RIBWORT                                            GREATER PLANTAIN

We probably walk by these 2 plants daily and possibly never give them a moment's glance.

But in fact they possess amazing medicinal actions and uses and are a must in the herbalist's dispensary.

Plantago lanceolata Lesser Plantain/Ribwort is also known as Snake weed as it was historically used as an antidote to snakebite.At the end of its growing season the leaves take on a pattern resembling that of snakeskin.

Plantago major.. Greater plantain  was referred to as 'white man's foot' by indigenous indians in the Americas,as wherever the white man walked the plant sprung up!

Both plants have a wide distribution and are found in Ireland and in many parts of Europe, in Asia and the Americas. They grow well in damp soil, and the leaves mainly are used for medicine,also the seeds to a lesser extent.

They belong to the family Plantaginaceae,

Looking at the constituents explains their excellent application as a soothing/emollient and as a healing agent to damaged skin via injury or inflammation as seen in skin conditions. Aucubin inherent in the plants is anti-inflammatory.

Lesser and greater plantain exhibit antibacterial action and are used in infections generally. 

The mucilage content impart a soothing action( emollient action) on dry, sore irritated skin and heals and restores damaged skin tissue.

The soothing action is used topically to also alleviate insect bites, stings etc.

These actions are strengthened by the presence of Allantoin, found also in Comfrey, which restore tissue damage.

Mucilages internally, heal and protect the gut and the urinary tract from irritation  and coupled with the plants' cooling diuretic action help to resolve urinary tract infection effectively.

The tannins have an astringent action augmenting healing and protecting damaged surfaces.

Both plantains contain zinc and silica which speeds up tissue repair externally and internally. The silica and mucilage content give effective expectorant action, loosening stubborn mucous  and making it easier to expectorate thus clearing phlegm and cough.

(As an aside, another native plant, Horsetail, has a larger percentage of silica in its leaves and stems, strengthening  and toning weak, exhausted tissue.

Horsetail was used historically to clean pewter because of its abrasive silica content!)

A common balm or cream can be made from the following 3 herbs and applied to lesions such as eczema,dermatitis, psoraisis ,stings cuts and wounds.

They are

Lesser and/or Greater Plantain.

Lavender flowers.

Calendula flowers.

These are harvested and macerated in vegetable oil in a bain marie for several hours to extract their medicinal qualities.The oil is strained and a salve made by melting beeswax into the oil which is poured into jars and left to set.

The leaves of both Plantains are nutritive and edible but the fibrous veins of Greater Plantain need to be removed first before cooking,though young Ribwort leaves are nice,(though slightly bitter)eaten fresh in salads or in a stir-fry.

They contain Iron,Calcium,Vitamins C,K,and A . 

(Never pick any plant for medicine or food unless 100% sure it has been identified correctly)

Jacqueline Kilbryde ..Medical herbalist 


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