Plantain came to me in a dream. Despite not consciously knowing it’s name, when I was asked to identify it in my dream, I was correct. This plant is also known as ribwort and is not to be confused with the banana like fruit. There are different kinds of plantain but they all belong to the Plantago family. Because of this, it’s hard to know which plant different beliefs and practices belong to – many are just referred to as plantain. In the time these were written, it would likely have been known which type based on local growth. For the purposes of this post, I’m keeping things general so I really do implore you not to take any of this as advice.
This plant has a number of medicinal uses including antiseptic and antibiotic properties. It is used in healing and treating inflammation. Used externally it can reduce bleeding and is often used in place of a plaster to close a wound. It is said the leaves can also reduce the pain of bites and stings.
The leaves are also edible, like most leaves they are best when they are young. They also provide food and valuable nutrition for grazing animals and wildlife.
Plantain has also been called “waybroad” because of it’s tendencies to grow along the edge of roads and trails and paths. Because of it’s healing properties, it is a good companion to have on a journey or a pilgrimage.
It is one of the nine anglo-saxon sacred herbs. The others being chamomile, chervil, crab apple, fennel, mugworth, nettle, sainfoin and watercress. Within this context, it was referred to as the mother of herbs and was known for it’s ability to pull things out of things, whether that was nutrients from the soil or a splinter from a wound. Symbolically you might want to consider what lessons you can draw from experiences or what bounty you can gather from the world around you. Look for the beauty and the gold in your life and pull them out from the mundane once in a while to admire them and cherish them.
Despite being considered sacred, it does have a reputation as an abundant weed. Native Americans apparently called it Whiteman’s Foot as it sprang up everywhere following the arrival and invasion from the Europeans.
This speaks highly to it’s ability to thrive, reproduce and survive. As the white man invaded, so did the plantain. Plantain is an excellent grower! They are found in most of Britain, with the exception of highly acidic grassland. Despite this, they do not exclude or prevent other plants from thriving as some dominant plants can. This contrasts harshly with how man approached America. Where the plant moved in alongside, man went to conquer.
Plantain is tailored for survival. As we’ve seen, they thrive in most conditions, their seeds contain a watery substance which helps them grow in dry soil and if conditions aren’t right, the seed can survive a long time waiting months or years until it is ready to grow. This puts me in mind of a quote I’ve used before in other posts:
There is a perfect time for everything. If the tulip surfaces in the heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.
– Rebecca Campbell
Living well and growing strong can mean knowing when it is time to rest and time to act. We all thrive in different circumstances and getting to know ourselves means we can use this to our advantage. Instead of battling against the frosts of winter, use that time to nourish yourself and prepare for your wonderful blooming come spring sun.
One of my earliest memories of plantain, although I didn’t know it’s name then, is of sitting in the playground in primary school pulling apart the leaves. If you’ve never done this it can be quite satisfying. What I didn’t know then is that you can also use it as a lie detector! If you pick a leaf, and count the number of ribs, it’ll tell you how many lies you’ve told that day. I believe the leaves can also be used in love divination which might be more appealing to most people – knowing how many lies you’ve told seems a bit useless and I can’t see how you’re going to get someone else to do it to show you how many lies they’ve told!
None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.