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Plantain is the name for plants of genus Plantago, which are chiefly an annual or perennial weed. This rosette forming plant has many broad and rounded long stalked leaves. Each leaf is almost hairless and they can grow up to 8 inches long. All of the leaves have well defined veins. Plantain is a very common weed found throughout the United States and Canada. It can be found in bare trodden areas, in waste lands, back yards, roadsides and near rail road tracks.

The flowers are borne in spikes and are usually about 12 inches long. They appear to be green since the white petals are so tiny. As the flowers grow they will appear at first to be mauve and later yellow. The fruiting spike of plantain is similar to the flowers in shape but is brown with many small hard fruits attached.

Broad leaf and lance leaf plantain are the two forms of this plant used as natural medicine. They have similar properties. The crushed leaves of these plants can be applied directly to the skin to stop bleeding. These leaves, when applied to bee stings or insect bites, will alleviate the pain. An infusion of the leaves, which contain silica, tends to have a soothing, expectorant effect, making them good for the treatment of bronchitis and other lung problems. The astringent action of plantain is useful in treating diarrhoea and cystitis.

This plant is also said to work as a diuretic. The silica and tannin content of plantain make it useful in treating varicose veins and hemorrhoids. The mucilaginous seeds of the old world species Plantago psyllium are imported as psyllium seed for use as a laxative. Psyllium seeds are derived from two related species of plantain. The blond or pale psyllium seeds have been found to be inferior to the black seeds which are the ones use for laxatives.

There are several common forms of plantain with all differing slightly in the shape of their leaves and flower spikes. The English plantain has long narrow, upright leaves and short fat flower spikes that have conspicuous white anthers terminating from their long stems.