Because all plantains have high tannin and mucilage content they have similar medicinal properties. One of their important medicinal qualities is their soothing effect, which is due to mucilage so the herb is useful in the treatment of cystitis. Tannin is contained in the leaves of the Plantago family so they are astringent, which means herbal medicine made from the leaves will draw tissues together and help to stop bleeding. Other conditions plantain treats include prostatitis, and haematuria. Externally the leaves are applied to wounds including those that are slow to heal, haemorrhoids, as an eyewash for conjunctivitis and blepharitis, and as a mouthwash for mouth inflammations and ulcers.
Historically, the plant has been used to stop bleeding from many areas of the body including the digestive, reproductive, and urinary tracts, and the lungs. It was also used to treat the stings of nettles and insects, to cool hot conditions such as gout, fevers, and burns; coughs due to heat, worms, and ague. The powdered seeds were given to treat liver obstructions, vomiting, lethargy, jaundice, and even epilepsy.
Referred to as the 'mother of herbs' in an old Anglo-Saxon magical poem - 'Carts creaked over you, queens rode over you, brides bridled over you, bulls breathed over you, all these you withstood, so may you withstand poison and infection' - plantain has been a valued medicinal herb for centuries. It was so highly regarded by Europeans that settlers took the herb with them to America where the Indians began to use the leaves for some conditions such as an eyewash for sore eyes.
Plantain can be found growing wild in fields, lawns, and waste places. Although native to Eurasia both Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata are naturalized in different parts of the world including Australia and New Zealand.
Common plantain, Plantain major, is an annual or perennial that grows to 30 or 60 centimetres high. Its leaves are formed as a rosette and are long-stalked and oval. Flowers are white tinged with green to greenish-brown and are borne in spikes. P. lanceolata is a perennial that grows to a similar height to P. major and has finely toothed leaves that are lance shaped and narrow and white flowers tinged with green.
Often considered as weeds, the plantains seed freely and are generally not cultivated but can be transplanted into the garden, a practice that is very worthwhile for those interested in medicinal herbs and herbal medicine.
Adults can take an infusion of 2 to 4 gram of dried leaves three times a day.