Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Greater plantain

1. Ware, Hertfordshire, between 1969 and 1975, games in the school field: greater plantain – peel away the fibres inside the raised veins to make the leaves soft and flat, then bury the leaf in the ground to make fairy leather.  Mainly we enjoyed seeing if we could successfully peel away veins and keep the leaf intact [Tamworth Farm Allotments, Mitcham, Surrey, June 2023].

2. 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].

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

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

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

6.  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].

7.  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].

8. 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

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

10. 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].

11. 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].

12.  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; upper inset, Scadbury Park, London Borough of Bromley, September 2022; lower inset, Deeping St James, Lincolnshire, October 2015.