

You have probably trodden on it, ignored it or tried to get rid of it – but this “insignificant” little weed that thrives in poor soils, lawns, and rocky areas – has a whole host of virtues. It’s amazing that we discard what we don’t even know…. so the next time you weed out your garden or backyard, give a little extra effort to look out for plantain – the little plant in the photo. Some types have elongated, more pointed “spear like” leaves, others have the round leaves as shown. Other identifying features of the plant include the bright green color and the “strings” that are seen when a leaf is broken off.

Note that there are two completely different plants with the name “plantain”. The other type, Musa paradisica or “Cooking plantain”, is a giant palm-like plant that grows as big as a tree and yields fruit very similar indeed to bananas, though starchier and lower in sugar. This fruit is usually in bright green color and it stays green even when ripe. [1] You’ll see these amazing delicious fruits as a staple in Caribbean and other tropical cuisine. But that’s not the plantain we are talking about in this article. Our plantain has the Latin name Plantago, usually Plantago major – the small green plant in the photo.

Herbal Uses Of Plantain

Overview: Plantago species have been used since very ancient times as both herbal remedy and food. Usually, it is the leaves that people use in herbal medicine, although the seeds and some parts of the stem also have their fair share of benefits. The herb is astringent, anti-toxic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, as well as demulcent, expectorant, styptic and diuretic. Externally, a poultice of the leaves is useful for insect bites, poison-ivy rashes, minor sores, and boils. In folklore, it is even claimed to be able to cure snakebite. Internally, it is used for coughs and bronchitis, as a tea, tincture, or syrup. [2]

IBS And Other Bowel Complaints: Plantain may support a healthy digestive system. Plantain seed husks expand and become mucilaginous when wet, especially those of P. psyllium, which is used in common over-the-counter bulk laxative and fiber supplement products such as Metamucil. P. psyllium seed is useful for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, dietary fiber supplementation, and diverticular disease. It has been regarded by herbalists as a great way to ease indigestion and even used in the past to treat diarrhea and dysentery.

Skin Ointment: Plantain is commonly used topically… herbalists crush plantain leaves and mix with an oil such as grapeseed or olive, and you will have a simple home remedy for diaper rashes, hemorrhoids, minor wounds, and blisters. The weed serves as an antiseptic and astringent, with antimicrobial benefits that support faster healing.

Soothes Insect Bites And Poison Ivy: If you get an insect bite, look around for a Plantain plant and shred or mash some of its leaves. Then, apply the juices on the bitten or stung areas. The astringent action should benefit the bites. It’s the same principle for a poison ivy infected skin. If the areas itch, you can also rub the leaves on them, instead of scratching with your fingers. This will promote faster healing while avoiding more damage from your fingernails.

Relieves Conjunctivitis: Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an inflammation inside the eyelids, reaching to the outer part of the affected eye. This isn’t a serious disease, but it can be contagious. [3] Plantain can again help in easing the redness and itchiness of conjunctivitis. Herbalists make a compress out of Plantain leaves that have been soaked in boiling water, then allow the compress to cool a little and place on the affected eye.

Diuretic: In “Prescription for Nutritional Healing”, a book by Phyllis Balch and James Balch, Plantain is exhibited as a diuretic. Meaning, it can help get rid of excess water from the body.

Respiratory Health: Plantain is also regarded by herbalists as able to help in easing heartburns, soothing the lungs, treating coughs and bronchitis, thus promoting respiratory health. [4] You could try making a simple decoction (tea) from some of the leaves.

And More: Additionally, it is claimed to enhance circulation, treat cystitis, hay fever, stimulate the uterus, and reduce cholesterol levels.

Nutritional Benefits

Plantain has been consumed as human food since prehistory in various parts of the world. The broad-leaved varieties are sometimes used as a leaf vegetable for salads, green sauce, etc. This little weed can also help in giving you additional nutrients. It contains Vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, sodium, copper and zinc.

It also contains antioxidants – substances that prevent free radical-induced damage in the body. In general, antioxidants help cleanse the body and increase the immune system. With Plantain, you can have the phytochemicals allantoin, glycosides, phenols, salicylic acid, and tannins. [5]

Where To Obtain Plantain

Plantain leaf is sold for as a herbal supplement in the form of a tincture (Amazon link) or in the form of dried powder. The dried leaves are also sold as a tea (Amazon link).

But of course, once you familiarize yourself with how a Plantain weed looks, you can easily identify it. This knowledge would actually be handy if you are out in the wilderness for a camping or hunting trip and you find yourself in a situation where Plantain leaves are known to be useful.

Safety notes: Although Plantain is generally considered safe, it is always best to consult your doctor before starting on any herbal product. Also, only harvest/use a wild plant if you are absolutely certain of its identity. Finally, be sure not to harvest plants if you are uncertain if they have been sprayed with herbicide/insecticide – and avoid harvesting from industrial areas or near roads (pollution risk).


[1] What’s The Difference Between Bananas and Plantains?


[3] University of Maryland Medical Center. Conjunctivitis.

[4] Balch, P. and Balch, J., M.D. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. 2003

[5] The Health Benefits of the Plantain Leaf.

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