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Plantain (Weed)

Plantain (Weed)

Botanical Description & Habitat

Plantain Weed :: Health properties include anti-cholesterol, appetite suppressant, expectorant and analgesic properties Common names
Plantago lanceolata
Plantago major
(click image to enlarge)  
N.B. Not the edible plantain (Musa paradisiaceae) [See under Plantain (fruit)]


Additional Names
Broad-leaved plantain Cuckoo's bread
Dooryard plantain Englishman's foot
Greater plantain Indian plantago
Narrow-leaved plantain Plantain
Plantain Psyllium seed
Ribwort Ripple grass  
Round-leaved plantain Way bread
White manfoot  


A perennial weed, commonly found in waste places, lawns, meadows, and along fields and hedges throughout North America and Europe.

A perennial with a stiff, smooth stem, 6 to 18 inches in height. Plantain has dark green, ovate, toothed basal leaves that form a rosette near the ground. The flowers range from greenish-white to purplish-brown, and grow in cylindrical spikes at the ends of the flower stalks. The fruit is a capsule containing two to four seeds and develops within the flower spike.

Medicinal parts
Fresh herb collected when coming to flower; leaves dried, gathered before flowering; root gathered in autumn and dried.

The seeds and refined colloid are used in laxative preparations. (See under psyllium)

Historical Properties & Uses

Folk medicine attributes expectorant, antiphlogistic, and analgesic properties to plantain, and clinical trials with humans support these claims. The herb has been proven effective in the treatment and control of obesity, a use popular in some parts of the world, but rarely seen in America. Related anti-cholesterol and appetite suppressant effects have also been experimentally verified.

Plantain is widely used in the treatment of coughs and respiratory problems, because of its high mucilage content. Like most mucilaginous plants, plantain also possesses antibacterial properties.

Plantain seed husks make a powerful laxative; they are a common ingredient in proprietary laxative preparations in Europe. In India, plantain is often used as a cooling demulcent to treat dysentery, diarrhea, and other inflammatory and functional problems of the digestive tract. Other uses of plantain include the treatment of skin inflammations, sores, and ulcers; these anti-inflammatory properties have not been experimentally verified. One rather informal, but fairly extensive trial demonstrated the ability of fresh plantain leaf to relieve the itching associated with poison ivy dermatitis.

Antitumor effects have been demonstrated in animals.

Plantain plant appears to be completely safe and nontoxic.

Plantain (Plantaginis lanceolatae) is approved by the German Commission E for use internally and externally.

Internally it is used for catarrh and inflammation of mouth and throat.

Externally it may be applied to inflammatory skin reactions.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Plantain contains acids, alkaloids, flavonoids, iridoids and amino acids.

Plantain is proven a safe and effective laxative
Studies from Italy, Germany, and India confirmed the laxative effects of plantain. A mucilaginous powder extract of the herb was administered to 20 patients suffering from various illnesses, but all suffering from constipation. The efficacy of this preparation, together with its absence of toxicity, was consistently observed.

In another study, 40 geriatric patients (26 female, 14 male) with a mean age of 72 years underwent a 10-day treatment for constipation with a powder extract from plantain seeds. Clinical observations confirmed the herb controlled the prevalent symptoms: painful defecation, solid feces, meteorism, flatulence, and disturbances of intestinal transit. Because of the non-assimilable nature of the powder, it absorbed water, increased the fecal volume, softened the fecal bolus, and stimulated intestinal peristalsis.

Passage of the herb through the gastrointestinal tract takes 6 to 12 hours. The mucilage is not digested. It passes through the small intestine unchanged; during its passage, it lines the mucous membrane like a demulcent and lubricant.

Plantain is effective in the treatment of obesity
Plantain has an appetite-satiating effect and reduces intestinal absorption of liquids. In one study, 22 women, (averaging 58.8% above their ideal weight), aged 21-42, participated in a controlled crossover study involving a hypoglucidic diet with or without powdered plantain.

The diet consisted of 800 calories/day, 45% proteins, 20% lipid, 35% carbohydrate. The treated group was given 3 grams twice of plantain daily, 30 minutes before meals, with 200 ml water. The administration of mucilage resulted in a weight loss greater than obtained with diet alone.

The reduction of plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels was greater in the patients using plantain versus the control group. While reduction in plasma triglyceride levels was correlated to variations in body weight, reduction in cholesterol levels was not. This fact may be explained in terms of reduced intestinal absorption of bile acids, since significant reduction in plasma bilirubin levels were also observed in patients using plantain. These observations confirm the hypothesis of an increased fecal excretion of bile salts due to an sequestering effect or to accelerated intestinal transit.

Use of plantain mucilage was initially associated with reduction in plasma levels of iron and calcium (though never below normative values) without modification in red blood cell counts, hematocrit values, and hemoglobin concentration. With protracted treatment, no further changes in iron and calcium levels were observed. Still, use of plantain mucilage may require periodic hematological tests and the use of calcium or iron supplements. Of the 22 patients tested, 16 reported appetite suppression: 12 to a slight extent and 4 to marked extent. The other 6 reported no change in appetite. Increased constipation was reported by 4 patients, and 3 reported meteorism and intestinal borborygmi, which disappeared when dosage level was reduced. Ten patients reported regularization of bowel transit.

Plantain is an effective appetite suppressant and hypocholesterolemic
As noted in the previous paragraph, plantain significantly reduces appetite when administered about 30 minutes before mealtime. The hydrophilic, swelling nature of the substance undoubtedly contributes to this effect. Plantain's fibrous nature, plus the natural ability of mucilaginous substances to reduce the intestinal uptake of bile, provide the basis for its ability to significantly decrease serum cholesterol levels. The hypocholesterolemic effect has been attributed by some researchers to polyphenol compounds in the herb.

Plantain is effective against chronic bronchitis
Twenty-five patients having chronic bronchitis with light to moderately severe deviations in respiratory indices ingested a 5 gram dose of plantain 3 times daily. This treatment had a positive effect on subjective complaints and objective findings in 80% of the subjects. The preparation was well-tolerated and produced no side effects or toxicity in the gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidneys, or blood.

Plantain has emollient properties
Plantain has been used topically to relieve itching, heal sores, and reduce pain and inflammation. Most of these reports are anecdotal in nature; however, one such report was authenticated and published by a medical doctor. That paper described how crushed plantain leaves successfully relieved the itching associated with 110 cases of poison ivy dermatitis. Cessation of itching was rapid in all cases, even though application had to be repeated up to 4 times in some individuals. The treatment also totally inhibited the spread of the dermatitis. Although no controls were used and patients were well-informed of expected results, the trial was nevertheless impressive.

Plantain has antibacterial properties
Plantain effectively inhibits the growth of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Bacillus subtilis, and Mycobacterium tuburculosis. Its active principle appears to be acubin. Acubin occurs through the activity of beta-glucosidases. Plantain reportedly also has protistocidal and bacteriostatic action.

Plantain enhances uterine tonus
Water extracts of plantain were studied in a series of experiments with preparations of isolated rabbit and guinea pig uterine horn. In a final extract concentration of 1 to 2 mg crude drug per cubic centimeter, the plant ranked next to chamomile and marigold in its ability to raise the tonus of the uterus.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
Since plantain's diuretic action increases the renal excretion of sodium and chloride, the herb may potentiate the hyperglycemic and hyperuricemic effects of glucose-elevating agents.

Diuretics such as this may also potentiate the action of antihypertensive, ganglionic or peripheral adrenergic blocking drugs, tubocurarine and, to a lesser degree, norepinephrine.

Possible Interactions
The anti-inflammatory activity of plantain can be seriously inhibited by phenobarbital and certain other sedatives and hypnotics, such as chloral hydrate and meprobamate. This is also true of beta-adrenergic blocking agents, such as propranolol.

In conjunction with corticotropin (ACTH) or corticosteroids, this diuretic herb is more prone to produce hypokalemia. Topical application of this astringent herb, in conjunction with the acne product Tretinoin (retinoic acid, vitamin A acid), may adversely affect the skin.

Use of large amounts of plantain on a continuous basis may partially block the digestion, absorption, or resorption of a wide variety of drugs and fat-soluble vitamins.

In addition, the absorbent nature of the herb may inhibit absorption of lincomycin and digitalis.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Adverse events recorded have included: anaphylaxis, chest congestion, sneezing and watery eyes.

It is used in forage mixtures.

Plantain has no known toxicity.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried herb
2-4 grams

made from 1 tsp of dried herb

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 2-4 ml

1:5 in 45% alcohol, 2-4 ml

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

3 - 6 g of the herb.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.

Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Buschman, H. Forschritte Der Veterinaermedizin, 20, 98-106, 1974.

Chopra, R.N. et al. Indigenous Drugs of India. U.N. Dhur and Sons Private Ltd, Calcutta. 1958.

Clark, T.H., A.H. Conney & B.P. Harpole, et.al. 1967. Drug interactions that can affect your patients. Patient Care, 1(11). pp. 33-71.

Cohen, M.S. 1970. Therapeutic Drug Interactions. University of Wisconsin Medical Center. Madison, Ws.

Committee on Pharmocopaeia of the Am Institute of Homeopathy, The Homeopathic Pharmacopaeia of the United States. 8th ed., Vol 1. Otis Clapp and Son, Agents, Boston, l981.

De Martinis, M., et.al. Milk thistle (silybum marianum) derivatives in the therapy of chronic hepatopathies. Clin. Ter. 94(3). pp. 283-315. 1980.

Drug package insert (FDA approved official brochure) and other labeling based on sponsored clinical investigations and New Drug Application data.

Duckett. Plantain leaf for poison ivy. The Lancet, 303(10), 583, 1980.

Enzi, G., M. Inelmen & G. Crepaldi. Effect of hydrophilic mucilage in the treatment of obese patients. Pharmatherapeutica, 2(7), 421-428, 1980.

Facts and Comparisons. The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Jan, 1998.

Fahrenbach, M., B. Riccardi & W. Grant. Hpocholesterolemic activity of mucilaginous Pol. in white leghorn cockerels. Proceedings Of The Society Of Experimental Biology And Medicine, 123, 321, 1966.

Fitzpatrick, F.K. Plant substances active against mycobacterium tuberculosis. Antibiotics And Chemotherapy, 4(5), 528-536, 1954.

Forman, D.T., G.E. Garvin, J.E. Forestner & C.B. Taylor. Increased excretion of fecal bile acids by an oral hyrophilic colloid. Proceedings Of The Society Of Experimental Biology And Medicine, 127, 1060, 1968.

Gaebler, H. Plantago ovata als abfuehrmittel. Therapie Der Gegenwart, 117(38), 1382-1386, 1978.

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. Macmillan, NY.

Goranov, K., et. al., Clinical results from the treatment of hemorrhagic form of periodontosis with a complex herb extract and 15% DMSO. Stomatologia, 65(6), 25-30, 1983.

Guglielmi, G., P. Spagnoletto & B. Messina. Risultati clinici e comportamento di alcuni parametri biologici in corso di trattamento con mucillagine idrofila. Clin Ter., 87, 27, 1978.

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

Hyde. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. Brit Herb Med Assoc: England, 1983

Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila(St. Louis).

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Maisiutina, N.P., N.I. Nikitina, G.N. Lipkan, A.G. Gorin & I.N. Voitenko. Chemical composition and hypocholesterolemic action of some drugs from plantago major leaves. Farmatsevtychnyi Zhurnal, 4, 56-61, 1978.

Martin, E.W. 1978. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Miller, R.D., et.al. 1976. Enhancement of d-tubocurarine neuromuscular blockage by diuretics in man. Anesth, 45. p.442.

Miller, L. & R. Lindeman. Red Blood Cell and Serum Selenium Concentration as Influenced by Age and Selected Diseases. Journal Of Am College Nutrition, 2. 1983.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Ricci, P.D. & R. Angeli. Plantago ovata e turbe della defecazione in geriatria. Clin. Terap. 86(5), 433-439, 1978.

Riesterer, L. & R. Jaques. 1968. Interference by beta-adrenergic blocking agents with the antiinflammatory action of various drugs. Helv Physiol Acta, 26. pp. 287-293

Russman, M. P. Int. Abst. Biol. Sci. 16, 817, 1960.

Scientific Committee, British Herbal Pharmocopaeia, British Herbal Med Assoc, Lane House, Cowling, Na Keighley, West Yorks, Bd Bd220lx, l983

Servino, V. La mucilagine di plantago ovata nella terapia della stipsi. Clin. Terap., 91(3), 237-246, 1979.

Shipochliev, T. Extracts from a group of medicinal plants enhancing the uterine tonus. Veterinary Sciences, 28(4), 94-98, 1981.

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Plantain Weed :: Health properties include anti-cholesterol, appetite suppressant, expectorant and analgesic properties Common names
Plantago lanceolata
Plantago major
(click image to enlarge)  

Southwest School of Botanical Medicine