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Plantain - Botany And History

Plantain is among the most widely distributed of all medicinal plants, being found in nearly all parts of the world, in both the Western and Eastern hemisphere. It has been employed as a type of medicine and as food by a number of different cultures throughout history, and is still, to this day, valued as a powerful herbal remedy. In spite of its prolific usage and well-rounded presence, it is often confused as another plant referred to as plantain - the large, often gummy type of bananas that are favoured for cooking in lieu of normally being eaten raw (i. e. Musa x paradaisica). Plantains of the Plantago major species of plants are, however, entirely different from cooking bananas referred to as plantains.

True plantains are herbaceous, non-fruit-bearing perennial plants that are well-known for their characteristic broad-leafed appearance. Plantain leaves are generally large, somewhat glossy, and possess a sort of semi-crinkled appearance, measuring between five to twenty centimetres in length and four to nine centimetres in breadth. Some specimens can measure up to thirty centimetres in length and seventeen centimetres in breadth if left to its own devices. It is highly noticeable for its small, purple-hued inflorescence which grows from a central dense spike (measuring between five to fifteen centimetres in length) that is connected to a stem. The plants chiefly propagate through the dispersion of seeds, of which as much as two thousand can be dispersed simultaneously, making a highly viable plant. Plantains grow from a small rhizome and, if harvested, usually display long, deeply entrenched root systems. Plantains generally prefer semi-moist environments with rich soil, although being relatively hardy it can also be found in roadsides, waste areas, and both tended and untended lots. In some parts of the world, plantains are considered no more than invasive weeds, while in some others it is largely cultivated both as a nutrient-rich food source, and as a medicinal plant. There is an estimated two hundred or so species of plantains known to humankind, with some thirty of those species (Plantago major among them) having been employed for culinary and medicinal usage since ancient times, with the earliest usage traceable to the time of the Ancient Greeks. [1]

Plantain - Herbal Uses

Plantain has been employed since time-immemorial for both medicine and food in both Eastern and Western cultures alike, although the most common and earliest type of employment for the plant seemed to be as a type of vegetable, generally consumed raw while in its juvenile state but later employed as a potherb as it gets older. The leaves are an excellent source of bioavailable calcium, magnesium, iron, and selenium, with a good dose of Vitamin A and trace amounts of Vitamin C. Nearly the whole of the plant has some degree of edibility, and was either wild-crafted or otherwise cultivated for use as food, although due to its hardy nature and ability to thrive nearly everywhere, it was more often than not left to its own devices and harvested or gathered when needed. [2]

It was a foreign plant to the New World until it was introduced by foreign settlers who carried the seeds unknowingly in their clothing or their personal effects, and the plant soon thrived wherever colonizers settled. Its medicinal usage is almost as old, well-known, and prolific as its employment as food. Being a commonplace plant throughout nearly the whole world, plantain has been employed as a remedy for a number of various ailments, either through oral consumption of the leaves or the consumption of medicinal products derived from the processing of the plant.

Simple decoctions of the plant's leaves have been employed as a remedy for diarrhea, indigestion, dysentery, and colic. It is rich in mucilaginous substances, which helps to soothe all types of digestive complaints. The mucilage in the leaves may also be employed to soothe respiratory ailments such as coughs, sore throat, asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, especially when combined with other types of mucilaginous herbs (i. e. okra), and demulcent or expectorant herbs or spices (i. e. cloves). [3] The leaves of plantain, when combined with the fresh or dried rhizome, also possesses significant expectorant and anti-mucoltyic properties, and is an excellent draught to be had for the management and eventual treatment of dry cough, wheezing, and general congestion brought about by pneumonia or hay fever. [4] When mixed with water and blended into a smooth slush, it can be partaken as a remedy for constipation, gastritis, ulcers, cystitis, and urinary tract infections. [5] Milder decoctions of plantain leaves and roots may even be employed as an eye rinse of the treatment of diseases such as conjunctivitis and sore eyes. When employed as a bathing liquid for pets, it helps to treat shingles, lice and tick bites, and other dermal infections common to pets. Plantain is safe enough for use on all pets in general, and even infants, provided that it is employed only topically. [6]

The most common medicinal application for plantains is its topical uses, of which it has a longstanding reputation. A poultice of plantain leaves or a combination of its leaves and its rhizome have been employed by several cultures as a remedy for any number of topical diseases and problems. It can be made into a curative poultice and applied to wounds for its antiseptic, astringent, and antimicrobial benefits, as well as for its capacity t hasten the healing of the affected area. Plantain is highly lauded especially in Western alternative medicine due to its ability to facilitate wound healing. [6] Poultices of plantain have even been employed as a type of styptic or haemostatic agent to help staunch bleeding.

When applied to infected skin, it can help to heal fungal infections such as eczema and psoriasis, while its anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce the swelling and relieve the discomfort brought about by insect bites, animal bites, and even minor sprains and fractures. When pounded to extract the juice or otherwise macerated into slurry, it can be applied onto the scalp to help remedy dandruff, increase hair thickness, and improve hair texture.

The leaves of plantain may even be allowed to infuse into one's choice of base-oil to have a readily available salve for all sorts of skin disorders simply by macerating either fresh (but not moist) or dried plantain leaves and roots in a jar of oil and allowing the maceration to sit in a warm, sunny place for two to three months, topping the jar off with one's chosen oil the moment some of it has been significantly reduced through evaporation. The oil may then be strained and stored in a dark-coloured bottle or jar and employed as one would a poultice of plantain leaves. [7]

When plantains age, the majority of its constituent parts become tough and fibrous. This can be harvested and made into cordage, or otherwise employed as an organic fibre that is both tough and longlasting. It was in fact employed for such means by the early Europeans, and later, the pioneers and settlers of the New World, who found the cordage derived from plantain near indispensible for general usage.

Plantain - Esoteric Uses

In spite of its long-standing use as a culinary and medicinal plant, plantain is only partly employed for esoteric purposes. In sympathetic magick, it can be made into a talisman, or a cord made from its fibres employed as a 'chain' for a pendant or as a bracelet to imbue the wearer with resilience, engender endurance, and encourage collectedness and calm. Plantain leaves were once employed as a general protective amulet for household, as was either made into garlands and hung around doorways, or planted around the perimeters of a homestead to protect it from malignant forces. It was believed to alleviate headaches and remedy tiredness when encased in a red wool kerchief and bound or wrapped around the forehead. The root of the plant was also believed to protect the bearer from snakebites and accidents during travel if carried in a medicine pouch made from red wool during journeys. [8]

It plays an integral role in Anglo-Saxon and Celtic folklore, where it is considered a sacred herb - one of five which was believed to possess the capacity to heal an assortment of various ailments. In the Maori belief, it was called 'white man's footsteps', due to its frequently being found where settlers habituate, and has been associated with endurance and tenacity, as well as greed.

Plantain - Contraindications And Safety

Unlike many herbs which often have adverse side-effects or reactions if consumed in excess, plantain lacks any potential adverse reaction even if consumed above moderate amounts on a regular basis. Due to its demulcent properties however, over-consumption of plantain leaves may result in mild stomach upsets. As a general rule of thumb, the consumption of plantain should be reduced to moderate or minute amounts during pregnancy and nursing, but the topical employment of the plant is considered generally safe regardless of one's immediate condition.

Plantain - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: che qian zi
Japanese: shazensou
Korean: jilgyeong-i
Sanskrit: asvagola
French: plantain
Spanish: llanten comun / llanten major
Portuguese: tanchagem-maior
Italian: plantago
German: breitwegerich
Anglo-Saxon: weybroed
Scottish: slan-lus
English: broad-leaved plantain / ripple grass / waybread / snakeweed / cuckoo's bread / hock cockle / lance-leaved plantain / rub grass / dog's ribs / white man's foot
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Plantago major










Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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