Identify Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort Plantain (Plantago laceolata)

How to Identify Ribwort Plantain

Edible

Scientific NamePlantago laceolata

FamilyPlantaginaceae

Also known as: Narrowleaf plantain, English plantain, ribleaf and lamb’s tongue.

Habitat: Europe, including Britain, from Iceland south and east to Spain, northern and central Asia. Grassland, roadsides etc, a common weed of lawns and cultivated ground, on neutral and basic soils.

Description: The plant is a rosette-forming perennial herb, with leafless, silky, hairy flower stems.

Identifying Features:

  • Leaves – The basal leaves are lanceolate spreading or erect, scarcely toothed with 3-5 strong parallel veins narrowed to short petiole.
  • Flowers – Stalk deeply furrowed, ending in an ovoid inflorescence of many small flowers each with a pointed bract. Flowers 4 millimetres (0.16 in) (calyx green, corolla brownish), 4 bent back lobes with brown midribs, long white stamens.
  • Seeds – Each flower can produce up to two seeds.

Uses

Food

Young leaves – raw or cooked. They are rather bitter and very tedious to prepare, the fibrous strands are best removed prior to eating. The very young leaves are somewhat better and are less fibrous. Seed – cooked. Used like sago. The seed can be ground into a powder and added to flours when making bread, cakes or whatever. The leaves and seed heads taste of mushroom, and can be boiled up to make a nice mushroom stock.

Medicine

Ribwort plantain is a safe and effective treatment for bleeding, it quickly staunches blood flow and encourages the repair of damaged tissue. The leaves contain mucilage, tannin and silic acid. An extract of them has antibacterial properties. They have a bitter flavour and are astringent, demulcent, mildly expectorant, haemostatic and ophthalmic. Internally, they are used in the treatment of a wide range of complaints including diarrhoea, gastritis, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhage, haemorrhoids, cystitis, bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, asthma and hay fever. They are used externally in treating skin inflammations, malignant ulcers, cuts, stings etc. The heated leaves are used as a wet dressing for wounds, swellings etc. The root is a remedy for the bite of rattlesnakes, it is used in equal portions with Marrubium vulgare. The seeds are used in the treatment of parasitic worms. Plantain seeds contain up to 30% mucilage which swells up in the gut, acting as a bulk laxative and soothing irritated membranes. Sometimes the seed husks are used without the seeds. A distilled water made from the plant makes an excellent eye lotion.

Notes:

Love munching on the leaves and seed heads for the mushroom flavour.

Known Hazards

None known.

Harvesting

Leaves come up from March, but can be hard to spot when so young. Flower from Apr to August. Seeds ripen from Jun to September.

Potential lookalikes

Other members of the Plantain family, such as Greater, or common Plantain, but they are all edible and have similar uses.

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