Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Ribwort plantain

2014-09-29 10.21.221. Memories from … back home in Austria – ribwort plantain syrup against coughs [Tamworth Farm Allotments, Mitcham, Surrey, June 2023].

2. Morayshire, Scotland, 1984-90, plantain conkers – ‘drumsticks’ – played in primary school [Woolwich Common, London, June 2021].

3. [New Zealand, Christchurch and just north of the Waimakariri River, 1940s]  we used to play a version of conkers with the flowerheads of ribwort plantain.  Unsophisticated but satisfying slashing, child to child [Balham, London, May 2020]

4. In Denmark the broken stem of a ribwort plantain leaf has its veins pulled one by one with the saying ‘She loves me, she loves me not …’ until the last one decides the fate of the person doing this [Tivoli Park, West Norwood, London, June 2018]

5.  Growing up on the outskirts of Bournemouth (born 1939), ribwort plantain heads we called bogeymen.  We played a conker-like game [with them] [South London Botanical Institute, February 2018].

6.  [Warwickshire, 1946]  Plantain stems:  While the boys were busy firing them some of the girls bent the stem into a loop and used that to collect spiders’ webs with dew to make a ‘fairy mirror’.  I can’t remember what one was supposed to see in the mirror (was it the future?) [Brockwell Park, London, October 2016].

Other records of, or comments on, fairy mirrors would be much appreciated.

7. I remember using ribwort plantain in a game like conkers, bashing the head off the oponent’s plant, in Somerset in the 1960s.  Also we used to twist the stem round the head and ‘fire’ it off [Brompton Cemetery, Earls Court, London, August 2014].

8. When I got stung by a nettle a woman from Australia told me to rub ribwort plantain on it [New Cross Gate, London, October 2013].

9. [Auckland, New Zealand, c. 1950-55] Plantain: As with so many of the introduced British weeds, its name was never known by us kids. We used to loop up the stem of the flowerhead, pull it along briskly to the head, and shoot the head off, usually at a friend [Thebarton, South Australia, Australia, July 2013].  Practice also known in Bulgaria, c.1970 [Brompton Cemetery, Earls Court, London, July 2022].

10. On a walk with a friend and her son near Leeds a couple of years ago, he picked some of those plants with the long stalks and big seedheads (I’ve no idea what they’re called, but it was the same plant we used as kids for the same game of knotting the stem and shooting the head off). But this kid accompanied the knotting and shooting with the song ‘Miss Molly had a dolly, but her head popped off’ [Folklore Society, London, June 2010].

11. Sometimes used as a form of conkers – ‘soldiers’ – by children [Milltown, Co. Kerry, August 2009].

12.  My brother and I used to play the game in which you try to knock the flowerhead off a plantain on the way home from school.  We called it fox-and-geese; the loser – the one whose flowerhead was knocked off was the ‘goose’.  That was in Warwickshire, the Stratford-on-Avon area.  We thought it was a rather girlish game.
In Herefordshire in the 1870s my uncle attracted my aunt by firing a plantain flowerhead at her.  It must have worked, they got married [Wormwood Scrubs, London, June 2009].

13. As a child [c.1960] I used to shoot the flowerheads of ribwort plantain by twisting and knotting the stems. I must have done thousands of them. That was in Detroit [Natural History Museum, London, July 2002]  Pastime also known in Croatia [East Ham, London, September 2014].

14. Rib grass is chewed and put on a wound to stop bleeding [Daingean, Co. Offaly, January 1985].

Images:  main, Thorncombe, Dorset, April 2014; inset, beside Stowe Pool, Lichfield, Staffordshire, September 2014.