It’s June and Plantain is at its best now. I’m not talking about the cooking banana, popular in parts of Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, I’m talking about the herb that grows in most lawns. Plantain (Plantago) is a group of about 200 small inconspicuous plants called the plantains. You  may not have ever noticed it growing in your garden before, but I promise you that you will have seen it. It has long characteristic pointed leaves with very obvious veins and grows in small basal rosettes.

Plantain Flower - Herbal BeautyPlantains are found all over the world, on every continent. They are typically thought of as weeds but have been used in skincare for centuries. Culpeper described plantain as being “profitable against any inflammations and breakings out of the skin, and against burnings and scaldings by fire and water.” It wasn’t just used for skincare purposes though and has long been touted as a cure for all sorts of ailments, including snakebites. Plantain was also part of the “Nine Herbs Charm”, an old English charm from the 10th Century which was intended for treatment of poison and infection by the preparation of nine different herbs.

Plantain was known by various names throughout history. Native Americans called it “White man’s footprint” because it sprouted up wherever European settlers had spent any amount of time. It is thought that the seeds traveled in the clods of mud impacted into the bottom of the settlers’ horses’ hooves. However, once plantain became established in North America, one Native American nation gave it a name which translates as “life medicine,” demonstrating its value as a healing herb. Plantain was also known as ‘Soldier’s Herb’ as it was carried by soldiers to treat wounds on the battlefield.

As with many plants in herbal folk medicine, the upper side of the leaf was used for healing purposes. Generally the underside was to used to ‘draw’ an injury (i.e. to bring out pus!) and then the smooth upper surface would be applied to complete the healing (Hatfield, 2007). The leaves would also be moistened with spit and applied to cuts and grazes to stop bleeding.

Plantain Flower - Herbal BeautyAlthough there are lots of different Plantains, I’m referring here to the leaves of Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) or Greater Plantain (Plantago major). The pollen itself can be a cause of hay fever so should not be used on the skin. However, the leaves have some amazing skincare properties. Plantain contains biologically active compounds such as polysaccharides, lipids, caffeic acid derivatives, flavonoids, iridoid glycosides and terpenoids. Alkaloids and some organic acids have also been detected (Samuelsen, 2000).

There are a surprising number of scientific studies that have looked into the topical effects of plantain. Extract of plantain has been found to enhance SPF effectiveness in sunscreens (Sugihartini, N., 2010), to treat inflammation caused by mosquito bites (Vollmer et al, 2000) and to accelerate the healing of wounds (Farahpour et al., 2012).

A range of biological activities has been found from plantain extracts including wound healing activity, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, weak antibiotic, immuno modulating and antiulcerogenic activity (Samuelsen, 2000). In other words, this herb is a little gem and has some great skincare properties. You rarely see it featured in cosmetic products but it is certainly one to use if you can get hold of it!

References and Further Reading

Culpeper, N. Complete Herbal (Wordsworth Reference)

Farahpour, M.R., Amniattalab, A., Najad, H.I. 2012. Histological evaluation of Plantago lanceolata L. extract in accelerating wound healing. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 6(34), pp. 4844-4847, 5 September, 2012

Hatfield, G. 2007. Hatfield’s Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain’s Wild Plants

Samuelsen, A.B. 2000. The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L. A review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology [2000, 71(1-2):1-21]

Sugihartini, N. 2010. Curcumin and Extract of Plantago major, L Increased SPF Value of Cold Cream Base. Indonesian Journal of Cancer Chemoprevention. Vol 1, No. 1.

Vollmer, U., Mertin, D., Cordes, G. 2000. Cosmetic patch for the care of skin irritations after mosquito bites. SÖFW-journal Y. 2000, vol. 126, No. 4, pages 32-37.


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