Plantago major Common name: Plantain, Greater Plantain, Way bread, White man’s feet Family

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Plantago major

Common name: Plantain, Greater Plantain, Way bread, White man’s feet

Family: Plantaginaceae

Botany: A perennial with broad oval or elliptical leaves in a rosette with 3-9 veins. Pale green and smooth. The flower stem is hairy and unfurrowed and may be 5-50 cm. The anthers are pale purple, becoming yellow/brown. Plantago lanceolata has similar actions although there is some dispute about which is more efficacious-Barker says that major is better for skin, and lanceolata is better for the respiratory system. Also related to Plantago ovata, P. indica, P. afra used as a bulk laxative.

Parts used: Leaves; seed

Harvesting, cultivation and habitat: A common plant along roadsides, paths, in gardens, arable land and disturbed waste ground. Leaves are harvested during flowering from May to June is best. Seed harvested when ripe.

History and folklore: The leaves have been used as a survival food and the seeds have a similar action to psyllium to which it is related; one of Nine sacred herbs of the Druids (second after Mugwort) and one herbs of St. John’s Eve. The young emerging leaves of the rosette have a distinct mushroom flavour that is less marked but still present in the larger leaves. Known as the healng plant in Gaelic due to its’ use for bruises and wounds. Plantain syrup is still in the official pharmacopoeia in Russian medicine. Plantain contains allantoin, same as comfrey.



Traditional and current uses

Iridoids (including aucubin, which increases the excretion of uric acid)


Chewed and applied to cuts and wounds to stop bleeding and prevent infection

Flavonoids including apigenin which is anti-inflammatory


Helps to repair damaged tissue; an alternative to comfrey for treating broken bones and bruises


Skin ulcers and fistulae as an ointment or lotion



Urinary tract irritation and bleeding



Catarrh in the respiratory system, allergic rhinitis. P. lanceolata particularly good for longstanding bronchitis with damage and scarring and for tuberculosis

Silica (P. lanceolata has higher levels making it more effective for the lungs)


Loss of voice


Irritable bowel, diarrhoea


Gastritis and peptic ulcers


As poultice for blood poisoning


As a poultice for nettle stings (better than dock leaves) or insect bites

Immune modulant

Placed inside the socks to prevent blisters, and to keep feet fresh.

As a compress or eye-bath for blepharitis and conjunctivitis

As a compress for acne rosacea

Juice mixed with Hypericum oil for otitis media

Used in Welsh hrbal medicine to draw out splinters, abcesses and treat tumours of the skin

Culinary uses: The young leaves can be chopped into wild salads. Older leaves can be used like spinach in stir fries and soups. The seeds can be used as a substitute for linseed or psyllium seed.

Preparations and dosages:


Chevallier A Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine

Barker J The Medicinal Flora of Britain and Northwestern Europe

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