Herb of the Month: Plantain

Herb of the Month: Plantain

Cara Green

The buzzing of summer is humming all around - in the northern hemisphere, the natural world comes to life. Plants flourish in hues of green, colored flowers debut, and we ourselves transform into busy bees! Tending to our gardens, basking in the sun, and enjoying all things outdoors with the family, friends, and kids are summer highlights for many of us. But unfortunately, it’s not long until the bug bites, sunburns, scrapes, or poison ivy can put a damper on the summertime fun. Luckily, there is a plant that can put your summer bummers to ease! 

Plantain, or Plantago major, is native to Europe and Asia but was introduced to North America by settlers and gained the nickname “white man’s footprint” by Native Americans for how quickly it spread across the United States in areas where European settlements were established. Broadleaf plantain now grows commonly and can be found in farm fields, lawns, near roadsides, and other areas where human disruption to nature occurs. The abundance and easy identification of this commonly found herb is part of what makes plantain so fun! Plantago major has low-lying basal leaves that feel leathery and spread in a round, fan-like shape around the center of the flower stalks which extend upward about 6-8 inches and are topped with yellowish brown inconspicuous stalky flowers. When you spot it once, it is hard to miss again! But don’t get confused…this isn’t the same as the delicious, starchy fruit in the banana family you’ve likely tried in cultural dishes all over the world like in Africa, the Caribbena, South Asia, and Latin America. 

Plantain leaves are edible, have high tannin content, contain vitamins A and C, and are packed full of a wide range of medicinal benefits. Plantain is known to be anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, demulcent, astringent, and a mild expectorant.  This herb is often used for soothing skin conditions such as sunburns, dry skin, eczema, and bites or wounds when applied topically-which makes this herb of the month a wonderful plant ally to have on hand for quick-use wherever you adventure this summer! Some herbalists use plantain to treat coughs, bladder infections, soothe sore throats, or help boost the immune system. Additionally, plantain is a popular remedy for treating gastrointestinal ailments which can be extra helpful if you are prone to having a sensitive tummy that struggles to digest all of the hard-to-resist summer food and drinks like barbecued meats, ice cream, or a cold beer after a long, hot, day.

In traditional practices of herbal medicine all over the world, plantain is widely accepted as a favorable medicine for treating our body’s largest organ-our skin. The major constituents of plantain are tannins and mucilage that when combined, provide a balancing, toning, and soothing effect on the skin. For centuries, crushed plantain leaves have been applied to small wounds and cuts, bug bites, eczema, and really any other skin ailment you could think of! Due to the dual nature of plantain’s toning and tightening, and soothing and moisturizing properties, this herb is a really lovely ingredient to add into your skin care routine as it is balancing for all skin types. It helps to restore your skin to it’s healthiest appearance, and can be really useful for mild sunburns or bug bites when applied with a salve or infused oil. Don’t have any formulated plantain medicines on hand but found some plantago major making an appearance at the local park or in your yard? Channel your traditional skills and use plantain the old fashioned way! Just crush the leaf up until that juicy, green goodness begins to spread on your fingers and gently apply it topically to the small scrape or bug bite ailing you. In no time you can resume back to your gardening, the unfortunate mosquito-ridden campfire, or encourage the young ones to keep playing at the park-without the fuss of those pesky bug bites, scrapes, and burns! 

Plantain is one of those special herbs that both astringent, and demulcent properties when used correctly. The high tannin content in plantain offers this herb astringency, and helps to tone and tighten the gastro-intestinal tract from ulcers  by repairing the lining in the gut and stomach by reacting with exposed proteins in the ulcer. This action also can help replenish the stomach and GI tract in general by building up that protective coating of mucous membranes that are crucial for nutrient absorption, minimizing inflammation, or soothing diarrhea or colitis. Additionally, plantain leaves are demulcent due to the high mucilage content in their leaves, which can help to soften stool, increase lower transit time, and soothe any spasmodic cramps. So if you are on the go-go-go this summer, happily indulging in delicious summer treats and meals, or just have an anxious tummy on the regular, plantain is a great herb to test out for it’s gentle, yet effective balancing effects on the GI system so that you can continue feeling your best and healthiest this season! 

So, no matter what is on your plate this season, carry around your favorite plantain salve or try rubbing the leaves on your skin to treat those pesky little bug bites and scrapes the old fashioned way with our beloved herb of the month: plantain leaf. 




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