This article is about the plant genus. For the fruit also called plantain, see Cooking plantain. For other uses, see Plantain (disambiguation).
Greater Plantain (Plantago major)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Plantaginaceae
Subfamily: Plantagineae
Genus: Plantago



Psyllium Mill.[1]

Plantago is a genus of about 200 species of small, inconspicuous plants commonly called plantains or fleaworts. They share this name with the very dissimilar plantain, a kind of banana. Most are herbaceous plants, though a few are subshrubs growing to 60 cm (24 in) tall. The leaves are sessile, but have a narrow part near the stem which is a pseudo-petiole. They have three or five parallel veins that diverge in the wider part of the leaf. Leaves are broad or narrow, depending on the species. The inflorescences are borne on stalks typically 5–40 cm (2.0–15.7 in) tall, and can be a short cone or a long spike, with numerous tiny wind-pollinated flowers.

Plantains are used as food plants by the larvae of some species of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) - see list of Lepidoptera that feed on plantains.

They are found all over the world, including America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Europe. Many species in the genus are cosmopolitan weeds. They are found in many different habitats, most commonly in wet areas like seepages or bogs. They can also be found in alpine and semi-alpine or coastal areas. The cosmopolitan weeds can be frequently seen at the side of roads.


Plantago species have been used since prehistoric times as herbal remedies. The herb is astringent, anti-toxic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, as well as demulcent, expectorant, styptic and diuretic.[2] Externally, a poultice of the leaves is useful for insect bites, poison-ivy rashes, minor sores, and boils. In folklore it is even claimed to be able to cure snakebite. Internally, it is used for coughs and bronchitis, as a tea, tincture, or syrup. The broad-leaved varieties are sometimes used as a leaf vegetable for salads, green sauce, et cetera.

Plantain seed husks expand and become mucilaginous when wet, especially those of P. psyllium, which is used in common over-the-counter bulk laxative and fiber supplement products such as Metamucil. P. psyllium seed is useful for constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, dietary fiber supplementation, and diverticular disease. Plantain has been consumed as human food since prehistory. For example, archaeological recovery along California's Central Coast has demonstrated use of this species as a food since the Millingstone Horizon.[3]

Psyllium supplements are typically used in powder form, along with adequate amounts of fluids. A dose of at least 7 grams daily taken with adequate amounts of fluid (water, juice) is used by some for management of elevated cholesterol. There are a number of psyllium products used for constipation. The usual dose is about 3.5 grams twice a day. Psyllium is also a component of several ready-to-eat cereals.

Mucilage from Desert Indianwheat (Plantago ovata) is obtained by grinding off the husk. This mucilage, also known as Psyllium, is commonly sold as Isabgol, a laxative which is used to control irregular bowel syndrome and constipation.[4] It has been used as an indigenous Ayurvedic and Unani medicine for a whole range of bowel problems.

As Old English Wegbrade the plantago is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. In Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria, leaves from Plantago major are used as a folk remedy to preventing infection on cuts and scratches because of its antiseptic properties. In Slovenia and other Central European regions, the leaves were traditionally used topically as a cure for blisters resulting from friction (such as caused by tight shoes etc.) and as relief on mosquito bites in eastern Westphalia as well as western Eastphalia.

There may also be a use for plantains in the abatement of enteric methane from ruminants,[5] as the natural compounds present (e.g. condensed tannins; ~14g/kg DM), affect the acetate-propionate ratio in the rumen which is a primary mechanism by which methanogenesis is restricted.[6] Currently this is not a viable option in any significant scale due to agronomic difficulties.


The boundaries of the genus Plantago have been fairly stable, with the main question being whether to include Bougueria (one species from the Andes) and Littorella (2–3 species of aquatic plants).[7]

There are about 200 species of Plantago, including:

  • Plantago palmata
  • Plantago patagonica
  • Plantago polysperma
  • Plantago princeps
  • Plantago purshii - Woolly Plantain
  • Plantago pusilla
  • Plantago psyllium - Sand Plantain, French or Dark Psyllium
  • Plantago raoulii
  • Plantago rapensis
  • Plantago remota
  • Plantago reniformis
  • Plantago rhodosperma
  • Plantago rigida
  • Plantago robusta
  • Plantago rugelii - Blackseed Plantain
  • Plantago rupicola
  • Plantago schneideri
  • Plantago sempervirens
  • Plantago sparsiflora
  • Plantago spathulata
  • Plantago subnuda
  • Plantago tanalensis
  • Plantago taqueti
  • Plantago tenuiflora
  • Plantago triandra
  • Plantago triantha
  • Plantago tweedyi
  • Plantago wrightiana - Wright's Plantain

The genus name Plantago descends from the classical Latin name plantago which in classical Latin meant some Plantago species, including Plantago major and Plantago media. In Latin the name was formed from the classical Latin word planta = "sole of the foot". The name was so formed in Latin because the leaves of these species grow out near flat at ground level. The suffix -ago in Latin means "a sort of".[8]



  1. "Genus: Plantago L.". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2006-04-20. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
  2. Samuelsen, Anne Berit (July 2000). "The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L. A review". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 77 (1-2): 1. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(00)00212-9. ISSN 0378-8741.
  3. C.Michael Hogan (2008) Morro Creek, ed. by A. Burnham
  4. Sangwan et al. (2011). Mucilages and their Pharmaceutical Applications: an Overview. Pharmacology Online 2: 1265-1271.
  5. Ramírez-Restrepo, C. and T. Barry (2005) 'Alternative temperate forages containing secondary compounds for improving sustainable productivity in grazing ruminants', Animal Feed Science and Technology, 120(3-4), 179-201.
  6. Lourenço, M., G. Van Ranst, B. Vlaeminck, S. De Smet, and V. Fievez (2008) 'Influence of different dietary forages on the fatty acid composition of rumen digesta as well as ruminant meat and milk', Animal Feed Science and Technology, 145(1-4), 418-437.
  7. Albach, D. C., Meudt, H. M. & Oxelman, B. 2005. Piecing together the "new" Plantaginaceae. American Journal of Botany 92: 297–315.
  8. "Plantago" in The Names of Plants, by David Gledhill, year 2008. Compare the definitions of "planta", "plantago" and "plantarium" in Lewis and Short's Latin-English Dictionary. Cf "planta" at

External links

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