Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort plantain leaves (Plantago lanceolata)
Widespread and prolific, ribwort plantain is a ubiquitous weed renowned for its medicinal benefits and a subtle, mushroom-like taste.

Table of Contents

Ribwort Plantain: Plant profile

Common names

Ribwort Plantain, Narrow Leaf Plantain, Narrowleaf Plantain, English Plantain, Buckhorn, Lamb’s Tongue, Ribleaf

Botanical name

Plantago lanceolata

Family

Plantaginaceae (Plantain)

Distribution

Ribwort thrives in various regions spanning Europe, North America, northern and central Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Found all over the UK everywhere except the highlands of Scotland.

Where to find Ribwort Plantain

Thriving in alkaline soils and disturbed areas, ribwort plantain is frequently considered a common weed in fields, lawns, meadows, wasteground, canalsides, roadsides and other open spaces.

When to find Ribwort Plantain

Seek out leaves in springtime, while the bounty of seedheads reigns supreme until the arrival of autumn

How to identify Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort Plantain forms a rosette of leaves. In areas left unmowed, the leaves stand erect, otherwise, they lie flat against the ground. Its slender, lance-shaped leaves sport a vibrant green hue, with three to five raised parallel veins adorning their undersides.

From mid-spring to summer, hairy, leafless flower stalks emerge, reaching 40 cm height. At the summit of the flower stalk sits a brown-coloured spike, from which individual brownish-white flowers dangle delicately on their own tiny stalks.

Ribwort Plantain lookalikes

You might mistake Ribwort Plantain for Hoary Plantain (Plantago media) or Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major), but both of these have significantly broader leaves. Note that neither of those are poisonous.

Ribwort plantain leaves (Plantago lanceolata)

All about Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort plantain is happy to make itself at home in all sorts of places, from busy city streets to quiet countryside corners. You’ll often come across it in fields, lawns, and roadside patches.

A rather common weed, though not particularly charming to look at, it serves its purpose in various ways. It’s surprisingly handy for medicinal uses and is edible too.

In folklore and symbolism, ribwort plantain has been linked to healing and protection. People once believed it possessed magical powers, such as warding off evil spirits or bestowing good luck. Its resilience and widespread presence have also prompted interpretations of endurance and perseverance.

Medicinal properties of Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort shares similar medicinal and edible properties with broadleaf plantain, though it tends to be slightly tougher, yet its seeds are larger and less mucilaginous, boasting a rich protein content with a nutty flavour.

Additionally, ribwort’s adaptability is evident in its diverse medicinal applications, used as an antihistamine, antifungal, antioxidant, analgesic, and mild antibiotic, effectively addressing a broad spectrum of health issues.

Furthermore, ribwort stands out as a vulnerary herb, renowned for its capacity to prevent external bleeding from cuts and bruises while promoting tissue repair. Its effectiveness extends to soothing nettle stings or insect bites.

Culinary uses and recipes of Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort leaves, though edible, have a bitter taste, requiring the removal of thick veins before eating. While they can be consumed raw or cooked, their fibrous nature makes raw consumption tricky unless finely chopped.

Younger leaves are less fibrous and can be dehydrated for stock or medicinal use on teas.

Unopened ribwort plantain flower heads offer a mushroomy taste, best harvested when green inside. Boiled, they create a tasty mushroom stock and are great for pickling too. Ribwort seeds, when ground, enhance the taste and nutrition of baked goods.

Ribwort plantain leaves and seedhead (Plantago lanceolata)

Safe foraging of Ribwort Plantain

Consuming excessive amounts of plantain can induce a laxative effect and potentially decrease blood pressure. Due to limited available data regarding its toxicity, it is advisable to refrain from consuming it during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or for addressing specific medical conditions without consulting a healthcare professional beforehand.

Ecological importance of Ribwort Plantain

Ribwort plantain actively supports local ecosystems by serving as a food source for a variety of creatures, including rabbits, birds, moths, hoverflies, and butterflies. Notably, it sustains populations of the rare Glanville Fritillary butterfly, whose caterpillars rely on its leaves for nourishment.

Sustainable Ribwort Plantain foraging

Ribwort Plantain is an abundant plant that reproduces quickly. Just follow usual foraging etiquette.

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Picture of Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

Alvaro // Wild Plant Guy

I am the human behind BritishLocalFood. As a forager and wild food educator, my aim is to inspire you to go outdoors, familiarise with your local plants and make the best of their culinary and medicinal properties, in the hope you'd pass on any knowledge gained down to the next generation.

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