Traditional and Modern Uses of Ribwort and Greater Plantain

Greater Plantain (Plantago major) and Lesser Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) belong to a big family of plants called Plantaginaceae.

Greater and lesser plantain are also known as common plantain and ribwort plantain respectively. Plantains are a versatile wild edible and herbal remedy.

Common Name

Greater Plantain and Lesser Plantain.

Scientific Name

Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata.



Botanical Description

Greater Plantain (Plantago major): the leaves are long, ribbed and green, the flowers are long, cylindrical spikes covered in tiny yellow-green flowers with yellow anthers.

Lesser Plantain (Plantago lanceolata): the leaves are long, lance-shaped, ribbed and green, the flowers are long, cylindrical, brownish spikes with yellow anthers.


Both greater and lesser plantain are perennial, native to Britain, Ireland, Europe, parts of Asia and naturalised around the world.

Habitat and Distribution

Both species grow vigorously at waysides, in fields and lawns.

Parts Used For Food

Largely the leaves and seeds.

Harvest Time

  • Greater plantain – spring to summer.
  • Lesser plantain – spring to autumn.

Food Uses

Plantain leaves are picked and used as a salad green, vegetable or potherb. The seeds have been ground to make flour.1

Nutritional Profile

As a wild edible, plantain species are considered highly nutritious, containing vitamins A, B, C and K, calcium, fibre, fat, protein, silicon, sodium, zinc, tannin and mucilage.2 The nutty-flavoured seeds are also considered a good source of protein.

Plantain Recipes

Traditional Medicine Uses

Greater and ribwort plantain has been used as a general remedy for many complaints from cuts, sores and bruises1 to kidney disease, bowel disorders and intestinal worms.3

It was considered a great healer and, in particular, a vulnerary herb for its ability to prevent external bleeding.3

Other Uses

The seeds were once collected to feed small caged birds.3


Eating too much plantain may have a laxative effect and could even lower blood pressure.4

There is little data on the plant’s toxicity and therefore it is best avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding, or for use for a specific medical condition, without further medical advice.


1. Jackson, PW. Ireland’s Generous Nature. The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. St Louis, Missouri, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-915279-78-4.

2. Pedersen, M. Wendell, W. Nutritional Herbology . Whitman Company. Warsaw, 1998. ISBN: 1-885653-07-7.

3. Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal. Tiger Books International. London, 1996. ISBN: 1-85501-249-9.

4. Karalliedde, Dr L. Gawarammana, Dr I. Traditional Herbal Medicines. A guide to their safer use. Hammersmith Press Ltd. London, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-905140-04-6.

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