The Plantains (Plantaginacecoe), from planta, the sole of the

foot, are humble plants, well known as weeds in fields and by

roadsides, having ribbed leaves and spikes of flowers conspicuous

by their long stamens. As Herbal Simples, the Greater Plantain, the

Ribwort Plantain, and the Water Plantain, are to be specially


The Greater Plantain of the waysides affords spikes of seeds which

/> are a favourite food of Canaries, and which, in common with the

seeds of other sorts, yield a tasteless mucilage, answering well as a

substitute for linseed. The leaves of the Plantains have a bitter

taste, and are somewhat astringent.

The generic name Plantago is probably derived from the Latin

planta, the sole of the foot, in allusion to the [434] broad, flat

leaves lying close on the ground, and ago, the old synonym for wort,

a cultivated plant.

This greater Plantain (Plantago major) is also termed Waybred,

Waybread, or Waybroad, spread on the way, and has followed our

colonists to all parts of the globe, being therefore styled The

Englishman's Foot and Whiteman's Foot. The shape of the leaf in

the larger species resembles a footprint. The root has a sweet taste,

and gives the saliva a reddish tinge.

Dioscorides advised that it should be applied externally for sores of

every kind, and taken internally against haemorrhages. In the

Romeo and Juliet of Shakespeare, Romeo says, Your Plantain

leaf is excellent for broken shin. Country persons apply these

leaves to open sores and wounds, or make a poultice of them, or

give fomentations with a hot decoction of the same, or prepare a

gargle from the decoction when cold.

The expressed juice of the greater Plantain has proved of curative

effect in tubercular consumption, with spitting of blood. This herb is

said to furnish a cure for the venomous bite of the rattlesnake, as

discovered by the negro Caesar in South Carolina.

It is of excellent curative use against the intermittent fevers of

Spring, but for counteracting autumnal (septic) fevers it is of no


The virtues of the greater Plantain as an application to wounds and

sores were known of old. It possesses a widespread repute in

Switzerland as a local remedy for toothache, the root or leaves being

applied against the ear of the affected side. Those persons who

proved the plant by taking it experimentally in various doses,

suffered much pain in the teeth and jaws. Accordingly, Dr. Hale

found that, of all his remedies [435] for the toothache, none could

compare with the Plantago major.

It gives rise to an active flow of urine when taken in considerable

doses, and when administered in small doses of the diluted tincture,

it has proved curative of bed wetting in young children. Gerard tells

that Plantain leaves stuped stayeth the inordinate flux of the terms,

though it hath continued many years. For inflamed protruding

piles, a broad-leaved Plantain reduced to a pulp, and kept bound to

the parts by a compress, will give sure and speedy relief.

Highlanders call it Slanlus, the healing plant.

The Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), Ribgrass, Soldiers, or

Cocks and Hens, is named from the strong parallel veins in its

leaves. The flower stalks are termed Kemps, from campa, a

warrior. The leaves are astringent, and useful for healing sores when

applied thereto, and for dressing wounds. This Plantain is also

named Hardheads, Fighting Cocks, and in Germany, Devil's Head,

being used in divination. Children challenge one another to a game

of striking off the heads.

Toads are thought to cure themselves of their ailments by eating its

leaves. In Sussex, it is known as Lamb's Tongue. The powdered root

of the Ribwort Plantain is of use for curing vernal ague, a

dessertspoonful being given for a dose, two or three times in a day.

The Water Plantain (Alisma Plantago), belonging to a different

natural order, is common on the margins of our rivers and ditches,

getting its name from the Celtic alos, water, and being called also

the greater Thrumwort, from thrum, the warp end of a weaver's web.

The root and leaves contain an acrid juice, dispersed by heat, which

is of service for irritability of the bladder. After [436] the root is

boiled so as to dissipate this medicinal juice it makes an edible

starchy vegetable.

This plant is commonly classed with the Plantains because its leaves

resemble theirs; but in general characteristics and qualities it more

properly belongs to the Ranunculaceoe.

Its fresh leaves applied to the skin will raise a blister, and may be

used for such a purpose, especially to relieve the swollen legs of

dropsical subjects when the vesicles should be punctured and the

serum drawn off. They contain a pungent butyraceous volatile oil.

The seeds dislodged from the dry, ripe plant, by striking it smartly

on a table, are good in decoction against bleedings, and are

employed by country people for curing piles. About the Russian

Empire the Water Plantain is still regarded as efficacious against

hydrophobia. Dr. George Johnston says: In the Government of

Isola it has never failed of a cure for the last twenty-five years.

Reduced to powder it is spread over bread and butter, and is eaten.

Likewise, cures of rabid dogs by this plant are reported; and in

America it is renowned as a remedy against the bite of the

rattlesnake. The tubers contain a nutritious substance, and are eaten

by the Tartars.

Apropos of this Water Plantain a Teesdale proverb says: He's

nar a good weaver that leaves lang thrums.

The small seeds of a Plantain grass which grows commonly in

Southern Europe, the Fleawort, or Plantago Psyllium, have been

known from time immemorial as an easy and popular aperient. In

France these Psyllium seeds, given in a dessertspoonful dose, are

widely prescribed as a laxative in lieu of mineral aperient waters,

or the morning Seidlitz. They act after being soaked for some hours

in cold water, by their mucilage, and [437] when swallowed, by

virtue of a laxative oil set free within the intestines. The grass is

well known in some parts as Clammy Plantain, and it has leafless

heads with toothed leaves. These seeds are dispensed by the London

druggists who supply French medicines.