Ribwort Plantain: an inconspicuous plant with many benefits
Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) also called Narrow leaf Plantain, is a low-growing flowering plant belonging to the Plantain family. It is native to Eurasia but has been introduced in many parts of the world. It is often found in cultivated or disturbed land and grows in both urban and rural habitats, on walls, in lawns, by the sea.
Ribwort Plantain has long spear-shaped leaves that form a rosette at the base of the plant. The undersides of the leaves have raised veins (ribs) that run parallel from the base to the top, and the long brown flowerhead spikes are borne on a thick, wiry stem that is square in profile and can be quite hairy. Ribwort Plantain flowers from April to October with a display of large pale-yellow stamens that stand away from the flowerhead, and which once pollinated turn into little fruit capsules.
The flowers of Ribwort Plantain are pollinated by wind, flies, and beetles. The plant is host to many different species of Moths and Butterflies, and the seed heads provide food for Goldfinches and other seed-eating birds in winter, while the leaves are eaten by Rabbits. Bumblebees love to gather its pollen, but the stems are too thin to hold their weight.
The flowerhead of Ribwort Plantain is edible and has a mushroom-tasting flavour. In Ireland, the plant is used to play 'Soldiers', where children pick the stems and knock the flowerheads together, battling it out to see whose head drops off the stem first.
Ribwort Plantain leaves are ancient medicines with many virtues and have been used around the world to treat skin complaints and bladder infections for centuries. You can make an effective cough medicine if you turn them into a tea or a syrup, and used as an antihistamine, they are very effective at dealing with nettle stings, insect bites and wasp or bee stings. Plantain is mildly antiseptic so helps prevent infection, and a 'spit poultice' will stop bleeding and help broken flesh seal rapidly.
Is there something you particularly like about this rather inconspicuous plant? Or you have a special memory attached to it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.