SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Plantago lanceolata L., P. major L., P. psyllium L., P. arenaria Waldst. & Kit. (P. ramosa Asch.) (Spanish or French psyllium seed), P. ovata Forsk. (Blond or Indian plantago seed) Family: Plantaginaceae. (Not to be confused with Musa paradisiacae, or edible plantain.)

COMMON NAME(S): Plantain, Spanish psyllium, French psyllium, blond plantago, Indian plantago, psyllium seed, flea seed, black psyllium

Plantain's common name comes from the Latin word planta, which means sole (as in sole of a shoe). Native Americans associated the plant with the Europeans, who seemed to leave a trail of the alien weed wherever they went, and called it "white man's foot".


Plantain has long been associated with man and with agriculture. Certain species were spread by human colonization, particularly that of Europeans. As such, North American Indians and New Zealand Maori refer to plantain as "Englishman's foot," because it spread from areas of English settlement. P. lanceolata and P. major were used in herbal remedies and sometimes carried to colonies intentionally for that purpose. Psyllium seed has been found in malt refuse (formerly used as fertilizer) and wool imported to England. It has been commonly used in birdseed. Pulverized seeds are mixed with oil and applied topically to inflamed sites; decoctions have been mixed with honey for sore throats. The seeds and refined colloid are used commonly in commercial bulk laxative preparations.

Botany :- Plantain is a perennial weed with almost worldwide distribution. There are about 250 species, of which 20 have wide geographic ranges, 9 have discontinuous ranges, 200 are limited to one region, and 9 have narrow ranges. P. lanceolata and P. major have the widest distribution. Plantain species are herbs and shrubby plants characterized by basal leaves and inconspicuous flowers in heads or spikes. They grow aggressively. Plantain is wind-pollinated, facilitating its growth where there are no bees and few other plantain plants. It is tolerant of viral infections. P. major produces 13,000 to 15,000 seeds per plant, and the seeds have been reported to remain viable in soil for up to 60 years. P. lanceolata produces 2500 to 10,000 seeds per plant and has a somewhat shorter seed viability. Plantain seeds can survive passage through the gut of birds and other animals, facilitating their distribution further. Plantain, or psyllium seeds, are small (1.5 to 3.5 mm), oval, boat-shaped, dark reddish-brown, odorless, and nearly tasteless. They are coated with mucilage that aids in their transportation by allowing adhesion to various surfaces.

Uses of Plantain

The psyllium in plantain has been used as gastrointestinal (GI) therapy, to treat hyperlipidemia, as a topical agent to treat some skin problems, as an anti-inflammatory and diuretic, for anticancer effects, and for respiratory treatment.

Drug Interactions: Plantain may interact with lithium and carbamazepine, decreasing their plasma concentrations.

Side Effects of Plantain

Adverse events include anaphylaxis, chest congestion, sneezing and watery eyes, occupational asthma, and a situation involving the occurence of a giant phytobezoar composed of psyllium seed husks.


The German Commission E recommends using 1/4-1/2 teaspoon (1-3 grams) of the leaf daily in the form of tea made by steeping the herb in 1 cup (250 ml) of hot water for 10-15 minutes (making three cups (750 ml ) per day). The fresh leaves can be applied directly three or four times per day to minor injuries , dermatitis, and insect stings. Syrups or tinctures, approximately 1/2 teaspoon (2-3 ml) three times per day, can also be used, particularly to treat a cough. Finally, 1/2-1 1/4 teaspoons (2-6 grams) of the fresh plant can be juiced and taken in three evenly divided oral administrations throughout the day.


Plantain pollen has been found to contain at least 16 antigens, of which 6 are potentially allergenic. The pollen contains allergenic glycoproteins that react with concanavalin A, as well as components that bind IgE. Antigenic and allergenic analysis has been performed on psyllium seed. All three fractions, husk, endosperm and embryo, contained similar antigens. Formation of IgE antibodies to psyllium laxative has been demonstrated. In addition, IgE-mediated sensitization to plantain pollen has been performed, contributing to seasonal allergy.

There are many reported incidences of varying degrees of psyllium allergy including: nurses experiencing symptoms such as anaphylactoid reaction, chest congestion, sneezing and watery eyes (some of these reactions taking several years to acquire);a case report describing severe anaphylactic shock following psyllium laxative ingestion linked occupational respiratory allergies in pharmaceutical workers exposed to the substance;consumption of plantago seed in cereal, responsible for anaphylaxis in a 60-year-old female (immunoglobulin E-mediated sensitization was documented, and patient was successfully treated with oral diphenhydramine); and a report on workers in a psyllium processing plant evaluated for occupational asthma and IgE sensitization to psyllium.

Another unusual adverse situation involves the occurrence of a giant phytobezoar composed of psyllium seed husks. The bezoar, located in the right colon, resulted in complete blockage of gastric emptying. All psyllium preparations must be taken with adequate volumes of fluid. The seeds contain a pigment that may be toxic to the kidneys, but this has been removed from most commercial preparations.

Economic significance: As a weed, plantain is important because of its competition with commercial crops and small fruits. The presence of plantain seeds can make adequate cleaning of crop seed difficult, especially with smallseed legumes. Plantain, because of its tolerance of viral infection, can serve as a reservoir for economically important infections of crops including beets, potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco, turnips, cucumbers, and celery. Commercially, plantain is grown for use in forage mixtures and, primarily, for use in bulk laxatives.

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