Wednesday, September 1, 2010
About nine species of plantain have been recorded in the Maltese islands. They are small plants with small wind-pollinated flowers. Many species have medicinal properties while some are edible and can be used in salads and sauces.
About 200 species of plantain have been identified. They are found in different habitats throughout the world especially in wet areas. Some species are weeds and can grow along road sides and in other disturbed habitats. The inflorescence develops on a stalk which ranges in height from 5 to 40 cm and can be in the shape of a cone or spike with large numbers of small flowers.
Plantains have been used since antiquity externally to treat insect bites, rashes and minor sores as well as internally as a treatment for coughs, bronchitis and other conditions. In folklore it was believed to be an effective cure for snakebite.
One of the most common species of plantain in Malta is the Mediterranean plantain (biżbula) which can be seen in flower from late winter to late spring in cultivated and waste ground. Another common species is the buck’s horn plantain (salib l-art). This species flowers from March to October. Another species that flowers during the same period is the greater plantain (biżbula kbira). This species can be found in damp shady valleys such as Fiddien where the specimen shown in the picture was photographed.
The greater plantain is native to most of Europe, northern and central Asia and has become a naturalised weed wherever European colonisation took place. Some Native Americans called it “Englishman’s foot because it appeared wherever the white settlers set foot.
It is a powerful coagulant and quickly staunches the flow of blood and encourages the repair of damaged tissue hence it is used to treat bruises and broken bones. It has been used as a field dressing and is often known as ‘Soldier’s Herb’. It has also been used to prevent uterine bleeding after childbirth.
Some cultivars are used in gardens for their ornamental value and because its leaves are an important food for the caterpillar of many species of butterflies. (This article was published in The Times on 31.08.2010)