You’ll find plantain on almost every path when you go walking, but that’s useful because plantain is one of the best remedies for insect bites and stings. In fact, rubbed onto skin after a nettle sting, plantain is thought to be more effective than dock leaves. Chew or scrunch up the leaves until you get the juices flowing, then apply. If you cut yourself when outdoors look for this plant which will very likely be nearby. Simply gather and again chew a couple of good looking leaves, then apply the 'spit poultice' to the afflicted area. Bleeding stops very quickly, and broken flesh is rapidly sealed together, due to the astringency of tannins, and the soothing mucilage. Plantains are mildly antiseptic, so they also help prevent infection.
The plantains (Plantago major) are some of Britain's most common and valuable wild plants. It is a plant that offers us foods, medicines and attracts wildlife, while happily growing anywhere. The plantains have many virtues that are generally overlooked, including mushroom flavours for inventive culinary use, as well as their usefulness as medicines, successfully treating a wide number of ailments, internally and externally.
The plantain called ribwort has lanceolate leaves, approximately 15-25 cm long (the other plantain called rats-tail has much wider, broadly oval leaves, with a noticeably wider and longer petiole). It has raised parallel veins on the underside of its distinctive leaves.
The plantains produce their flowers on spikes that can reach 45 cm in length. These can be found from April to August, with the seeds ripening from June.
Parts used: Leaves, flower buds, seeds
When to harvest Leaves: Spring is best, but any fresh, new leaves will be fine.
Flower buds: From April. Seeds: From July.
Uses: Ribwort plantain leaves are ancient medicines with many virtues, used throughout the world. Either plant can be used to combat a number of respiratory ailments, such as bronchitis, nasal catarrh, and sinusitis; as well as middle ear complaints. Both plants have been used to treat bladder infections for centuries.
The leaves taste somewhat mushroom-like, but they need cooking to make them palatable. Ribwort pre-flower buds are moist and crunchy, and also taste strongly of mushrooms. Both lend themselves well to being pureed and made into a dip. I also like to add them to my green smoothies. Plantain seeds can be gathered and added to meals, or ground into flour to make flat breads etc. The mature seeds of ribwort are lovely and nutty, and just big enough to be bothered about.