Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort plantain)

The name ‘Plantain’ derives from the Latin word planta, meaning ‘sole of the foot’. This correlates with plantain, a European native, following human beings across the world through trade routes and trade winds. Plantain, from Plantaginaceae family, stays close to human’s feet as a medicinal gift, a beneficial colonizer. Being invisible is a gift, and yet can be a curse if you care about recognition. Plantains’ pointed leaves, almost unidentifiable with grasses, mix into the generic quality of cemented spaces, losing their character, their identity from a lack of biodiverse thriving and storied conditions.

Plantain contends with this blankness, when the world gives so little and you have to go find it. Behind their invisibility cloak is a powerful agent. Known as the ‘mother to all herbs’, she offers diverse and complex medicine, such that if you only have access to one plant medicine, this one is a cure-all. Some call her “medicine leaf” as all parts are edible and medicinal to multiple bodily systems. Perhaps her most notable power is as a drawing agent, pulling out toxins, germs, splinters, and is also a bioremediation agent for toxins in soil. Her cousin, Plantago psyllium, is widely consumed as psyllium for bowel regularity. In Irish and Gaelic, ribwort plantain is called slan lus, the healing plant, and also Lus an t’ slanuchaidh, plant of power, force and efficacy (Cameron, 1883). The Anglo-Saxon Charms mentions plantain as the “mother of all herbs, open from the East, mighty from within. Over you carts creaked, over you queens rode, brides exclaimed over you, over you bulls gnashed their teeth.”

Elizabeth Oriel 2022