Native to Europe, Northern Native Americans called Plantain the “white man’s foot” because they noticed that where ever he went the plant soon showed up. Plantain has been naturalized all throughout North America and into many parts of Central America.
The name has a long history, both root words plan and plat meaning flat or close to the ground. Platus became planta as in plantar warts, under foot and on the ground. Plantago, meaning the sole of the foot is a derivative of planta, became plantagin in ancient Latin, plantein in Old French, plauntein in Middle English and now today Plantain. There are several different varieties of plantain. The most common are the broad-leaf and the lance-leaf types. The broad-leaf is oval to round in shape while the lance-leaf is long, tough and sharp-pointed. Both varieties have long veins. The flower spikes and seeds is most common bulk laxative psyllium.
This most common plant has the most broad range of medical properties. The leaves are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, aperient (relives constipation), antihistamine, expectorant, anti-venomous, anti-toxin, demulcent, cooling alterative, vulnerary (heals wounds), diuretic, astringent, emmenogogue (stimulates menstrual flow), styptic (stops bleeding), anti-syphilic, deobstruent (removes obstructions), anthelmintic (gets rid of worms), emollient, refrigerant and depurant (purifying).
The Native Americans often used Plantain for maladies relating to the foot, including plantar fasciitis. Topically it is an antidote for Stinging Nettle, Poison Ivy and Poison Oak as well as for bites from poisonous spiders, mosquitos, ticks and snake bites. It is also used for bee stings, pus, cuts and wounds. Due to its demulcent and styptic qualities, it is also used for ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach ulcers, sore throats, digestive issues, excessive mucous, inflammation, pinkeye, boils and staph infections,
Plantain is very nutritious containing high amounts of calcium, iron, phosphorus, niacin, thiamine, protein, zinc and vitamins A, C and K. When the leaves are young it makes a wonderful forage food and is often one of the first plants taught to young people, who can easily identify it, learning to treat themselves and others.
Tut, man, one fire burns out another's burning,
One pain is lessen'd by another's anguish;
Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning;
One desperate grief cures with another's languish:
Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
And the rank poison of the old will die.
Your plaintain-leaf is excellent for that.
For what, I pray thee?
For your broken shin.
- Romeo & Juliette, William Shakespear