July 4, 2022

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Nature today |  Sidewalk Plant of the Week: Narrow Plantain

Nature today | Sidewalk Plant of the Week: Narrow Plantain

narrow plantain tongue he is perennial plant From Plantain family (plantagenase). There are more than two hundred species of banana, a number of which are found in the Netherlands, for example amazingharshserratedsand-Sea And the tongue of a deer’s horn. The narrow banana is the most common. A distinctive feature of plantain is the rosette of the root, from which the leaves sprout. The spike, which then departs from the rose, stands on a grooved stem and is brown. The spike blooms with small yellow-white flowers, each of which usually produces three seeds. Inflorescence starts from bottom to top, with pistils appearing first and then stamens visible. The white anthers, located relatively far outside the ear on the anthers, contrast well with the brown ear. If you look at it, it looks a bit like a 17th century guardian collar. The stem’s function as a drainpipe is ingenious. This is not round, but rather dented so that it has a kind of gutter. When it rains, the leaves collect water. The water runs along the veins to the stem and through the gutter to the core of the plant, where the root is. This way the root gets all the rainwater that falls on the plant. This is also necessary, if the plant is placed between the paving stones.

narrow plantain tongue

Pollination by wind and the host plant

The wind ensures pollination, although plantain is also visited by insects. They may rest on it and feed on pollen. Nectar is not produced by the plant. However, there are butterflies that visit it as a host plant and lay their eggs on it. The caterpillars that grow from this plant can be eaten well. The word hostel comes from the innkeeper’s job at a hostel. Here’s the host offering people a snack and a drink. When we talk about a host plant, there is a clear preference for that specific plant in these insects and organisms.
Plantain provides food for Plantain bear† The plantain moth might sound like a better name, but the bear refers to the ancestor of this butterfly. Hence it is a hairy caterpillar, which somewhat looks like a bear with brown fur. The mentioned plantain butterflies do not benefit the plant by themselves. They lay small eggs on the leaves, from which the ‘never-enough’ caterpillars appear. Plantain can handle it because it can always make new leaves.

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The Dutch word “plantain” probably comes from “that which makes itself wide on the road”. Common names for narrow plantain include sheep’s tongue or rabbit’s ears. in the official name Plantago lanceolata Do we know the word? plantaThe Latin word for sole of the foot. plantain It means “sole-like”, possibly referring to the shape of the leaf. lanceolate It may also refer to the shape of the leaves: spear. But then, what does the shape of the leaf have to do with the sole of the foot? You can’t look like both, because I don’t think there are lanceolate diapers. save maybe lanceolata Also on the medicinal effect of the plant in the event of a stab wound, for example a spear stab. Plantain leaves are known to strengthen wounds. But also with the word sole of the foot one can think of this healing effect. Perhaps the Romans who walked on unpaved highways soon got wounds to their feet. So they put some bananas under the soles of their feet. They also allegedly put mugwort in their sandal for the same or possibly different reasons.

In German it is called a plant Wegerich, which may indicate that it is found in abundance along the roads. It is indeed a plant that, although it cannot walk alone, walks along paths and roads with humans. Plantain seeds are somewhat sticky and are spread by passing animals. It could be people, too. Hence the name given to the plant by the indigenous peoples of North America: “the trail of white men”. In this way, Europeans introduced this highly medicinal plant to America.

A sheet of plantain narrowNarrow plantain: inflorescence

Origin and place

The region of origin of the narrow banana is probably Asia Minor. Today it is spread all over the earth, where there is a good fertile land. This plant is common in Western Europe and is common in grasslands. It can also be found in bumpy soils, fields, re-formed soils, and in joints between paving stones. It actually grows everywhere where people live: in towns and villages, on farms, along roads and well-paved paths. Not so much in forests and in health areas, but near, for example, picnic areas or other places where a lot of people stay.

human consumption

Leave the wide-ranging wild pickings to specialists, but it’s also good to know: you can eat very young leaves of narrow plantain raw. If the plant is a little older but has not yet bloomed, the leaves can be used as a vegetable, in soups, or for stir-frying with batter. The taste seems quite earthy. Old leaves are bitter, but this bitter taste disappears somewhat with cooking. Additional preparation is difficult, because the leaves are very stiff due to the strong vascular bundles. It is better to remove those. The seeds are ground into a powder and then added to flour, for example, to obtain a special taste. The fact that plantain, which for many people is not very tasty, is related to the possible medicinal effect.

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healing power

The use of plantain narrow against itching is known by nettle. A cure for this disease is quickly available: narrow plantain is easy to find and usually has already reached maturity when nettle activates its own defense mechanism. Banana leaves must first be bruised. It also appears to help prevent bug stings and minor burns. Narrow plantain is also said to have antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, emollient, mild laxative and diuretic properties. So a complete laundry list. A tea or drink of plantain is said to help with sore throats and upper respiratory tract, in addition to curing coughs and colds. As a compress from soaked seeds, or fresh leaf juice diluted with chamomile tea, for example, it has been known to help treat ulcers and eye and ear infections. A number of notable materials found in the plant are discussed below.


Narrow banana leaves contain a lot of mucilage. These absorb water and then form a gel that can act to protect the tissue. The gum forms a protective film, loosens stuck mucus and has a regulating effect. On the mucous membranes of the respiratory system, it has a calming effect on cough stimuli and thus stimulates coughing. Tight bananas also work against constipation. The mucus in the intestine swells and acts as a kind of lubricant. In chemical terms, mucilage is a polysaccharide. These are polymers of sugar compounds – such as fructose and glucose – that are too long to break down in the intestine. As a result, they retain their beneficial effects. Two types of polysaccharides from narrow plantain are discussed here in more detail: arabinoxylan and pectin.

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Plantago’s narrow seeds contain arabinoxylans consisting of copolymers of two pentose polysaccharides – polysaccharides with five carbons – namely arabinose and xylose. These do not differ chemically from each other, but they are stereotyped. It can be turned left or right (R- or D-turned). When water separates, straight chains can form rings and ring-shaped esters are formed, which later polymerize.

Esters of arabinose and xylose to a polymerarabinoxylan polymer


Tight banana leaves are rich in pectin. Pectin consists of a main chain with side branches and is highly variable in length and composition. The main chain is made of a polysaccharide and consists of linked galactonic acid molecules. The pectin formula is simplified below. The side branches can consist of xylose, galactose and arabinose, which are often attached to the main chain in groups.
In fact, pectin as a mucilage is not much different from arabinose, but it is better known. For example, gum arabic is pectin and is also a thickener for jam.

eggplantLeft: galactonic acid.  Right: galactonic acid esterification and polymerization: pectin

glycoside and acupine

Narrow plantain, from Stoepplantjes coloring bookAucopene is a substance that can be considered as the skeleton of cyclopentane and pyran, to which an OH group and a COH group are attached, in which the double oxygen bound to glycosylation is processed. The latter means that a sugar molecule or sugar group is attached to it. Thus Aucubin can be classified within a large group of glycosides that occur in many plants. So it is made up of sugar (glycone) and non-sugar (aglycon).


Tight banana leaves contain 6.5 percent tannin too the tannin the name of the thing. This helps wounds heal faster and form new tissue. Tanning agents have an astringent and therefore astringent effect.

This wildlife report contains a lot of information about the common but inconspicuous narrow banana. Bea Baak drew a beautiful picture of this plant for sidewalk plant album† Until the end of July, the original can still be seen at City Museum in Grave, along with beautiful macro images of other sidewalk plants. If you come across a plant on the sidewalk, sign up for Pavement Plants Research

Text: Pete Reeve, botanist horz leiden
Pictures: KU Leuven (main image: narrow plantain); Andre Beymans, Leiden University† Tinky
Other photos: Piet Rieff; Natalie Tyrion