Plantago major/lanceolata – Planaginaceae family

The people of medieval Europe called plantain “Heal All.” As an astringent anti-inflammatory, this hardy herb was an invaluable aid in handling pain, cuts, burns, swelling and digestive problems. This was one of the herbs children from a very early age were trained to identify for smoothing life’s rough spots. Plantain’s very distinctive leaf ribs and flowers make it almost impossible to confuse with non-medicinal greens.

The list of disease plantain treated was lengthy. It included dropsy (edema), jaundice, ear infections, ringworms, shingles and venereal diseases. The famed 17th century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper combined plantain juice with rose oil to successfully treat headaches and sooth “… lunatic and frantic persons.” The roots, leaves and seeds held a place of esteem on the neighborhood apothecary’s shelves.

Plantain now grows as a weed around the world. Native people of both North America and New Zealand called the plant “Englishman’s Foot” since it sprung up everywhere colonists settled. The thought of living in a new land without plantain was too risky for English colonists, who planted it where they settled.

Today, another species of in plantain’s family holds the public’s attention. Plantago psyllium, also known as psyllium seed, is a popular laxative. Vast fields of psyllium are harvested for its fiber content. When taken internally, psyllium expands and gently carries toxins out of the intestines.

Plantain is still available in salves and ointments in most health food stores. Avid hikers still pick its leaves for cooling bug bites or nettle burns. Plantain waits patiently in lawns and gardens for people to enjoy; confident it can reclaim its title as “Heal All.”