Quelite : Plantain

Plantago major

also called : lanté (Chiapas), lanten, llantén, rorogochi (Raramuri)
Common names : white man’s foot (because everywhere the white man walks it springs up in their footsteps), common plantain, waybread

Family : Plantaginaceae
Parts used : leaves – aerial parts, seeds

Constituents :
Leaves – mucilage, glycosides (aucubin), tannins, chlorogenic acid, ursolic acid, silicic acid, minerals
Seeds – mucilage, oils, protein, starch

Plantain has been cited in various scientific studies as having demonstrated, either in in vitro or in vivo testing, effectiveness against E. coli, Streptococcus pneumonia, Bacillus dysenteriae, cancer, malaria and giardia. It has also been cited in traditional or modern use as having some utility in the treatment of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease) and syphilis. (Scott 2010)

Actions :
Leaves – relaxing expectorant, mucous membrane tonic, anti-catarrhal, antispasmodic, astringent, antihaemorrhagic, topically healing, emollient, diuretic, emmenagogue, potential abortifacient
Seeds – demulcent, laxative
Dosage :
• Fresh leaf – put fresh picked leaves through a juicer. Drink 20mL 3xday
• Infusion – 1. 2 teaspoons of dried leaf infused in 250mL boiled water for 10 minutes. Drink 3xday (Hoffman) 2. Use 12-20g dried herb in infusions/day, drink several cups daily (Hobbs and Keville)
• Tincture – 1. 2-3mL 3/day (Hoffman) 2. 10-60 drops 3/day (Cruden)
• Ointment – use as needed on haemorrhoids or cuts
• Poultice – use ½ cup raw (fresh) leaf pulp
Contra-indications : should not be used during pregnancy. In some texts P.major is used as an abortifacient (Conway & Slocumb)
Interactions :
Blends well with other urinary tract herbs (couch grass, corn silk, buchu Uva-ursi)
Combine fresh pressed leaf juice with barley water for a soothing and healing treatment for the urinary tract

Body Systems :
• Respiratory – the leaves ease dry coughs, it is a respiratory relaxant
• Urinary – the leaves soothe urinary tract infections and irritations. Its activity as a urinary astringent makes it useful for treating damage in the kidneys, bladder, ureters or urethra especially in cystitis where there is bleeding.
• Integumentary – when applied as a poultice it can speed the healing of sores and wounds, it is a cooling demulcent for skin inflammations, wounds, bites, burns, itches, bruises and haemorrhoids. The ointment may be used on burns and haemorrhoids.

Additional : a member of the plantain family (P.psyllium) has its seed husks processed to make psyllium husks, P.lanceolata (Ribwort) is noted for its specific vulnerary ability. “Its use rivals even that of Yarrow”

References : Bremness (p203), Cruden (p149-150), Hobbs and Keville (p132), Hoffman (p36,81,109,241),Ody (p86), Talalaj and Czechowicz (p336)

Plantain lends itself well to dishes that contain spinach or other green herbs. Two ways you can make use of it is in the typically Italian dish pesto or in a Japanese styled spinach and sesame dish known as goma-ae.

Plantain Pesto
To make pesto place whole (freshly picked and washed) leaves in a blender with fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil. Pulse the ingredients until they take on a smooth consistency. This can be eaten as a dip, used to flavour pasta or as a base for a pizza sauce.
To make goma-ae there is a little more labour involved.

Goma-ae (Japanese styled greens with sesame dressing)


  • 1 large handful of fresh young plantain leaves (larger, stringy ribs removed if necessary)
  • pinch salt

Sesame Sauce

  • 3 Tbsp white sesame seeds (lightly toasted in a dry pan)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp sake
  • ½ tsp mirin


  1. Grind the toasted sesame seeds with a mortar and pestle. Leave some sesame seeds unground for some texture.
  2. Add 1 ½ Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. sugar, ½ tsp. sake, ½ tsp. mirin to the ground sesame seeds and mix all together.
  3. Put lightly salted water in a large pot and bring to boil. Blanch the plantain briefly. It won’t take long. You are basically waiting for the water to come back to the boil (less than 30 seconds)
  4. Remove the plantain from the water and plunge into iced water to stop it from further cooking. Remove from the water and squeeze water out.
  5. Roughly chop the leaves and place into a bowl.
  6. Add the sesame sauce and toss all together. Served at room temperature or chilled.

See Post on Quelites for recipes for “Quelites Guisados” and “Fried Quelites” which can both utilise this herb.

Other varieties of Plantain

Latin name : Plantago lanceolata

Also called : siete venas (seven veins), narrow leaf plantain, English plantain, lance-leaf plantain

Constituents : iridoids, phenylpropanoid glycosides, mucilage, silica, zinc (perhaps), carbohydrates (fructose, glucose, saccharose), acids(chlorogenic, benzoic, caffeic, coumaric, fumaric, salicylic, asocorbic), iridoid glycosides (aucubin, catalpol), tannins, flavonoids (apigenin, luteolin, scutellarin, baicalein), alkaloid, gum, resins, choline, allantoin, saponins,
Parts used : leaf
Actions : anticatarrhal, antiseptic, antimicrobial, demulcent, diuretic, astringent, vulnerary, styptic, mucous membrane tonic, antispasmodic

Assessment report on Plantago lanceolata L., foliumBased on Article 16d(1), Article 16f and Article 16h of Directive 2001/83/EC as amended : European Medicines Agency, 2012. : Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC)

P.lanceolata flower

Dosage :
• Fresh juice – 10mL (pressed from freshly picked leaves) per day (Ody)
• Fluid extract (1:2) – 20-40mL/week (Bone)
• Infusion – 15g of dried herb infused in 250mL of boiled water for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3 cups/day
• Poultice
• Ointment – applied topically to wounds, burns, haemorrhoids, nappy rash

Contra-indications : none noted
Interactions :
Combine with thyme in an infusion for treating bladder complaints, bronchitis
Use horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and mallow (Althea officinalis) to wash wounds before applying a plantain poultice

Warnings :
In cases of serous otitis media (1) in children, the tincture can be diluted in an equal volume of warm water and dropped into the ear at hourly intervals. This often causes the child to perspire. (Scott)

  1. middle ear infections

Body Systems :
• Respiratory – has key indications for the treatment of nasopharangeal catarrh, chronic sinusitis, hayfever, serous otitis media, pharyngitis, catarrhal deafness, sinus headache, lower respiratory catarrh, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, allergic rhinitis, and the treatment of cough. If pneumonia seems to be developing drink a cup of thyme and plantain tea every hour. Make it just when you are going to use it, drink it as hot as possible and sip it slowly (Treben)
• Circulatory – used topically for leg and varicose ulcers (and also pharyngitis and laryngitis) and thrombosis
• Urinary – a soothing astringent in cases of cystitis with bleeding
• Digestive – a soothing astringent in cases of dirrhoea with bleeding
• Integumentary – fresh, bruised leaves can be applied to cuts, scratches, insect bites, poison ivy rashes, goitre

Recipe :
Plantain salve
3 cups fresh leaves (finely chopped)
4oz olive oil
1/2 oz vitamin E
2-4oz beeswax
In a pyrex pot gently heat together oil and wax until liquefied.
Add the herbs and place in a low oven(170°F/90-100°C) for about 4 hours.
remove from oven, strain, add vitamin E and pour into sterilized jars to cool and solidify.
References : Bone (2) (p58), Hemmes (p74),Keville (p149), Miczak (p36,76), Ody (p86,140-141,156-157), Pengelly (p46), Scott (p50), Treben (p40,43,63,94,107,110,114)

Latin name : Plantago psyllium, Plantago ovata
Common names : Wooly plantain, Isphagula (name for the seed husk)

Plantago psyllium

Constituents : fibre (fibre content of P.ovata is 948g/kg of which 67% is soluble fibre), up to 30% mucilage (arabinoxylans), monoterpene alkaloids, triterpenes (stigmasterol, β-sitosterol), iridoid (plantarenaloside), iridoid glycoside (aucubin), sugars, fixed oils (linoleic, oleic, palmitic), proteins, fatty acids, tannins
Parts used : seed husk
Actions : laxative, mucilaginous, demulcent, emollient

Dosage :
• Infusion – infuse 1 teasp of seeds in 250 ml of boiling water, let it cool and drink (seeds included). Drink at night. Can be combined 1 part linseed with 2 parts psyllium or isphagula seed)(Ody).
• Powdered seed – 1. 2-4 teasp of powdered seed or 1 tablesp ground seed husk in 500ml of water, drink once or twice/day (White and Foster). 2. Psyllium (10-30g ground seed) or Isphagula (12-40g ground seed) soaked in 100-150ml warm water for several hours before ingestion and followed by another glass of water (taken in divided doses daily) (Braun and Cohen)

3. 4-5g of powdered seed husk stirred into 150ml of water and drunk immediately, follow with another glass of water, take up to 4/day (Braun and Cohen)

Plantago ovata

Contra-indications :
Contraindicated if there is difficulty regulating diabetes mellitus
Do not use if you are also using plantain
Take care with commercial preparations of psyllium if you are diabetic as many of them contain sugar (Metamucil)
Interactions :
Strong herbal laxatives (aloe, buckthorn, senna, cascara sagrada, frangula, rhubarb) when combined with psyllium can cause diarrhoea and cramping. Try using psyllium first before using these other laxatives as it is far gentler
Frequent use of psyllium may interfere with the absorption of other drugs by moving them too quickly through the digestive system. Separate psyllium use and drug use by at least 3 hours
Psyllium has a significant negative action on the bioavailabilty of Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Lithium, B12, cardiac glycosides and courmarin derivatives. All of these substances should not be taken within 1 hour of taking psyllium
Warnings :
Allergy is possible (but rare) and is characterised by, tightness in the chest, wheezing and urticaria
The wet seed mixture becomes thick quickly and becomes difficult to drink.
Not for use in children under 2 years old
The fine dust of psyllium seed may aggravate asthma if inhaled. It should not be taken dry as it may cause oesophageal blockage
Do not use if you have intestinal obstruction
It is believed that the seeds are able to lodge in intestinal pockets and cause irritation; if this is the case then you should only use the seed husk
May cause wind, bloating or diarrhoea, start with low doses and work your way up to higher doses

Body Systems :
• Digestive – psyllium is a rich source of fibre that is used in many commercial fibre laxatives. Used as an anti-diarrhoeal, bulk and water content of stool is increased making passage easy. It is a gentle, non-irritating laxative. Used as an appetite suppressant. Relieves inflamed membranes of intestinal canal, demulcent and emollient, it can be used in the same manner as flax seed. Used to treat irritable bowel syndrome and haemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Used as a weight loss aid as it promotes satiety. It delays gastric emptying and small bowel motility (reducing intestinal mixing) thereby slowing and reducing glucose absorption
• Circulatory – serum cholesterol levels are improved by psylliums ability to bind bile salts, reduces high triglyceride levels. Used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, lowers LDL (low density lipoproteins) levels in blood (after 8 weeks of use). It appears to be a cholesterol medication that does not have a negative effect on weight, blood pressure and HDL, glucose, iron or zinc levels
Additional : psyllium is available in commercially prepared energy bars, the mucilage contained in the seed coat was used to stiffen linen. Used as thickening stabiliser in foods and cosmetics. Seeds are used in Native American spiritual practices as visionary allies. Plantago species may have been used as a food source by the Aztecs
References : Braun and Cohen (p963-968), , Chopra, Cruden, Ody, Fisher and Painter, Foster and Johnson, Grieve, Le Strange, Meletis, White and Foster, White and Mayor, Wardlaw


Plantago coronopus

Also called : Bucks horn plantain, minutina, herba stella

This herb is named “bucks horn” due to the leaf shape being reminiscent of the horns of a male deer.

A mildly succulent edible salad herb. The succulent, crunchy leaves are best when harvested young, and taste somewhat like spinach but sweeter and nuttier. The flavor is best before the plant begins to flower. Once the flowers develop the leaves develop a bitter quality. The flower bud is edible however and is tender and salty with a nutty earthiness, (similar to wild asparagus).

P.coronopus flower

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