Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Greater plantain

1.  When I was at school, in Lancashire, we used to strip the veins out of greater plantain, roll them up and use them as chewing gum.  We called it Chinese chewing gum, I don’t know where we got the name from, I think we might have made it up ourselves [Wandsworth Common, London, July 2022].

2. They use it a lot in Chinese medicine for UTI (urinary tract infections) [Soho, London, June 2021].

3. [Italy] greater plantain is good for nettle stings [Brockwell Park, London, October 2016].

4.  [Pointing to greater plantain] that’s used to stop bleeding in Bulgaria; it definitely works [Thameslink train to Sevenoaks, 16 June 2016].

5.  As a child [in Devon] in the 1970s, me and my school friends would strip the white veins from the leaf [of greater plantain] and chew them.  We thought we were quite cool, because chewing gum was banned in school so we were always asked by fellow pupils where we got the gum from!! [Mitcham Common, London Borough of Merton, June 2015].

6.  Broad plantains – Maternal grandparents, from Loughborough Junction [London] – grandmother was in service from age of 11 – told me not to dig up broad plantain from my parents’ lawn in Berkshire, as they were ‘folk plasters’ for healing cuts and drawing infections. Approximately 1956 [Horniman Museum, London, September 2013].

7. When I’m stung by a nettle, I crush up the leaf and put the juice on the sting, or treat with a greater plantain leaf, or a dock leaf [Herne Hill, London, June 2011].118

8. We used to chew them [the leaf veins of greater plantain] and call them chewing gum [Blackheath, London, June 2009].

9. As instructed by my grandmother in the 1920s my family always used the plantain leaf (Plantago major) for cuts and abrasions – the back or veined side to draw out impurities and then the smooth side for healing – always worked.
Granny always called it planty leaf (Hampshire colloq.) [Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, February 1998].

10. Plant names I knew when a child in Ulster seventy years ago …
Rats’ tails – was Plantago major; we gathered the flowering spikes for our canaries [Bromborough, Merseyside, April 1995].

11.  My late parents came from Poland after the Second World War, and my mother occasionally used certain plants as herbal remedies, etc. … A poultice of the leaves of greater plantain, Plantago major, was used for corms and ulcers [Bromley, Kent, April 1991].

Images: main, East Acton Lane, London Borough of Ealing, May 2014; inset, Deeping St James, Lincolnshire, October 2015.