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Weeds of Wonder (Common Plantain/Ribwort)

     Looking at the pictures, I am sure most of you will recognise Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata.... in the top picture...for those of you who don't recognise it!) and Common Plantain ( Plantago major, in the picture second from the top)

     It is primarily Common Plantain that I wish to talk about, but it is difficult to speak about one without mentioning the other.

     Common Plantain is also known as Waybread.  This common name refers to the habit of this plant in favouring paths or "ways" to grow, as well as the fact that the seeds can be gathered, dried and ground into a flour that can be made into a nutritious flat bread.

     Many of you may wonder how it is possible to gather enough seed from the poor, scrawny, specimens lining the common path. This brings me to a point that I often make on my herb walks whereby, we must distinguish between the places where a specific species survives and those where it thrives. 

      Although Common Plantain is numerous on the path it actually thrives in more sheltered, moist and shaded areas.  Naturally, the limited stature of those plants found on our common ways can be explained, in part, by the fact that they are being constantly stepped on.  However, Common Plantain has an affinity with the water element and it reflects this in its massive, cool and juicy leaves.  In the areas that I have mentioned, where Common Plantain thrives, I have seen these leaves get as big as a baby elephant's ear.  Certainly, on some of the shady paths in the woods of Ontario Canada, where I have camped, I have seen such leaves.  Subsequently, a single seed spike on one of these same plants has surrendered a handful of large seeds for drying and grinding into flour. 

     The idea of Common Plantain's affinity with the water element can be further illustrated through the Doctrine of Signatures that I wrote about in previous blogs.  For me, the leaf of the Common Plantain, when turned upside down, reminds me of the human bladder.  Although herbs have the ability to affect multiple systems, it is on the bladder that Common Plantain has a strong influence.  Although it has a role to play in many of the organs in the lower part of the body such as, the bowels and womb.  In the water works it can be applied for kidney and bladder problems, such as inflammation.

     Another condition where Common Plantain is effective is in bed wetting.  Bed wetting can have a number of causes...from emotional to dietary.  So it is important to isolate the cause before deciding if Common Plantain is applicable in the given case.  However, one reason for its success is due to its ability to clean the blood and lymph  as well as its action as an anti-bacterial.  In cases where toxins are being removed from the body concentrations can result in a change in the nature of the urine which can act as an invitation for bacteria to thrive.  Furthermore, this toxic urine can irritate both the kidneys and the wall of the bladder.  This can cause symptoms or  urgency, frequency and even bed-wetting, especially in children.  I have been able to document the connection between toxic urine and irritation of the bladder in patients who are smokers.  As I prescribe the smokers with the herbs that bring about a removal of the toxins, there is often an acute manifestation of cystitis.

     One of the constituents of Common Plantain is tannin.  This seems in contrast to my belief that Plantain is influenced by the water element as tannin is thought to be drying.  Certainly, the initial reaction is a drying one, but the long term action is a  binding of the tissues, preserving moisture.  This sets Common Plantain's function apart from other water element herbs like Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), that grows near salt marshes.  In the instance of Marshmallow, its salty sea environment (salt is hydroscopic) and its high mucilage content, allow it to impart moisture to the body rather than preserve moisture loss, as in the case of Plantain. 

      I have used Marshmallow successfully where there is a dryness of the bowels.  In one case, the patient was experiencing constipation with a sensation of heat rising...almost like a menopausal hot flush.  I employed Marshmallow to impart the energetics of the water element it embodies.  This resolved the constipation as well as the rising heat waves through the effect of that cooling and moistening element. 

     In the picture above, where the leaf is being broken in two, you can see the sinewy strands that are exposed.  Given the value of Common Plantain in preserving moisture in the body, this signature suggests a degree of value in conditions where there is a drying and shrinking of the sinews.  This same signature is present in the very succulent chickweed (Stelleria media), which I have applied for just such a condition.  Likewise, albeit lacking in this specific signature,  I have also employed Sage (Salvia officinalis), with success in such a condition, because of its ability to stop perspiration and essentially preserve fluid loss in the body.

     Where the signature of Common Plantain reminds me of the bladder, with a slight stretch of the imagination, the signature of Ribwort (Plantago lanceotata) is that of the lungs.  Both the bladder and the lungs need to expand, and we see that the leaves of both these plants share the rubbery veins running through the leaf, that can accommodate expansion while maintaining the integrity of the organ structure.

     Although moist, in health, the lungs are not intended to hold liquid as the bladder is.  This dryer state is reflected both in the dryer nature of the leaf as well as in the more exposed nature of the environment in which it grows .  In this sense, it is specific for dealing with wet or congested conditions of the lungs, such as asthma.  I have personally had success in applying it in such a case. 

     On an emotional level, the pfarrer Dr Joseph Weidinger recommended it for cases where there was also an element of intolerance.  This reflects the leaf signature back on the organ itself, and its ability to expand, to give way, something people who are intolerant are incapable of doing.  In this same state the Bach Flower Remedies would indicate Beech for such an emotional condition.

     Ribwort is excellent in conditions of the lungs, especially where a cough is present.  I remember camping in the mountains in Austria when I was struck down with an extremely bad cough.  I coughed all night, keeping myself and the rest of the family awake.  The next day I headed out and found myself some fresh Ribwort leaves and combined them with the leaves of Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), converted them into a tea and drank it.  I slept like a baby that night...and in the morning the cough did not return....No doubt to the joy of my companions.

     Well, like all herbs, there is much more I could write about Plantain...but I hope this has been enough to help you see these plants in a different light.  Next time you are walking down a secluded path, stop and take some time to ponder and be introduced to this Weed of Wonder.

Health and Happiness

The Green Man  

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