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" or "greater plantain") is a species of Plantago, family Plantaginaceae
. The plant is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia, but has widely naturalised elsewhere in the world.
Plantago major is one of the most abundant and widely distributed medicinal crops in the world. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to facilitate healing and prevent infection. The active chemical constituents are aucubin (an anti-microbial agent), allantoin (which stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration), and mucilage (which reduces pain and discomfort). Plantain has astringent properties, and a tea made from the leaves can be ingested to treat diarrhea and soothe raw internal membranes.
Broadleaf plantain is also a highly nutritious wild edible, that is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews and eaten.
Plantago major is an herbaceous perennial plant with a rosette of leaves 15–30 cm in diameter.
Each leaf is oval-shaped, 5–20 cm long and 4–9 cm broad, rarely up to 30 cm long and 17 cm broad, with an acute apex and a smooth margin; there are five to nine conspicuous veins. The flowers are small, greenish-brown with purple stamens, produced in a dense spike 5–15 cm long on top of a stem 13–15 cm tall (rarely to 70 cm tall).
Plaintain is wind-pollinated, and propagates primarily by seeds, which are held on the long, narrow spikes which rise well above the foliage. Each plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds, which are very small and oval-shaped, with a bitter taste.
There are three subspecies:
Plantago major subsp. major.
Plantago major subsp. intermedia (DC.) Arcang.
Plantago major subsp. winteri (Wirtg.) W.Ludw.
Plantago major grows in lawns and fields, along roadsides, and in other areas with that have been disturbed by humans. Plantain does particularly well in compacted or disturbed soils. It is believed to be one of the first plants to reach North America after European colonisation. Reportedly brought to the Americas by Puritan colonizers, plantain was known among some Native American peoples by the common name "white man's footprint", due to how it thrived in the disturbed and damaged ecosystems surrounding European settlements. The ability of plantain to survive frequent trampling and colonize compacted soils makes it important for soil rehabilitation. Its roots break up hardpan surfaces, while simultaneously holding together the soil to prevent erosion.
The seeds of plantain are a common contaminant in cereal grain and other crop seeds. As a result, it now has a worldwide distribution as a naturalised species.
Plantain is one of the favorite foods of the eastern box turtle, and is used as food by many other herbivores (although generally not as their primary forage).
The leaves are edible as a salad green when young and tender, but they quickly become tough and fibrous as they get older. The older leaves can be cooked in stews. The leaves contain calcium and other minerals, with 100 grams of plantain containing approximately the same amount of vitamin A as a large carrot. The seeds are so small that they are tedious to gather, but they can be ground into a flour substitute or extender.
Plaintain is found all over the world, and is one of the most abundant and accessible medicinal herbs. It contains many bioactive compounds, including allantoin, aucubin, ursolic acid, flavonoids, and asperuloside. Scientific studies have shown that plantain extract has a wide range of biological effects, including "wound healing activity, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, weak antibiotic, immuno modulating and antiulcerogenic activity".
For millennia, poultices of plantain leaves have been applied to wounds, sores, and stings to promote healing. The active constituents are the anti-microbial compound aucubin, the cell-growth promoter allantoin, a large amount of soothing mucilage, flavonoids, caffeic acid derivatives, and alcohols in the wax on the leaf surface. The root of plantain was used also traditionally used to treat wounds, as well as to treat fever and respiratory infections.
Due to its astringent properties, a tea of plantain leaves can be ingested to treat diarrhea or dysentery. Due to the high vitamin and mineral content, plantain tea simultaneously replenishes the nutrients lost as a result of diarrhea. Adding fresh plantain seeds or flower heads to a tea will act as an effective lubricating and bulking laxative and soothe raw, sore throats.
When ingested, the aucubin in plantain leaves leads to increased uric acid excretion from the kidneys, and may be useful in treating gout.
The sinews from the mature plant are very pliable and tough, and can be used in survival situations to make small cords, fishing line, sutures, or braiding.
Some cultivars are planted as ornamentals in gardens, including 'Rubrifolia' with purple leaves, and 'Variegata' with variegated leaves.