Ribwort Plantain – "lamb’s tongue" or "white man’s foot"

The plant’s common name derives from the prominent veins on the leaves. The Latin name is derived from the Latin planta = sole of the foot, a reference to the leaf shape of some plantain species.
Plantain seeds are sticky when they are moist. They thus stick to the feet of anyone who walks on them and are rapidly spread over long distances. This may be one reason why Ribwort Plantain can be found almost anywhere and is probably also the way the plant was introduced to America by the white settlers. The American Indians therefore call it “White Man’s Foot”.
Active ingredients:
  • Ribwort Plantain was already valued in ancient times. Pliny the Elder reports its healing effect in bad coughs and in shaking chills. In the Middle Ages it was used to treat burns, ulcers, inflammation of the eyes and nose and dog bites. Kneipp used it to stop bleeding and treat wounds.
  • The leaves are the part used. They are dried for tea or pressed to obtain a fresh juice. Ribwort Plantain is an excellent cough remedy because of the mucilage, astringent bitters and silicic acid it contains. Its antibiotic action makes it effective in febrile disorders of the lungs and bronchi. Its use as cough remedy was so proverbial that, in Germany, the expression “Ribwort Plantain juice” was until recently synonymous with cough mixtures in general.
  • In folk medicine the juice is used for blood cleansing cures in the spring; diluted with chamomile tea it is used for the treatment of poorly healing wounds. Crushed, freshly picked leaves are placed directly on fresh wounds. Application of crushed ribwort plantain leaves to insect bites relieve the itching and swelling. When you are out walking, you can thus pick an emergency plaster from the meadow.
  • They contain a fairly high amount of saponins, which are soothing to the skin; they are also a natural anti-histamine.
  • A poultice of plantain leaves chewed into a mass, placed between teeth and gums like a cud, and renewed several times daily, may be effective in cases of tooth infection if the infection is caught early enough
  • Plantain is easily tolerated by dogs and cats, and a strong decoction may be sprayed or dabbed on their skin to deal with itchy skin and rashes, just as with humans. If the animal is not likely to lick the affected area, an ointment may be used; but both dogs and cats will tend to clean ointments off themselves if they can.

And why does Ribwort Plantain always grow by the roadside? One legend tells of a young girl who waited in vain by the road for her lover and was in the end transformed into a plantain. In Germanic lore, plantain was thought to embody the souls which had come back to the light from the underworld and now pursued human beings on the earth. And for the ancient Greeks and Romans this plant was also connected with the underworld: with Orcus and his wife Proserpina. In former times the highly esteemed medicinal plant was also used as food. And even today fresh young plantain leaves make a pungent and healthy addition to salads and dips. The leaves taste best before the plant has flowered and can also be used as a vegetable and in soups

PODLECH, D.  (1996) Herbs and healing plants, Munich: HarperCollinsPublishers;

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