Ribwort Plantain - round leaf and narrow leaf
Plantago major, Plantago lanceolate

One of our commonest wild weeds, the Plantain (not related to the banana!) is a medicinal herb beloved of the ancients and still prized by herbalists now for its invaluable anti-inflammatory, healing and soothing properties. You’ll know it! Now in summer time they will have long stalks with a flower head at the top that look somewhat like an insect (and which taste quite mushroomy!). The Anglo-Saxons included it in their list of 9 sacred herbs, and named it ‘Waybroad’ referring to its habit of growing along the side of the path. You’ll often see it growing in the centre of a path and you can recognise it by the characteristic ‘ribs’ or veins that run parallel along the leaf.

It’s a juicy plant and traditionally used as a first aid herb for insect bites, stings, rashes, cuts, bruises - you can chew up a good healthy leaf, making sure it’s clean and picked from a spot away from traffic and human or animal creatures. This is a spit poultice, once it’s all mashed up you can apply it to the area of skin affected and hold it there for 5 minutes or so.

The plant’s compounds are found to reduce the effects inflammation and promote healing of tissue. It was also used historically in this way for toothache - again, chewing up the leaf and holding it in the area.

It’s also a great one to add to a herb blend for any inflammation of mucous membranes i.e. the inner linings of our bodies - throats, lungs, stomach, digestive tracts - as it can soothe dryness or soreness there. Herbalists commonly use it for coughs and bronchitis, as well as issues like heartburn, ulcers or inflammatory bowel disease, being a simple but effective healer. In these cases it might be combined with other herbs like Marshmallow root that are also soothing.

You can pick fresh Plantain just now if you find a good spot for it, and slice up a handful of leaves into a teapot then brew with hot water for 15 mins and drink the tea - it’s calming and lovely.

Mrs Grieve’s collection of folklore and history about Plantain

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