Plantain is a medicinal herb with a long history. In fact, the Saxons included it in their list of nine sacred herbs way back in the 10th century. There are over 200 species of plantain. Some common ones are: Plantago major, which is also known as common plantain, broad leaf plantain, devil’s shoestring, or white man’s foot; Plantago lanceolata L., which is also known as narrow leaf plantain, English plantain, buckhorn, or ribwort; and Plantago media L., which is also known as hoary plantain.
Plantains contain mucilage, tannins, and iridoid glycosides, all of which are believed to give it antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and expectorant properties. Apart from having medicinal benefits, the leaves are nutritious too. They contain iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, K, C, and B. Add a few young tender leaves to a fresh salad or cook them like you would a leafy green to benefit from this nourishing plant.1
Health Benefits Of Plantain
Plaintain can help you fight conditions like:
1. Cold And Cough
Plantain has been traditionally used to treat coughs and colds for centuries. Experimental research also confirms that it has immunostimulatory, spasmolytic, and anti-inflammatory actions that can be beneficial when dealing with an infection in the upper respiratory airways.2
Plantain also exhibits antiviral properties against some viruses that cause the common cold. It’s also a demulcent, relieving irritation in mucous membranes.3 So the next time you get a nasty cold or cough, turn to this ancient herb for relief.
How to use: You can make a plantain cough syrup by simmering 2 ounces of fresh leaves in 2 cups of water for around 10 minutes. Keep the pan covered. Strain and add 3 cups of brown sugar to the liquid. Bring to a boil and as soon as the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat. Allow it to cool. This cough syrup can be stored for up to 6 months. Take 1–2 teaspoons of the syrup when required. Instead of brown sugar, you can use honey to sweeten the syrup. Honey, however, does not need to be heated.4
Plantain can be a helpful natural remedy if you have bronchitis. This is a condition where an infection in your bronchi causes irritation and inflammation. It is characterized by coughing and the production of mucus. Plantain contains complex polysaccharides that can soothe irritation and help with coughs. Studies have also found it to be useful for people with chronic bronchitis. However, do keep in mind that demulcents can stimulate the production of mucus; therefore, some people prefer to use it only for dry coughs.5
How to use: Steep around 1/4th to 1/2 a teaspoon of the herb in a cup of hot water for around 10 to 15 minutes to make plantain tea. Around 3 cups of this healing tea a day should give you relief.6
3. Skin Irritations
Plantain leaves have been used over the ages to deal with inflammation and irritation of the skin. Plantain contains a compound known as allantoin that promotes the growth of healthy tissue and has soothing, anti-irritating, and healing properties. In fact, allantoin is an ingredient in many commercial cosmetic products such sunscreens, anti-acne ointments, clarifying lotions, as well as oral hygiene and pharmaceutical products.7 So whether you’re dealing with eczema, acne, or a sunburn, this herb can help you.
How to use: Crush fresh leaves and apply it to irritated skin.8
Plantain has been used for ages to treat wounds and even finds mention in Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet for its wound-healing properties! It contains long -chained saturated primary alcohols which help heal minor wounds. And then there’s allantoin. You can also use this herb for minor cuts, sores, as well as bee, wasp, and insect stings.
How to use: Traditionally, plantain leaves are mixed with antibacterial honey and applied on wounds to promote healing.9 You can also apply fresh leaves directly on minor injuries.
Plantago major has been historically used for the treatment of ulcers too. An animal study that looked at traditional medicinal plants used in Turkey found that plantain does indeed have anti-ulcerogenic properties. The anti-inflammatory effects of plantain are believed to make it useful for people with ulcers.10
How to use: According to traditional methods, the dried leaves are powdered and eaten with a little honey on an empty stomach to help with ulcers.11
The seeds of Plantago ovata and Plantago psyllium L. are especially effective in treating chronic constipation. The seeds of Plantago major are often used for this purpose. Called black psyllium, these seeds are also used for softening stools after surgery on the rectum, during pregnancy, or by individuals with hemorrhoids and anal fissures. Black psyllium is also effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), dysentery, and diarrhea.12 The ripe seeds are dried before being used medicinally. Psyllium seeds contain mucilage, and when they come in contact with water, they expand and increase the bulk of stool making it easier for it to pass.13
How to use: Mix 10 g of black psyllium seeds in about 100 ml of water. After having this, drink at least 200 ml of water. Without sufficient water, these seeds can choke you when they swell up and block your throat, or cause an obstruction in your bowels.
You can take up to 30 g of psyllium seeds per day in divided doses. The FDA recommends a full glass of water with each dose. Commercial products normally have clear instructions about the quantity of water that should be consumed.14
You could also take a teaspoon each of dried plantain leaves and dried lemon balm leaves. Combine the two herbs in a tea ball or cup, and pour a cup of boiling water over the leaves. Let it steep for about 5 minutes, and then drink the tea. This will help soothe and ease an upset stomach.15 Lemon balm also has the ability to calm the digestive tract.
7. High Cholesterol
Psyllium appears to help lower cholesterol levels. One study found that when people with high cholesterol took 5.1 g of psyllium twice daily for 24–26 weeks, their total cholesterol levels were 4.7 percent and LDL cholesterol levels were 6.7 percent lower than that of the control group. It’s not completely clear how psyllium works to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood but it might reduce the absorption of cholesterol and fat and also divert hepatic cholesterol toward bile acid production.16
How to use: Check with your doctor and only then consume psyllium as a part of diet therapy to lower cholesterol levels. And remember to take psyllium with plenty of fluids.
Psyllium may help control your blood sugar too. Water-soluble dietary fibers can lower blood sugar levels after a meal by slowing down carbohydrate absorption. One study observed that when men with type 2 diabetes took 5.1 g of psyllium twice a day, for 8 weeks, it improved their blood sugar levels.17 On the other hand, certain commercial black psyllium products sometimes contain added sugars, undermining its ability to lower blood sugar levels.18 So choose carefully.
How to use: Adding psyllium to the diet prescribed for you can be helpful if you have diabetes. Do check with your doctor before taking psyllium supplements, especially if you are on medication to control your blood sugar.19
Be Cautious While Consuming Plantain
Though plantain is generally thought to be a safe herb, there are a few side effects and precautions you need to be aware of.
Intestinal problems: Consuming black psyllium is not advisable if you have impacted stools or hardened stools, a narrowed gastrointestinal tract, gastrointestinal atony or weakened muscles, or bowel blockage as the seeds can swell and block the gastrointestinal tract.20
Nutrient absorption: Taking psyllium along with your meals for a long time can adversely affect the absorption of nutrients.21
Non-commercial products: With black psyllium, do not use non-commercial preparations as the herb may contain a toxin that can damage your kidneys. The toxin is removed in commercial products, making them safe.22
Pregnancy and lactation: There isn’t sufficient information about whether plantain is safe to consume when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.23 However, there are sources that say psyllium seeds are safe.24 Consulting a doctor or expert herbal practitioner before using plantain is the safest route here.
Interactions with medications: While plantain has many medicinal benefits, it is important to consult a doctor before using it if you are taking medications for epilepsy, neuropathic pain, heart conditions, depression, bipolar disorder, and diabetes. The constituents of plantain may interfere with the functioning of such medications.25
|↑1, ↑15||Sams, Tina. Healing Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide to Identifying, Foraging, and Using Medicinal Plants / More Than 100 Remedies from 20 of the Most Healing Plants. Fair Winds Press, 2015.|
|↑2||Wegener, T., and K. Kraft. “Plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.): anti-inflammatory action in upper respiratory tract infections.” Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift (1946) 149, no. 8-10 (1999): 211.|
|↑3||Chiang, L. C., W. Chiang, M. Y. Chang, L. T. Ng, and C. C. Lin. “Antiviral activity of Plantago major extracts and related compounds in vitro.” Antiviral research 55, no. 1 (2002): 53-62.|
|↑4||Church, Bill. Medicinal Plants, Trees, & Shrubs of Appalachia – A Field Guide. Lulu Press, 2006.|
|↑5, ↑6||Plantain. University of Michigan.|
|↑7||allantoin. National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|↑8, ↑13||Plantain. Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.|
|↑9, ↑11||Samuelsen, Anne Berit. “The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L. A review.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 71, no. 1 (2000): 1-21.|
|↑10||Yeşilada, Erdem, Ekrem Sezik, Tetsuro Fujita, Shigeo Tanaka, and Mamoru Tabata. “Screening of some Turkish medicinal plants for their antiulcerogenic activities.” Phytotherapy Research 7, no. 3 (1993): 263-265.|
|↑12, ↑14, ↑18, ↑20, ↑21, ↑24, ↑25||Black psyllium. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑16||Anderson, James W., Michael H. Davidson, Lawrence Blonde, W. Virgil Brown, W. James Howard, Henry Ginsberg, Lisa D. Allgood, and Kurt W. Weingand. “Long-term cholesterol-lowering effects of psyllium as an adjunct to diet therapy in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 71, no. 6 (2000): 1433-1438.|
|↑17, ↑19||Anderson, James W., Lisa D. Allgood, Jan Turner, Peter R. Oeltgen, and Bruce P. Daggy. “Effects of psyllium on glucose and serum lipid responses in men with type 2 diabetes and hypercholesterolemia.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 70, no. 4 (1999): 466-473.|
|↑22||Black psyllium. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑23||Plantain. University of Michigan.|