Plantain is a low lying herbaceous perennial plant in the Plantaginaceae family with oval spatulate shaped leaves that have linear veins, and grow in a rosette arrangement. It has small, greenish-brown flowers with purple stamens, in a densely clustered spike that can range 2-5 inches in length, growing from the center of the plant. Both the leaves and aerials should be gathered during the summer to be used or dried immediately. Plantain is a disturbance area plant, meaning it grows happily in areas disturbed by humans, such as empty lots, sidewalk cracks, medians, lawns, and roadsides. It is a wind pollinated plant, propagates itself primarily by seed, and plays an interesting role in restoring the ecology of an area; because it does so well in heavily compacted, disturbed soils, its taproot and subsequent fibrous roots break up the soils, allowing other plants to find roots in the soil while preventing erosion. As a restorative and healing plant to the soils, it has a similar effect on the body.
Plantain is a cooling herb that can be prepared as a salve or liniment and used externally on minor cuts, wounds, stings, sores, hemorrhoids, tattoos, and abrasions to heal and stop bleeding. It is particularly beneficial for these purposes when combined with comfrey and calendula. Internally as an infusion, it’s qualities as a mild expectorant eases mild bronchitis and coughs. The astringency of the leaves can help diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and cystitis, but the flowers and seeds tend to have an opposite laxative effect on the digestive system. The young tender leaves can also be eaten raw in a salad – 100g of the leaves have as much vitamin A as a carrot, and contain a hefty dose of calcium as well. Plantain is a Latin American folk remedy for cancer, and is used in China for its detoxifying properties to treat tubercular ulcers and diarrhea. The seed husks of some plantain species absorb almost 25 times their weight in water, making them useful as a laxative and are often found in weight loss pills. They are high in fiber and are thought to lower cholesterol. It’s very useful for inflammatory diseases such as infections of the urinary tract, hepatitis, and are considered an antitoxin.
Sometimes thought of as a protection spell, plantain is thought to bring good luck to those traveling by road. It is also one of the herbs in the pagan anglo-saxon Nine Herbs Charm, a protective incantation. It was thought to have been brought to North Americas by Puritan colonizers, and was known by some Native American peoples as “white man’s footprint”, due to how it thrived in the disturbed and damaged ecosystems surrounding European settlements.
As a decoction of the roots, of 2-3 teaspoon dried herb per cup of water, simmered for 10-15 minutes, or an infusion of 2 teaspoons of the dried aerials per cup of water, let to steep for 10 minutes, taken three times daily. As a tincture, 2-3ml of the tincture should be taken three times daily.
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