Ribwort Plantain (plantago lanceolata)
Also known as Common Plantain, Narrow Leaf Plantain, Ripple Grass, English plantain, narrowleaf plantain, ribwort plantain, ribleaf and lamb’s tongue, Waybread, Waybroad, Snakeweed, Cuckoo’s Bread, Englishman’s Foot, White Man’s Footprint.
A hardy little helper this one, considered a weed by many. It reminds me of a very worthy, healthy, calloused-handed woman who roams the countryside helping mend and heal, knowing the pathways of fields and meadows with deep rooted wisdom and countryside lore in her blood.
Despite its many many healing properties this plant is oh so humble, persistent, strong and quiet. Not shouting out its amazingness in thick glossy stems and a shower of flowers, but instead its leaves stay close to the earth in a grounded way with stems that blend easily with its surroundings. It is a plant that can be trodden on and walked over time and time again and still it rises, it thrives on compacted soil and loves appearing in disturbed areas looking healthy and strong. Springing from gaps in the pavement, well worn parks, graveyards, gardens, allotments, fields, meadows and forests paths.
This plant has been named white mans footprint because where white European settlers went this plant came with them and started appearing on the footpaths made by the white mans foot fall. It was thought that European settlers brought the seed and plant with them and the seed dropped off their clothes or boots as they walked or that the seeds traveled in the earth impacted into the bottom of the Europeans’ horses’ hooves. However it happened no one knows but I love hearing all the different stories about it.
Before all this though it was it was one of the nine sacred herbs in ancient Saxon lore and often called way bread which is apparently where Tolkien got the idea for the Elven way bread in Lord of the Rings.
When lying on my belly watching Plantain sway in the breeze I noticed that the heads are very very beautiful, especially before they have flowered, they have a lilac colour to them with a pattern of what looks like dragon scales or a grand birds chest feathers or what I could imagine a giant lizards toe to look like.
I love the way the leaves are heavily ribbed, if you pick a leaf you will see the strong strings hanging out, they are sometimes whitey and sometimes luminous green. Later Plantain gets long stems with seed heads at the end that wave and nod in the breeze, it is and was very common for children to fire these at friends when playing in the fields and parks. You may have even done this yourself.
As a medicine –
Plantain is the healer of wounds, dry skin, sunburn, splinters, bee stings, nettle rashes, swollen joints and irritated skin; a must for every medicine bag.
Its has anti-inflammatory properties along with being antibacterial which aids in quick healing.
A poultice works well on wounds when the leaves have been heated in hot boiled water and placed onto a wound. If you find yourself in need of this plant while out a great way to use it is by making a spit poultice.
Find some good leaves and chew until the potent green juice starts to come out and then spit the juice along with the mushed up leaf onto the wound or sting. If you don’t fancy using spit you can vigorously rub the leaf between two hands and the juice will start to come out, but this is not as good as the lovely old spit way.
Another way is to make a salve or an oil with it, that you can then carry round with you. To do this almost fill a very dry jar with the plant and then cover with your oil of choice such as sunflower, olive, almond, hemp etc. Make sure there is no plant material sticking out of the oil as this will create mould. Every day push the plant material down with a wooden spoon releasing any trapped air bubbles as these too can create mould. After 4-6 weeks take the plant material out and you have wonderful Plantain oil which you can heat to body temp and grate in some beeswax, you can add lavender oil or vitamin E oil to help extend the life of the salve, then pour into a jar and you have a wonderful salve to whip out in emergencies or in case the skin needs some nourishment.
Plantain tea can be taken internally for coughs, weakened lungs and respiratory congestion. I find to make an infusion of the leaves and then add raw honey or Manuka honey makes a lovely cough remedy that not only soothes a sore throat, coughing and fights bacteria but also acts as a gentle expectorant to help clear phlegm from the lungs and nasal passages. The tea is also a good treatment for hay fever especially mixed with Nettle.
The wonderful seed heads of Plantain on the bobbly lance shaped head are mucilaginous and high in fiber and are often used to treat constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of plantain seeds. Cool and drink before bed.
Plantain as a food –
All plantain varieties are high in protein, vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, iron and potassium.
The spring leaves of Plantain are soft in flavour with a slight astringent and subtle bitter quality. They are chewy which many people may not like, especially in this culture where food is often bland, pappy and easily mushed in the mouth. The leaves can be chopped into salads, steamed, put into smoothies, added to soups and stews, stirred into risotto and also lightly panfried in olive oil and sea salt is a rather delicious way to have them.
I adore eating the seed heads for their wonderful mushroom flavour. I love to gather them and throw them on top of my meals, you can steam them or put them into stir fries with Tamari sauce.
This is really a very lovely and ancient medicine herb that is literally underneath our feet. When you are out walking take note if you can, look for the hardy medicine woman dressed up as ribbed leaves and wearing a mushroom flavoured hat, you would do well to get to know her.