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Plantago major L.

Sp. pl. 1: 112 (1753).
Chromosome number
2n = 12, 24
Vernacular names
Greater plantain, large plantain, common plantain, waybread (En). Gros plantain, plantain (Fr). Tanchagem-maior (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Plantago major originated in Europe but has become cosmopolitan. It is essentially temperate in its distribution. In the tropics Plantago major is most common in mountainous regions. In Africa it is most common in southern Africa, including South Africa.
The leaves of Plantago major are used almost worldwide as a diuretic and astringent, and to treat wounds, insect stings, sunburn, skin diseases, eye irritation and inflammation of mouth and throat. In modern phytotherapy they are used to alleviate irritation in catarrh of the upper respiratory tract. Macerates, extracts, syrups and fresh juice are applied for these purposes. The roots are considered astringent and febrifuge, and used in decoction to treat cough. The seeds are considered demulcent, stimulant, diuretic and tonic, and are mainly used as a remedy for dysentery and diarrhoea.
In tropical Africa Plantago major is commonly used in traditional medicine for the same purposes. In the Seychelles, Réunion and Mauritius leaf infusions or decoctions are used to treat conjunctivitis, toothache, gingivitis, nausea, asthma, constipation, rheumatic and intestinal pains and gout, and crushed leaves are applied externally to wounds, eczema and skin infections, and are put into the ear to treat earache. The sap of the plant in vinegar is taken as a vermifuge. In Cape Verde a leaf infusion, together with the leaves of Jatropha curcas L., is applied to infections and abscesses. In Ethiopia the leaves are used to treat stomach-ache, eye diseases and toothache, and the leaf sap is taken as a tonic and astringent. In South Africa the leaf juice is used against earache and to treat eye irritation, and a root decoction to treat diarrhoea. The leaves are used to treat malaria in Tanzania and South Africa.
The seed mucilage is an excellent thickener used in cosmetics (e.g. in lotions and hair wave sets) and as a stabilizer in the ice-cream industry. It is also used in the preparation of chocolate. The seeds can be used as a low-cost gelling agent for tissue culture. The quality is comparable to that of agar at only about 10% of its cost.
Young leaves and immature peduncles are used as a vegetable, cooked or in salads. The seeds have a nutty flavour and can be added to foods or ground into flour. The seed oil has an agreeable odour and taste. In the United States boiled seeds are used as birdfeed, and Plantago major plants are sometimes marketed as ornamentals. In Europe whole mature spikes are fed to birds.
Production and international trade
For Africa, no information on production or trade of Plantago major is known. General information on production and trade is very incomplete. In the United Kingdom, Turkey and India, Plantago major is cultivated for medicinal purposes, while countries like China and Romania import dried plants for medicinal purposes. Romania bought dry plant material at US$ 500–600/ton in 2002, while the United Kingdom sells dried material at US$ 8–11,50/kg for trade with a retail price of US$ 54/kg. In the 1970s Plantago major was collected on a large scale from the wild in Russia for medicinal trade.
A range of pharmacological activities has been found in tests with Plantago major, including wound healing, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, antibiotic, immunomodulatory, diuretic and anti-ulcerogenic activities. Active compounds include polysaccharides, lipids, caffeic acid derivatives, flavonoids, iridoid glycosides and terpenoids.
Aqueous extracts exhibited dual immunomodulatory effects by enhancing lymphocyte proliferation and by secretion of interferon-γ at low concentrations (<50 μg/ml), but this effect was inhibited at high concentrations (>50 μg/ml). A decoction of dried leaves showed moderate diuretic activity when tested on rats. Ethanol and methanol extracts showed significant in-vitro activity against a wide variety of bacteria and fungi. Leaf extracts were also active against Giardia duodenalis trophozoites and the nematode Ditylenchus dipsaci, a pest of garlic.
The saccharides galacturonic acid, galactose, arabinose, rhamnose, glucose, xylose, as well as a pectic polysaccharide, a galactoarabin and a galactan have been isolated from the leaves. Together these are referred to as ‘plantaglucid’, which has been used to treat ulcers. Plantaglucid reduced the development of peptic ulcers in rats and reduced inflammatory oedema, without toxic effects even after prolonged administration. A highly esterified pectic polysaccharide (PMII) activated human monocytes in vitro to increase production of tumour necrosis factor α (TNF α) and also had prophylactic activity against Streptococcus pneumoniae in mice. The seeds contain mucilaginous matter consisting of hydrophilic polysaccharides, mainly in the seed coat. The polysaccharides have variable amounts of xylose, arabinose, galacturonic acid and glucuronic acid as main components. They swell in contact with water and form mucilage with high viscosity, which increases stool bulk, stimulates peristalsis and facilitates bowel movements.
A number of fatty acids have been isolated from the seed oil, of which oleic acid (37.5%) and linoleic acid (25.5%) are the main components. From fresh leaves 0.2% lipids were isolated, with palmitic acid and stearic acid as main components and smaller amounts of oleanolic acid and ursolic acid. The latter 2 compounds showed hepatoprotective, antitumour and antihyperlipidemic effects, whereas ursolic acid exhibited also anti-inflammatory activity.
The caffeic acid derivatives plantamajoside and acteoside (verbascoside) have been isolated from Plantago major. Plantamajoside showed anti-inflammatory activity in tests with mice, and some antibacterial activity. Acteoside has antibacterial, immunosuppressant, analgesic and antihypertensive effects. Both plantamajoside and acteoside have anti-oxidant activity and are DPPH (2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl) radical scavengers.
Among the flavonoids isolated are baicalein, hispidulin, plantaginin and scutellarein. These have free radical scavenging activity and inhibit lipid peroxidation, and the first 3 are anti-oxidants. Baicalein has anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic and hepatoprotective activities, it showed inhibition of human and rat cancer cell lines, and it is a HIV-reverse transcriptase inhibitor in vitro. Hispidulin also showed anti-inflammatory activitiy and is an inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, whereas scutellarein has anti-allergic and HIV-reverse transcriptase inhibiting activities. The glucosides luteolin-7-glucoside and homoplantaginin are also potent inhibitors of HIV-reverse transcriptase. A methanol extract of Plantago major, containing luteolin-7-O-β -glucoside, showed growth inhibition of human breast adenocarcinoma and melanoma cell lines.
Aucubin is one of the major iridoid glycosides isolated from Plantago major; the content in dried leaves can be up to 1.3%. It showed anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective activities in tests with mice, spasmolytic properties in rats, and antiviral activity against hepatitis B virus. The aglycone of aucubin, aucubigenin, has antimicrobial activity against bacteria and fungi.
The leaves have been used as a vegetable, and are rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium. The leaves taste saline, bitterish and acrid. The roots are saline and sweetish to taste.
In the United States, Plantago major has been patented as a natural smoking deterrent product called CIG-NO (available in spray, capsules or drops), which contains no nicotine and is not addictive. Exact cause and effect relationships are not yet fully understood.
Small perennial herb up to 30(–70) cm tall, with numerous fibrous and whitish roots. Leaves in one or few basal rosettes, arranged spirally; stipules absent; petiole usually as long as the blade; blade ovate to elliptical, (1.5–)5–30(–40) cm × (0.5–)3–10(–15) cm, base abruptly narrowed into petiole, apex rounded, both surfaces glabrous or pubescent, margins entire or irregularly dentate, veins 3–5, distinct, parallel. Inflorescence a spike 5–20(–35) cm long, densely to rather laxly flowered; peduncle 5–15(–25) cm long; bracts ovate, 1–2.5 mm long, acute. Flowers minute, usually bisexual, regular, 4-merous, sessile, greenish or yellowish white; sepals broadly elliptical to rounded, 1.5–2 mm long, keeled; corolla 2–4 mm long, lobes elliptical-ovate, c. 1 mm long, acute or obtuse; stamens inserted on the corolla lobes, exserted, anthers conspicuous; ovary superior, 2–4-celled, style 1 with a stout pilose stigma, protruding. Fruit a circumscissile capsule 2–4 mm long, (4–)6–34-seeded. Seeds ellipsoid or ellipsoid-trigonous, 1–1.5 mm long, dark brown to dull black, mucilaginous when wet. Seedling with epigeal germination; cotyledons sessile or shortly petiolate, sheathed at base; hypocotyl elongate, epicotyl absent.
Other botanical information
Plantago comprises nearly 270 species and is cosmopolitan, but mostly temperate in distribution. Plantago major is a variable species in which several subspecies and varieties have been described, but these are connected by a series of intermediates. At higher altitudes the leaves tend to be more lanceolate and more pubescent, while the spikes tend to be more compact.
Growth and development
In the tropics Plantago major may flower all year round, with a life cycle that may be accomplished in 6 weeks. In temperate regions the plants overwinter below ground in open areas, or as small rosettes if more cover is present. Self-pollination is common, but the flowers can also be wind-pollinated. A seed production per plant of 14,000–20,000 seeds/year has been reported. Seeds readily adhere to animals or people through their mucilaginous seed coat which promotes dispersal. They can also be transported by water. Plantago major may live up to 15 years under natural conditions and 5–8 years in cultivation in Turkmenistan.
Plantago major occurs mainly in disturbed areas. Because of its tough leaves appressed to the ground, it is well-adapted to withstand trampling by livestock and humans. Plantago major can tolerate more water-logging and compacted soils than Plantago lanceolata L., and is found along roadsides, in gardens and open grassland, but also in wet and muddy localities. Once Plantago major has become established, it can become a noxious weed, as is the case in sugarcane fields in the Mascarene Islands. Plantago major is grown in India on medium to poor sandy soils but thrives best in well-drained loamy soils.
Propagation and planting
The seeds can remain viable for up to 60 years in the soil. They have a dormancy period of one to several months, which can be broken by dry storage at 5°C for several weeks or at 20°C for several months. Germination is best at temperatures of 25–30°C, and a long photoperiod (16 hours). An efficient micropropagation protocol for Plantago major has been described, culturing shoot tips on a modified Murashige and Skoog medium.
Diseases and pests
Plantago major acts as a reservoir for several viruses, such as potato virus Y (PVY) and cucumber mosaic virus (CMV), and also for bacterial leaf blight of rice (Xanthomonas oryzae).
Care should be taken when collecting Plantago major from the wild for medicinal purposes, since plants may contain high concentrations of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium where they grow along roads.
A field trial with the Ukrainian cultivar ‘Poltavskii’ yielded 170 g/plant of fresh leaves; maximum seed yield/plant was 25 g, with a 1000-seed weight of 0.24 g. Leaf yield in 1986–87 was 5.2 t/ha. In Chile, a field trial showed that high plant densities of up to 200.000 plants/ha had no effect on dry matter yield.
Genetic resources
Plantago major is common and extremely widespread and not threatened by genetic erosion. Several small genebank collections exist, especially in South America and Europe. Selections for ornamental purposes are marketed in the United States.
The uses of Plantago major orally to treat digestive and bronchial disorders, and topically to treat skin disorders and eye infections are very widespread. Recent research seems to substantiate traditional uses, although information is far from complete. Related species with similar uses are more easily and widely cultivated, e.g. Plantago afra L. and Plantago ovata Forssk. (ispaghul), which are cultivated in India for medicinal purposes.
Major references
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Aké Assi, L., Eymé, J., Gassita, J.N., Goudoté, E., Guého, J., Ip, F.S.L., Jackaria, D., Kalachand, S.K.K., Keita, A., Koudogbo, B., Landreau, D., Owadally, A.W. & Soopramanien, A., 1983. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques à Maurice (Iles Maurice et Rodrigues). Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 216 pp.
• Chiang, L.C., Chiang, W., Chang, M.Y. & Lin, C.C., 2003. In vitro cytotoxic, antiviral and immunomodulatory effects of Plantago major and Plantago asiatica. American Journal of Chinese Medicine 31(2): 225–234.
• Chiang, L.C., Ng, L.T., Chiang, W., Chang, M.Y. & Lin, C.C., 2003. Immunomodulatory activities of flavonoids, monoterpenoids, triterpenoids, iridoid glycosides and phenolic compounds of Plantago species. Planta Media 69(7): 600–604.
• Galvez, M., Martin-Cordero, C., López-Lazaro, M., Cortés, F. & Ayuso, M.J., 2003. Cytotoxic effect of Plantago spp. on cancer cell lines. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 88: 125–130.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J. & Bissoondoyal, M.D., 1997. Plantes médicinales de Maurice, tome 3. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 471 pp.
• Holm, L.G., Plucknett, D.L., Pancho, J.V. & Herberger, J.P., 1977. The world’s worst weeds. Distribution and biology. University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, United States. 609 pp.
• Lilis Pangemanan, 1999. Plantago L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 397–403.
• Nunez-Guillen, M.E., Da Silva, E.J.A., Souccar, C. & Lapa, L.A.J., 1997. Analgesic and antiinflammatory activities of the aqueous extract of Plantago major L. International Journal of Pharmacognosy 35(2): 99–104.
• Samuelsen, A.B., 2000. The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L.: a review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 71: 1–21.
• Than, A., Myint, M.M.S., Myint, W., Myint, T., & The, S.S.H., 1996. Anti-ulcerogenic activity of Plantago major Linn. Myanmar Health Sciences Research Journal 8(2): 74–77.
Other references
• Adjanohoun, E.J., Abel, A., Aké Assi, L., Brown, D., Chetty, K.S., Chong-Seng, L., Eymé, J., Friedman, F., Gassita, J.N., Goudoté, E.N., Govinden, P., Keita, A., Koudogbo, B., Lai-Lam, G., Landreau, D., Lionnet, G. & Soopramanien, A., 1983. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques aux Seychelles. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 170 pp.
• Candia, S. & Edgardo, A., 2000. Densidad poblacional y produccion de materia seca del Llanten (Plantago major L.). [Plant density and dry matter production of Llanten (Plantago major L.)]. Chillan (Chile). 30 pp.
• Ebrahimzadeh, H., Mirmasumi, M. & Tabatabaei, M.F., 1997. Callus formation and mucilage production in leaf and root explants of four Plantago species. Iranian Journal of Agricultural Sciences 28(3): 87–97.
• Glen, H.F., 1998. FSA contributions 12: Plantaginaceae. Bothalia 28(2): 151–157.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Sewraj, M., Guého, J. & Dulloo, E., 1993. Medical ethnobotany of some weeds of Mauritius and Rodrigues. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 39(3): 177–185.
• Gurib-Fakim, A., Guého, J., Sewraj, M.D. & Dulloo, E., 1994. Plantes médicinales de l’île Rodrigues. Editions de l’Océan Indien, Rose-Hill, Mauritius. 580 pp.
• Hutchings, A., Haxton Scott, A., Lewis, G. & Cunningham, A., 1996. Zulu medicinal plants: an inventory. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. 450 pp.
• Insunza, B.V. & Valenzuela, A.A., 1995. Control of Ditylenchus dipsaci on garlic (Allium sativum) with extracts of medicinal plants from Chile. Nematropica 25(1): 35–41.
• Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
• Lavergne, R. & Véra, R., 1989. Médecine traditionelle et pharmacopée - Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques à la Réunion. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 236 pp.
• Lehmann, G., 1988. Plantaginaceae. In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 9, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. pp. 9–12.
• Lisowski, S., Malaisse, F. & Symoens, J.J., 1972. Plantaginaceae. In: Bamps, P. (Editor). Flore d’Afrique centrale. Spermatophytes. Jardin botanique national de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium. 6 pp.
• Mederos, S., Martin, C., Navarro, E., & Ayuso, M.J., 1998. Micropropagation of a medicinal plant, Plantago major. Biologia Plantarum (Czech Republic) 40(3): 465–468.
• Pinto Basto, M.F., 1996. Plantaginaceae. In: Paiva, J., Martins, E.S., Diniz, M.A., Moreira, I., Gomes, I. & Gomes, S. (Editors). Flora de Cabo Verde: Plantas vasculares. No 77. Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisbon, Portugal & Instituto Nacional de Investigação e Desenvolvimento Agrário, Praia, Cape Verde. 10 pp.
• Rouillard, G. & Guého, J., 2000. Les plantes et leur histoire à l’Ile Maurice. MSM Printers, Port Louis, Mauritius. 752 pp.
• Verdcourt, B., 1971. Plantaginaceae. In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 7 pp.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
• Weenen, H., Nkunya, M.H.H., Bray, D.H., Mwasumbi, L.B., Kinabo, L.S. & Kilimali, V.A.E.B., 1990. Antimalarial activity of Tanzanian medicinal plants. Planta Medica 56(4): 368–370.
Sources of illustration
• Lilis Pangemanan, 1999. Plantago L. In: de Padua, L.S., Bunyapraphatsara, N. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(1). Medicinal and poisonous plants 1. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 397–403.
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius

G.H. Schmelzer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
A. Gurib-Fakim
Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Réduit, Mauritius
Associate editors
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
M.S.J. Simmonds
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, United Kingdom
R. Arroo
Leicester School of Pharmacy, Natural Products Research, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, United Kingdom
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Gurib-Fakim, A., 2006. Plantago major L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). Prota 11(1): Medicinal plants/Plantes médicinales 1. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, fruiting plant; 2, inflorescence; 3, flower; 4, dehisced fruit; 5, seeds.
Source: PROSEA

plant habit CopyLeft EcoPort


part of inflorescence (female and male stage)

infructescences CopyLeft EcoPort