Place of origin: Europe
Urban habitat: commonly found in minimally maintained lawns, pathways, vacant lots, roadsides, rubble dumps, highway medians, small pavement openings; can tolerate dry, compacted pH-neutral soils and thrives in full sun.
Ecological function: disturbance-adapted colonizer of bare ground; food for wildlife.
History: Plantago lanceolata came to North America with the arrival of European colonists, brought along for its long history of medicinal uses in European folk medicine. The plant is now found across the US, Canada, Asia, and in parts of Africa. Internally, the plant has been used to treat a wide array of maladies, including diarrhea, gastritis, ulcers, dysentery, irritable bowl syndrome, hemorrhoids, bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma, coughs, and hay fever. Externally, it has been used to stop hemorrhaging, to treat insect bites, stings, skin inflammations, and used as an astringent. The Cherokee found a variety of medicinal uses for the plant and its root, as an antidote for poisonous snake bites, for treatment of gastrointestinal ailments, gynecological problems, eye pain, blisters, insect stings, and to strengthen a child learning to walk. In Ethiopia, the plant is one of the ten most used for medicinal purposes. The seed mucilage is sometimes used as a thickener in cosmetics and as a stabilizer in ice cream. In the UK and US, the plant has been patented and marketed as an anti-smoking aid. The leaves are edible and contain anti-oxident properties. The seeds can be ground and added to flours for baked goods.