David Watson Hood, visual artist.
The image for ribwort plantain
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Ribwort plantain: Plantago lanceolata L. Bodaich dhubha ('the black men' - archaic children's name), Carl doddies, Curl Doddy, Fechters (fighters), Headman, Johnsmas-flooer, Kemp (to fight), Kempseed, Lus an t'slanuchaidh, Rib-grass, Ribwort plantain, Slàn-lus (healing plant), Snaithlus, Sodgers, Soldiers, Warba blades.

ribwort plantain flowerThe vernacular name 'Carl Doddies' is sometimes said to come from Charles (the Jacobite 'Bonny' Prince) and George (Hanoverian King). The argument is this was applied to this plant because of the 'conkers'-like children's game of trying to knock the flowering spikes off your opponent's chosen stem with a flick of the wrist, an alternative name for this game, is 'sodgers'. The dictionary does not agree, it is just a corruption of Curl-doddy=curly head; this or a similar name is used in colloquial Scots for at least eight widely diverse species, from Daisies to Early Purple Orchid.

It follows the incantation below may or may not refer to this plant. I suppose it may even be a miss-translation of the phrase 'ghroigeanan-cinn', I wish Carmichael had had a bit more of the ethno-botanist about him and had got his sources to identify the species they were referring to a bit more precisely. The 'struan Michael' is a ritual bannock or cake covered in a custard, prepared for Michaelmas. St Michael and his day (29th September) took over many of the attributes and rituals of the god Lug and his feast Lugnasadh. The plant most strongly associated with this feast is the Wild Carrot (Daucus carota L.). The Sunday prior to St. Michael’s day the carrots were harvested by women singing special songs, forked roots being especially prized. They were typically dug by removing soil in an equal-sided triangle, using a special three-pronged mattock. They were tied with a red thread in bundles of three and presented by the women to their menfolk.

"Dandelion, smooth garlic,
Foxglove, Woad and Butterwort,
The three Carle-doddies, and the marigold.

Grey cailpeach plucked,
the seven-pronged seven times,
and the mountain yew, ruddy heath,
and madder.

I will put water on them all,
In precious name of the Son of God,
In the name of Mary the generous,
And of Patrick.

When we shall sit down
To take our food,
I will sprinkle in the name of God
On the children."
- from Alexander Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica.78
- cailpeach (bullock/heifer/colt, poss origin of Scots word 'kelpie' for the mythical water horse)
- three Carle-doddies, (the original Gaelic is 'tri ghroigeanan-cinn', I can find no other occurrence or translation of the word 'ghroigeanan'.).

Non-medical uses of ribwort plantain
As a food, leaves - raw or cooked. Not really very nice and if you can get them there is liable to be better eating around. The very young leaves are somewhat better and are less fibrous. Seed - cooked. Used like sago. The seed can be ground into a powder and added to flours when making bread, cakes or whatever.

A fibre is obtained from the leaves, it is said to be suitable for textiles. A mucilage from the seed coats is used as a fabric stiffener. It is obtained by macerating the seed in hot water. Gold and brown dyes are obtained from the whole plant.

Medicinal uses of ribwort plantain
Antibacterial, Antidote, Astringent, Demulcent, Expectorant, Haemostatic, Laxative, Ophthalmic, Poultice.
Definitons of medical actions

Ribwort plantain is a safe and effective treatment for bleeding, it quickly staunches blood flow and encourages the repair of damaged tissue. The leaves contain mucilage, tannin and silic acid. An extract of them has antibacterial properties. They have a bitter flavour and are astringent, demulcent, mildly expectorant, haemostatic and ophthalmic. Internally, they are used in the treatment of a wide range of complaints including diarrhoea, gastritis, peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhage, haemorrhoids, cystitis, bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, asthma and hay fever. They are used externally in treating skin inflammations, malignant ulcers, cuts, stings etc. The heated leaves are used as a wet dressing for wounds, swellings etc. The root has been used as a remedy for the bite of rattlesnakes, it is used in equal portions with Marrubium vulgare L. (White Horehound). The seeds are used in the treatment of parasitic worms. Plantain seeds contain up to 30% mucilage which swells up in the gut, acting as a bulk laxative and soothing irritated membranes. Sometimes the seed husks are used without the seeds. A distilled water made from the plant makes an eye lotion.

Carmichael, A. (1997 reprint). Carmina Gadelica: Hymns & incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the Last (19th) century. Floris Books, Edinburgh.
Plants For A Future, www.pfaf.org/index.html,

Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/, Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe.

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