Name: Plantain (Plantago major)
Otherwise known as: Ripple grass, Waybread
Habitat: A perennial member of Plantaginaceae family found in pastureland in Europe and Asia. It has a basal rosette of thick-stemmed oval leaves and produces an inconspicuous brown flower on a leafless stem. The leaf and stems are hairy.
What does it do: The name is derived from the Latin Planta, meaning the sole of the foot because of the shape of the leaves. It is also known as White Man’s Foot, said to planted wherever he went.
The ancients put great store by this herb. Dioscorides recommended it for tumours and mad-dog bites, while Pliny the Elder, used it to treat pustules, bleeding and inflammations. It is considered one of the most versatile of herbal medicines.
The plant contains an iridoid glycoside (aucubin) and carotenes, tannins, silicic acid and enzymes as well as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. It is anti-histamine, anti-bacterial, anti-allergy, anti-haemorrhagic, diuretic and expectorant.
The seed husks absorb 25 times their weight in water and form a soothing mucilage which is included in bulking laxatives and slimming products.
It is recommended for a very wide range of ailments that include chronic blood disorders, kidney and bladder problems (in Cyprus it is called Lithospastus: stonebreaker), diabetes, fever, irritable bowel disorder, dysentery and haemorrhoids. Also applied as an enema in cases of diverticulosis, internal and external ulcers, bleeding cystitis, thrush and purulent discharge.
Chinese herbalists use it to treat syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases; it features in the treatment of tubercular ulcers and as a tincture applied to skin diseases such as acne and eczema. A liquid extract from the stems is painted over painful areas of shingles. The seeds are very rich in fibre and are believed to lower cholesterol.
The Amerindian shamans treat malignant tumours with tea made from the whole plant.
Quite an impressive series of claims for such an insignificant little plant. You will find plantain growing all over Cyprus, so if you fancy a home cure for any of the above, tread carefully.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s Most Dangerous Plants