Both Broadleaved Plantain (Plantago major) and Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) are among the most common weeds and frequent found roadside companions. Originally an herb of temperate Europe, they seized the opportunity to travel with the European explorers as they set out to conquer the world. So closely did the two become associated that native people from North America to New Zealand named the new herb ‘White man’s Foot print’, for it grew wherever the Europeans had set foot. Unlike some of the other new herbs though, the Native people appreciated this newcomer for its healing virtues, which they had soon figured out. Somewhat more respectfully they started to call it Snake Plantain for its ascribed power of healing the bites of venomous snakes (rattlesnake). A piece of the root carried as an amulet was hoped to prevent being bitten, but failing that it would be handy as a remedy in case of a mishap. In Burma a bunch of the herb was fastened to a pole, which was carried on long journeys as a magical means of protection against all evil that may be lurking by the wayside.
Both Plantains are used medicinally, although modern practice tends to use Broadleaf Plantain externally for bites, stings, burns and minor cuts and wounds as well skin afflictions. The juice can be applied directly, or the herb may be prepared as a plaster to treat boils, carbuncles and tumors. Ribwort Plantain tends to be used for internal afflictions of the respiratory system, asthma, cough, catarrh congestion etc. It is also used for diarrhea or afflictions of the urinary tract. It has a soothing action and astringent action on the mucous membranes.
Plantain is the protector and companion of the journeyman. Worn as an amulet it protects against the hidden dangers of travel – such as snake bites and insect stings. In Ireland it is associated with St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland – interestingly, St. Patrick is also associated with averting snakes.
Shamanic Magical Use:
This is the plant of Helheim, the land of the Dead. Its shamanic uses are many and varied and rather subtle. First, it can create a certain amount of invisibility for a short period of time. Notice how the weedy plantain manages to make itself so inconspicuous? That’s a power that you can harness, especially if you are journeying or pathwalking. Second, it can be used in recels to speak to the ancestors, or to find your way to the Helvegr. Its name “waybread” echoes this usage – waybread will help you find the way.
If you actually manage to get yourself astrally wounded, plantain is the plant to resort to. In some cases, it can even save you from astral death, if your body is still healthy. Its regenerative gift of bringing flesh back to life doesn’t work on the physical plane, but I suspect that it works on other planes.