Ribwort Plantain Tincture

With the weather starting to turn a little cooler and the turning colours of the vibrant autumn leaves sparkling like gems throughout the forest I realised that summer had slipped silently out the door and autumn was merrily on its way. With recent focus on the increase of respiratory problems, colds, flus and coughs forecasted for this winter I was thinking about what I could have in store for any such occurrence in the household and whilst gazing out of my window I found my inspiration. Found in a multitude of places the trusty plantain could be seen happily growing through the cracks in our patio.

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

Now generally considered a weed, many people will have dug this up from their garden, it can be found in cracks in the pavement, hedgerows, scrub land, the compacted ground of paths in fact anywhere there is habitation. Once known as “white man’s footprint” by the Native Americans, this plant establishes itself along well-trodden paths. The plants Latin name Plantago which itself is derived from planta or sole of the foot, highlights its willingness to spread. Plantain has a rich and diverse history throughout the United Kingdom and many a game was played with the seed heads for firing at one another in various regions throughout history. Plantain was also one of the sacred herbs used by the Anglo Saxons known as waybread; divination games at midsummer were used to determine if a couple would be married using Ribwort plantain.

Ribwort plantain leaves

Ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata is a rosette forming herb with basal leaves in a lanceolate shape. The leaves are usually erect and very scarcely toothed. The main difference apart from leaf shape to the greater plantain is the 3 – 5 strong parallel veins, and narrower leaves. I have two wonderful specimens growing in my patio (I keep telling myself that I am cultivating my own medicine…. not that I have a gardening aversion!)

The leaves are well known to treat stings and bites, and can be harvested all year round, crushed and applied as the need arises. If you prefer the leaves can be stored in the freezer for future first aid use. Plantain leaves can also be dried by picking the leaves and spreading them out to dry. They will turn brown and crumbly and can be stored in paper bags. Plantain tea can be made from these dried leaves by adding about a teaspoon to a mugful of boiling water. This is good for dry coughs, inflamed bowels, haemorrhoids and cystitis.

Plantain tincture (a herbal plant mixed with alcohol)

For my specific home use, I will be making a plantain tincture (a herbal plant mixed with alcohol) I gather ribwort plantain leaves and place them in a blender, then I add just enough vodka to cover them. Blend to form a green sludge/mush and then pour into a sterilised vessel. Place in a cool dark place for a few days (sometimes I forget, and it is about a week) then strain through a jam strainer or a cotton cloth. The tincture can then be used half or 1 teaspoon 3 times a day to treat allergic rhinitis, coughs and mild bronchitis. (And as an added bonus it also soothes irritable bowel and haemorrhoids)

Plantain tincture in the making

You could alternatively combine the juice squeezed from the leaves and mix with equal parts of a local honey to form a syrup, 1 teaspoon of this can be taken 3 times a day to help with coughs and a sore throat. (However, at this time of the year the plantain leaves don’t seem as juicy)

A handy addition to picking the leaves at this time of the year is that you will more than likely find that the seeds are just drying on the plant. These seeds can also be harvested and dried for future use. To aid with constipation if you pour one cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried seeds, let this cool then drink before bed this will make a mild laxative. Alternatively, you can combine the seeds on top of cereals or in breads or salads.

Ribwort plantain seeds

As a keen runner I have also been known to suffer from some plantar fasciitis and I have heard although never tried putting plantain leaves into the sock of the inflicted foot is meant to ease the pain. Next time I over train I will try this and report back!

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