Two common plantains beneficial to Human Health.

Featuring the ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata and the Greater plantain Plantago major.

The ribwort plantain

The ribwort plantain is probably the commonest of all our grassland plants. When encountered in tall grasses on rough meadowland or hay meadows  the leaves tend to be much longer and more erect in habit, than those that are encountered tenanting short grass grassland such as on mown roadside verges or if they are anchored in dry grassland.

The root is perennial. Sheep are known to graze on the foliage and it is claimed that animals that do graze on it benefit health wise. Rabbits are also fond of the foliage. Ribwort is a native plant but not garden worthy.

Below--ribwort flower heads


Ribwort in April



The ribwort plantain is a very variable species which grows on a variety of soils and conditions, each may affect the general morphology {appearance} of the plant, most noticeably the foliage and flowers. The root is a short, thick rhizome. The leaves at first form a basal rosette they are lance shaped hence the species name of lanceolate. On the under side of the leaf runs prominent, raised, longitudal veins in giving rise to the common name of ribwort.

The flower stalks are angular and stand erect taller than the leaves. The flower heads are somewhat varied in size and form  being more rounded and smaller than others which are generally more elongated. The sepals are brown and papery in texture which gives the illusion of a rusty colour. The stamens are long and purplish, the pollen bearing anthers turn a creamy yellow colour forming a conspicuous ring around the head.

Flowering may begin in April and continue until the first frosts. However studies have shown that to produce a plethora of flowers the species needs long hours of daylight hours in order to induce them. The study also reveals that some plants may flower during their first year although the rosette needs to be of a minimum size to enable flower production. It is also thought that flowering can be delayed  by taller more robust grasses growing in the vicinity of the rosette.

The flowers are wind pollinated, however, insects do visit them to collect pollen as field studies have confirmed. Seeds mature 2-3 weeks after fertilization. The average plant is known to produce up to 2,500 seeds with large plants producing many more. The main period of seed germination is January until April but the odd seedling can be encountered at almost any time of the year. Plants over winter as small rosettes.


In a large meadow one can be forgiven for thinking that the plants remain static but studies have revealed there is a regular renewing of individual plants and new plants replace the worn out older specimens.

Birds are known to disperse the seeds via droppings and worms ingest the seed and pass them out unharmed in worm casts. it is though that when the seeds are wet they readily stick to fur clothes and machinery which also help to aid dispersal.

Medicinal uses of ribwort.

The foliage has long been used to treat insect bites and stings. They have also long been recommended for skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, sunburn and allergies. Other afflictions that has been treated with ribwort include boils,wounds,coughs, earache, fever, constipation and heartburn among many others. The foliage has been utilised to make ointments.

For stings the fresh juice of the leaves can be dropped or dabbed onto the affected area. A syrup was also made from the foliage which was claimed to very efficient in dispelling childrens' coughs and chest complaints. The leaves are known to have natural anti biotics. The fresh leaves are said to expell catarrh.

The active ingredients include mucilage,tannin, aucubine, vitamin C and silicic acid.

For home use to treat coughs and colds infuse 1-2 teaspoonfuls in 250ml of boiling water for 15 mins. 2-3 cups daily is recommended. 



The Greater Plantain

The greater plantain is another very common plant, a native perennial found on roadsides, grassland,tracks, waste and cultivated ground. Like the former species  it grows in a range of soils and is much associated with man. It is resistant to trampling and is tolerant of both dry and wet soils. It is another very variable species.

Below--greater plantain and spikes



The plant grows from a very short rhizome which produces a number of long yellowish roots below and a rosette of leaves above ground. The blade of the leaf is superficially similar in form to the sole of a human foot, hence the genus name for this group of plants Plantago from the Latin planta meaning the sole of a foot. They are broadly oval, but some may be more rounded and heart shaped at the base. They have 5-9 veins that run the length of the blade.

The spike rises up above the leaves cylindrical and up to 30cm long when in fruit. They contain the same active ingredients as the former species.  

Below-- the smaller leaves of plantain growing in mown grass, bottom plantain growing on waste ground.


Medicinal uses

The juice of the leaves can be used and have a relieving effect on stings and bites.They are a good alternative to dock leaves to relieve the sting of the common nettle, by squeezing the juice from the blade and applying it to the affected area.

Because of the length and form of the spikes they are known by country people as rats tails.

If any one is inclined to use plantains for internal use it is important to see the link to WILD HERB ADVISE.

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