Plantain, Water

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Plantain, Water

Botanical Name: Alisma Plantago
Family: N.O. Alismaceae
Synonym: Mad-Dog Weed.
Part Used: Leaves.

The Water Plantain, though its name suggests a similarity, is in fact widely different to the Plantago species, and belongs to another natural order, Alismaceae. It is a water-plant, widely distributed in Europe, Northern Asia and North America and abundant in many parts of England, though only naturalized in Scotland. It grows freely around the margins of lakes or streams and in watery ditches, in company with the forget-me-not, brooklime, and other well-known waterside plants.

The name Alisma is said to be from the Celtic word for water, alis, in allusion to the aquatic habitat of the plant. The name Plantago was given by the early botanists because they were impressed with the similarity of form between the leaves of this plant and those of the plantain, and ignoring its dissimilarity in flower and fruit, etc., called it the 'Water Plantain.'

The roots of the Water Plantain are fibrous, but the base of the stem is swollen and fleshy, or tuberous and furnished with a tuft of numerous whitish hairs. The flower-stalk, which rises directly from it, is obtusely three- cornered, a form specially suitable to enable it to stem the current; it is from 1 to 3 feet in height. The flower-bearing branches that spring laterally from this at its upper extremity are thrown off in rings or whorls, and these branches are themselves branched in like fashion, the whole forming a loose pyramidal panicle. The large leaves, broad below, but tapering to a point, all spring directly from the root also and are borne on long, triangular stalks, growing in a nearly erect position. They are smooth in texture, their margins often more or less waved and are very strongly veined, the mid-rib and about three on each side being very conspicuous. The leaf-stems are deeply channelled, broadening out and sheathing at their bases. The flowers are attractive in form and colour. The calyx is composed of three ovate, concave, spreading sepals, while the corolla has three showy petals of a delicate, pale pink colour, somewhat round in form, slightly jagged at their edges. The stamens are six in number, their anthers being of a greenish tint. The fruit is composed of some twenty or more threecornered, clustering carpels, each containing one seed.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The Water Plantain has been considerably used medicinally, and is a drug of commerce. It contains a pungent, volatile oil and an acrid resin, to which all its virtues must be ascribed.

The drug has diuretic and diaphoretic properties, and has been recommended by herbalists in renal calculus, gravel, cystitis, dysentery and epilepsy.

The powdered rhizome and leaves are employed by herbalists, also an infusion and a tincture prepared from the swollen rhizome, in its fresh state, is a homoeopathic drug.

The powdered seeds were recommended by older herbalists as an astringent in cases of bleeding.

The bruised leaves are rubefacient and will inflame and sometimes even blister the skin, being injurious to cattle. They have been applied locally to bruises and swellings.

The roots formerly enjoyed some repute as a cure for hydrophobia (hence one of its names, formerly, Mad-Dog Weed), and have been regarded in Russia as a specific, but repeated experiments made with them in this country and a searching inquiry, have not confirmed their use as a remedy for this disease. Their acridity is lost in drying.

In America it has earned a reputation against the bite of the rattlesnake. The roots are also used medicinally in Japan, under the name of Saji Omodaka.

This group of plants, the Alismaceae, in general contains acrid juices, on account of which a number of species, besides the Water Plantain, have been used as diuretics and antiscorbutic.

Several species of Sagittaria, natives of Brazil, are astringent, and their expressed juice has been used in making ink.