Plantain (not to be confused with the relative of the banana known by the same name) is a small weed often found in cultivated fields and at the edge of lawns. Traditionally, the crushed leaves were applied to the skin to treat wounds and bites, a leaf tincture was used for coughs, and the dried leaf was taken internally for the treatment of bronchitis, ulcers, epilepsy, and liver problems.
Very weak evidence, too weak to rely upon at all, has been used to indicate that topical plantain is helpful for skin conditions, including poison ivy and
Similarly weak evidence from two studies performed in Bulgaria hint that oral plantain may be helpful for
Plantain extracts do appear to have anti-inflammatory effects, at least in the test tube.5,6 However, unlike most pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs, which work on the cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) systems, one study suggests that plantain may work in a different fashion, by decreasing levels of nitric oxide.5
Whether this indicates any real potential benefit in people remains unknown.
Other possible actions of plantain constituents based on test-tube studies include
7 and anti-viral actions.8,9
Contrary to some reports, one study found that plantain does not have diuretic (kidney-stimulating) effects.10
A typical dose of plantain for oral use is 1–3 grams three times daily.11
Syrups and tinctures are used for coughs.
Plantain contains active substances in the iridoid glycoside family, especially aucubin, catalpol, and acteoside.12-14 The highest levels are found when the plant is collected in mid-fall.14
Other potentially active ingredients fall in the phenolic category, such as caffeic acid. Some plantain products are standardized to levels of one or more of these ingredients, but it is not clear whether this produces a “better” product.
Plantain appears to be relatively safe, but comprehensive safety studies have not been performed.
Plantain grown in soil contaminated with heavy metals such as thallium or antimony may develop relatively high concentrations of these potential toxins.15,16
In 1997, the FDA reported that some “plantain” available for sale on the herb market was contaminated with similar-appearing foxglove (digitalis), an herb with potent and potentially toxic effects on the heart.17
Safety in pregnant or nursing women, young children, or individuals with liver or kidney disease has not been established.
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Herold A, Cremer L, Calugaru A, et al. Hydroalcoholic plant extracts with anti-inflammatory activity.
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The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:186–7.
Taskova R, Evstatieva L, Handjieva N, et al. Iridoid patterns of genus
L. and their systematic significance.
Z Naturforsch [C]. 2002;57:42–50.
Fuchs A, Bowers MD. Patterns of iridoid glycoside production and induction in
and the importance of plant age.
J Chem Ecol. 2004;30:1723–41.
Tamura Y, Nishibe S. Changes in the concentrations of bioactive compounds in plantain leaves.
J Agric FoodChem. 2002;50:2514–8.
Wierzbicka M, Szarek-Lukaszewska G, Grodzinska K, et al. Highly toxic thallium in plants from the vicinity of Olkusz (Poland).
Ecotoxicol Environ Saf.
Baroni F, Boscagli A, Protano G, et al. Antimony accumulation in
growing in an old Sb-mining area.
Environ Pollut. 2004;109:347–52.
Whitmore, A. FDA warns consumers against dietary supplement products that may contain digitalis mislabeled as "plantain." Available at:
http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/NEW00570.html. Accessed May 5, 2005.
Last reviewed September 2014 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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