|Narrow leaf plantain Quick Facts
|Narrow leaf plantain
|Northern Africa, the Azores, the Canary Islands, Europe, western and central Asia and the Indian Sub-continent
|Green when young turning to Brown
|3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long ellipsoidal capsule each containing two seeds
|Slightly salty and faintly bitter taste
Vitamin C (15.11%)
The genus name Plantago, derived from Latin “planta” (= foot sole, foot face) with the common suffix of plants “ago” refers in part to the flat, oval leaves of the plantain (P. major) lying closely on the ground in rosettes, on the other hand that the plantain is formed by being compressed by feet. The long-lanceolate and typical parallel leaves of the plantain are referred to in the epithet lanceolate (from the Latin “lanceolata” = small lance).
Narrow leaf plantain is a small stem less glabrous to pubescent, rosette-forming, herbaceous and perennial herb, 20 to 80 cm high. The plant is found growing in grass and heath land, riparian habitats, freshwater wetlands, coastal dunes, fields, lawns, meadows, roadsides, waste ground, parks and even sand dunes, disturbed areas, open woodlands, grasslands, cracks in pavement, vacant lots, fallow fields, grassy paths, beside railway tracks and harbors. The plant prefers moderately fertile soil and also thrives in very poor land. The plant has a thick rhizome and fibrous roots. Flowering stems are grooved and covered to varying degrees in short hairs pressed close to the stem (appressed), especially towards the base.
This herbaceous perennial plant consists of a rosette of basal leaves and one or more flowering stalks. The basal leaves are up to 10 inches long and ¾ inches wide, but more commonly about half this size. They are linear-elliptic and smooth along their margins, being broadest toward the middle and tapering toward their tips and the base of the rosette. There are 3-5 parallel veins along the length of each leaf. Leaves are gray-green to green and glabrous to sparsely hairy. There are usually a few hairs along the central vein on the underside of each leaf.
Inconspicuous flowers are densely packed in a cylindrical spike ½ to 3 inches long and about 1/3 inch wide, at the end of a long naked stem. The flowers open in a ring around the spike, starting at the bottom and progressing upwards, the stamens’ long filaments and large white tips (anthers) extended out about as far as the central column is wide. Spent flowers, sepals and bracts below the blooms are papery brown; buds above the blooms are gray-green. Rarely a spike contains only pistillate (female) flowers. Flowering normally takes place from April to August.
Each flower is replaced by a small seed capsule that is ovoid or oblongoid; it splits cleanly and evenly in the lower half to release 2 small seeds. Fruits are initially green turning to brown as they mature. Each seed is oblongoid, dark brown or black, 2-3 mm long and mucilaginous when wet and strongly depressed on one side. This plant spreads mostly by reseeding itself. The mass of 1000 seeds is 1-1.5 g.
Its mucilaginous seeds are used as a thickener in the cosmetics and ice-cream industries and as a gelling agent for tissue culture (cheaper than agar-agar). It may be grown as fodder and is considered to be of better quality than Plantago major.
Theophrastus, in the third century BC, cites the narrow leaf plantain among the wild vegetables sprouting in spring. Apart from describing many medicinal applications of the leaves and roots of both species, Dioscorides mentioned their consumption as cooked vegetables, with lentils. Some of these medicinal prescriptions include the consumption of the cooked leaves, being therefore described as a medicinal food.
Traditional uses and benefits of Narrow Leaf Plantain
- Narrow leaf plantain is a safe and effective treatment for bleeding; it quickly stops blood flow and encourages the repair of damaged tissue.
- Leaves contain mucilage, tannin and silic acid.
- An extract of them has antibacterial properties.
- Internally, they are used in the treatment of a wide range of complaints including diarrhea, gastritis, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, cystitis, bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, asthma and hay fever.
- They are used externally in treating skin inflammations, malignant ulcers, cuts, stings etc.
- Heated leaves are used as a wet dressing for wounds, swellings etc.
- Root is a remedy for the bite of rattle snakes; it is used in equal portions with Marrubium vulgare.
- Seeds are used in the treatment of parasitic worms.
- Plantain seeds consist up to 30% mucilage which swells up in the gut, acting as a bulk laxative and soothing irritated membranes.
- Sometimes the seed husks are used without the seeds.
- Distilled water made from the plant makes an excellent eye lotion.
- In the traditional Austrian medicine Plantago lanceolata leaves have been used internally (as syrup or tea) or externally (fresh leaves) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, skin, insect bites, and infections.
- Leaf tea used to treat cough, diarrhea, dysentery, and hematuria.
- Leaves have broncho-dilation properties and can be used for bronchitis and throat colds.
- Leaf poultice used for blisters, sores, ulcers, swelling, insect stings, earaches, and eye ailments.
- Seeds, like any plantain, may be ingested to reduce cholesterol levels.
- Leaves can also be ground up and used to treat skin irritations such as blisters, insect bites, and sores.
- Fresh Plantago lanceolata leaves are applied to abscess to promote suppuration in Turkey.
- Herbal substance is administered in conjunctivitis/eye irritation and for the treatment of wounds, ulcers, bruises and sores in Guatemala.
- Infusions of Plantago lanceolata leaves are used for curing stomach spasms in North-West Greece.
- Consumption of the leaves of P. major is considered healthy for the stomach function.
- Different parts of both species (mainly the leaves, sometimes the seeds and the roots) have also been traditionally used to treat several digestive, respiratory, urinary, and skin disorders.
Ayurvedic benefits of Narrow leaf Plantain herb
- Stings: Warm the plantago leaves. Apply with mustard oil twice a day.
- Hoarseness: Boil 2 tsp of dried Plantago in a cup of water. Strain and gargle with the water 2 to 3 times a day.
- Cuts: Apply the leaves of plantago directly to the affected area.
- Aphonia: Prepare an infusion of the leaves of Plantago. Gargle.
- Gall Bladder: Prepare a tea made from the leaves of plantago. Have this two- three times a day.
- Mouth ulcers: Swish 2-3 Tbsp plantain tea in the mouth 3-4 times a day. You can use 1 tbsp of tincture diluted with a cup of water too.
- Sunburns: Prepare a tea made from the leaves of English plantain. Wash off the affected area with the liquid.
- Gastrointestinal inflammation: Take the tincture under the tongue or drink plantain tea.
- Urinary problems: Make a decoction of Virginia snake root, jasmine and Plantago. Take twice a day.
- Asthma: Boil a cup of water in a pot with an equal amount of 1 to 2 tsp of Thyme and Plantago. Put a half tsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of sugar in it. Boil them for 10 minutes. Strain off this mixture. Drink this mixture four times a day to treat Asthma.
- Poison ivy/sumac/oak: Apply a poultice immediately, and then wash the area with plantain tea. Apply plantain sludge (more details at the end of this article) until the stinging pain is gone.
- Oral Thrush: Prepare a decoction of the roots of Plantago for oral thrush.
- Wounds: Warm the leaves of plantago. Coat them with mustard oil. Use it as a fomentation over the affected area two times a day.
- Bed witting: Have plantago extract.
- Cold, flu, and respiratory infections: Take the tincture under the tongue or drink freshly brewed warm tea with honey.
- Asthma: Make a decoction of the roots of plantago. Take it two times a day.
- Pneumonia: Boil 1 tsp of plantago and thyme in 100 ml of water. Add a half tsp of sugar and lemon juice in this water. Boil it till it reduces to half. Strain it off. Drink a cup of this warm decoction sip by sip in every hour to get cured.
- Dandruff and other scalp problems: Apply plantain tea or oil infusion to the scalp and wash off after an hour.
- Sunburn: Apply fresh poultice or plantain sludge liberally. Wash the area with the tea and then apply the salve.
- Lungs: To get rid of dry cough and lung congestion, drink Plantago leaves decoction. Boil a handful leaves in water and drink twice a day.
- Piles: Prepare a decoction of plantago roots. Have it two times a day.
- Burns: Apply a poultice immediately and apply a bandage with leaves. Follow it up with a plantain salve.
- Cuts and open sores: Stop bleeding from fresh cuts by applying crushed plantain leaves. Wash with plantain tea or diluted tincture (1 tbsp to a glass of water) to prevent infections and promote healing.
- Boils and acne: Touch with a drop of tincture or apply salve.
- Throat pain/infection: Gargle with plantain tea or diluted tincture. Take 5-10 drops of tincture under the tongue and ingest it slowly.
- Liver and kidney function: Drink 1-2 glasses of plantain tea every day.
- Young leaves can be consumed raw or cooked.
- They are rather bitter and very tedious to prepare, the fibrous strands are best removed prior to eating.
- Very young leaves are somewhat better and are less fibrous.
- Seed is cooked and is used like sago.
- Seed can be ground into a powder and added to flours when making bread, cakes or whatever.
- Mucilage obtained from the seed coats is an excellent thickener and stabilizer that are used in the ice-cream industry and also in the preparation of chocolate.
- Both species have been traditionally consumed as vegetables in the Mediterranean countries, at least in Spain.
- Tender basal leaves are collected in spring and eaten raw in salads or cooked sometimes in soups.
- They can also be mixed with other wild vegetables, as in the traditional Italian dishes acquacotta and pistic, the latter being a vegetable plate elaborated with a mix of a large number of wild vegetables.
- Leaves of P. lanceolata are also used as stuffing to prepare vegetable pies in Turkey.
- Inflorescence of P. major are consumed raw in the southwest of Spain and in the north of Italy, close to the Switzerland border, to elaborate a soup with a curious and pleasant fungus flavor.
- As also reported by these authors, its consumption has become very popular in the French nouvelle cuisine of the 90s.
- In northeastern Spain their leaves are used in the elaboration of a traditional liqueur called ratafia prepared with green walnuts and many wild herbs that sometimes include the basal leaves of these species.
- Good fiber is obtained from the leaves, it is said to be appropriate for textiles.
- Mucilage from the seed coats is used as a fabric stiffener.
- It is obtained by softening the seed in hot water.
- Gold and brown dyes are obtained from the whole plant.
- Leaves contain a good fiber, which, it has been recommended, might be adapted to some manufacturing purpose.
- It has also been used in ethno-veterinary.
- These species are usually considered weeds and their leaves and seeds have been employed as animal food, for ruminants, rabbits, and birds.