Plantago major, commonly referred to as plantain, is a type of weed that originated in Europe and Asia but is now found worldwide. Plantain leaf is not the same as the banana-like fruit called plantain that is found throughout tropical areas; although plantain leaves can be eaten as a salad. Plantain leaf has a rich history of oral and topical medicinal use, particularly for the treatment of skin ailments, and it is sold today as a supplement for a variety of health promoting purposes. As with any herbal product, get your doctor's approval before using plantain leaf.
Plantain contains fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, zinc and copper, as well as vitamins A, C and K. It is also a rich source of numerous phytochemicals, including allantoin, glycosides, phenols, salicylic acid and tannins. Phytochemicals are antioxidant compounds found naturally in plants that prevent free radical induced damage in the body and thereby help to prevent and treat disease in humans. The International College of Herbal Medicine states that plantain leaf has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibiotic and immune-stimulating properties.
List of Purported Uses
According to Phyllis Balch and James Balch, M.D., in their book "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," plantain acts as a diuretic, helping to rid the body of excess water. It also promotes digestive health by helping to ease indigestion and heartburn and treat diarrhea and dysentery. Plantain leaf also soothes the lungs and promotes respiratory health and is used to treat coughs and bronchitis. Additional purported uses for plantain leaf include enhancing circulation, stimulating the uterus, treating cystitis and hay fever and reducing total cholesterol levels. These uses are based on historical use and anecdotal reports however, and they have not yet been substantiated by solid scientific evidence.
Plantain leaves have antiseptic properties and can be used topically to promote the healing of damaged skin, reduce skin inflammation, stop bleeding, reduce pain and prevent secondary infections of wounds. Plantain can also be applied as a poultice to help soothe bee stings, burns, rashes and hemorrhoids; and to relieve itching from insect bites. In addition, extracts of it can be used as a mouthwash to reduce gum inflammation and gum disease and to treat mouth ulcers. Finally, plantain can be used as an eyewash to help treat conjunctivitis.
Plantain leaf is sold for internal use in fluid extract, tincture, decoction, infusion and dried powder form and the fresh and dried leaves can be consumed as a tea. It is also sold for topical use as an ointment or essential oil. Although plantain leaf is generally considered safe, it is always best to consult with your health-care practitioner before starting any new herbal product.