16th September 2014

Hoary Plantain

Hoary Plantain

Plantains, such common plants, have never-the-less been prized as herbs for centuries. The Greater Plantain, with it’s rosette of oval leaves and the many long, wind-pollnated flower stems which give it its common name ‘Rat’s Tails’, was one of the Seven Sacred Herbs of the Anglo-Saxons, known to them as ‘Waybread- Mother of herbs’. It occurs in many old herbal remedies, as ‘a salve for flying venom’ and the toughness of its leaves led people to believe it was useful for dealing with injuries caused by crushing. It was also used as a  poultice, and in healing burns and wounds. It has been found to be rich in tannins and other substances which are useful in healing, and the crushed leaves, as with the better known use of Docks, to relieve nettle stings. Chaucer and Shakespeare both mention Plantain – in Romeo and Juliet it is described as ‘excellent for a broken shin’. It is still in use herbally and kids love the leaves because, being very tough, the softer parts of can be pulled out, leaving the pattern of veins which leads to another common name ‘Angel’s Wings’. As children we also played (and I still do) with the flower-stalks of its lanced-leaved relative the Ribwort Plantain. When still supple, the stems can be bent round and used to ‘shoot’ the flower-heads a fair way. In some areas they are known as ‘Fighting Cocks’ or ‘Short Bobs’ and used like conkers. The mucilaginous seeds of both varieties were used to stiffen fabric, and the whole Ribwort plant can be used as a golden brown dye. while the seeds drying of both forms are very attractive to finches and other seed-feeding birds. In a survey it showed up in every hectare of land surveyed! Hoary Plantain is a less common cousin with delicate, pinkish flower-heads. Conditions: A mild, still, dry day with late sun. Temperature: Max 18- Min 13C

Greater Plantain or 'Rat's Tails'

Greater Plantain or ‘Rat’s Tails’

The flower head of Ribwort Plantain

The flower head of Ribwort Plantain

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