Water plantain (Alisma plantago-aquatica) is a perennial plant belonging to the Alismaceae family. This flowering plant is found growing naturally in regions ranging from Portugal and Morocco to Japan, Vietnam and Kamchatka in Asia. It is believed that this aquatic species has its origin in the northern and central regions of Africa, extending northwards up to Tanzania. Generally this species is found in fresh waters or on mud. According to reports, over the years this plant has been naturalized in various regions, including Australia, New Zealand, Africa, British Columbia and Alaska. However, it appears that these reports are based on specimens that have not been identified correctly.
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A hairless plant found growing in shallow water, Alisma plantago-aquatica comprises a fiber-like root, many long-stemmed leaves at the base (each leaf measuring anything between 15 cm and 30 cm in length) and a 1-meter-long triangular stem. This plant produces branched inflorescence comprising several small blooms. Each flower of water plantain has three rounded or serrated, white or pale purple hued petals and measure roughly 1 cm in diameter. Interestingly, these flowers open only in the afternoon. Each water plantain flower has three blunt green-hued sepals and six stamens. The carpels of this flower generally occur in the form of a flat solitary whorl. The flowers of water plantain are hermaphrodite in nature having both male as well as female reproductive organs. Usually, flies pollinate these flowers.
The term alisma is believed to have its origin in Celtic and this word denotes "water", having reference to the plant's natural habitat. In the initial days, botanists named this species after Plantago owing to the comparison of its leaves.
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The water plantain plant possesses several curative properties and, hence, is used for treating various different health disorders. The root of this aquatic plant contains rich amounts of starch and can also be consumed after cooking it thoroughly. Even the leaves of this species are edible after they are boiled properly. The leaves possess anti-bacterial properties and, at the same time, help to lower blood cholesterol levels and promote perspiration, which is beneficial in some types of fevers. In addition, the leaves are also effective in lowering high blood pressure. When the fresh leaves of water plantain are used topically, they work to counter irritation. Working in the same way as nettles, the leaves are also useful in alleviating pains caused by arthritis and rheumatism. They have also been employed for treating conditions like kidney stones, dysentery and gravel. The fresh leaves of this herb are crushed and applied as a poultice on bruises and swellings.
In a number of countries people dry the stem bases and grate them for consumption. These dried grated stem bases help to cure digestive disorders and heartburn. These need to be washed down by drinking plenty of water. The seed of this species possesses astringent properties and it is employed for stopping hemorrhages.
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The root of water plantain contains an essential oil, which possesses anti-bacterial properties, helps to lower blood cholesterol levels and has been traditionally employed to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) and also in the form of a diuretic. Moreover, the root of Alisma plantago-aquatica has also been employed to treat diarrhea as well as to protect the kidneys and the liver. There was a time when people believed that this herb was also useful for curing rabies. As a result, it was also referred to as "mad dog weed". Nevertheless, there is no scientific or clinical evidence to endorse this belief.
The juice expressed from this aquatic plant is used in the form of a diuretic. However, using the bruised leaves of water plantain can result in the formation of blisters on the skin. It is worth mentioning that once the herb was used in the United States to treat rattlesnake bites.
The dried root of water plantain is pulverized into a powder, which forms an ingredient of popular medicine meant for curing rabies. On the other hand, the crushed leaves of this herb are employed to treat congestion of the mammary glands. The fresh leaves of water plantain are also used in homeopathy remedies. It is important not to confuse this herb with the mad-dog skullcap herb (Scutellaria lateriflora), which is also often referred to as the mad dog weed.
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The leaves of water plantain possess anti-bacterial, diuretic, diaphoretic, anti-cholesterolemic, hypotensive and hypoglycemic properties. They are employed for treating renal calculus, dysentery, gravel, cystitis and other conditions. The fresh leaves of this herb are also rubefacient. This plant is also employed in the treatment of leprosy. The dried out stem bases of this plant are also consumed. These are grated and taken internally along with water to cure digestive problems like stomach flu, cramps and heartburn. The powdered seeds of Alisma plantago-aquatica possess astringent properties and are used to stop bleeding. In addition, it is said that the seeds of this plant also encourage sterility.
The root of water plantain encloses an essential oil, which has a variety of therapeutic uses. The root possesses anti-cholesterolemic, anti-bacterial, hypotensive and diuretic properties. According to reports, this herb is effective in lowering levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and also lower high blood pressure. At the same time, water plantain is also anti-bacterial and neutralizes bacteria like Pneumococci, Staphylococcus and Mycobacterium. The root of this herb is employed in the treatment of cholesterolaemia, edema, acute diarrhea, oliguria, fatty liver and nephritis. It is also believed that the whole water plantain plant helps to enhance contraception. Harvesting of the roots is done prior to the blooming of the herb. Subsequently, the roots are dried for use to treat a number of health conditions when necessary. The fresh root of water plantain is also used in preparation of a homeopathic remedy.
Aside from its therapeutic uses, water plantain (Alisma plantago-aquatica) also has a number of culinary uses. The roots, leaves and petioles of this herb are used for culinary purpose.
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Leaves and petioles: It is essential to cook the leaves and petioles of water plantain thoroughly before consumption. The leaves and petioles of this herb need to be boiled for a long period and should have a brackish taste.
The root of water plantain contains elevated amounts of starch and can only be consumed after cooking. One should exercise caution while consuming the root of this plant, because it is pungent if you do not dry it properly or cook it thoroughly before consumption.
As the name of the plant suggests, water plantain is found growing in boggy grounds, on the periphery of shallow ponds, damp ditches as well as the edges of similar water bodies. This herb blooms during the period between June and August, while the seeds become mature from July to September.
Water plantain thrives well when grown in sunlit position in swampy ground or shallow water bodies having a maximum depth of 25 cm. These plants have the ability to self-sow very aggressively, provided they are grown in suitable locations. Water plantain attracts many slugs.
Water plantain is generally propagated by its seeds, which are ideally sown in cold frames immediately after they become ripe. In order to keep the soil in the pot wet, you should always position the pots in water having a depth of roughly 3 cm. When the seedlings have grown large enough so that they can be handled properly, you need to keep growing them in a cold frame, at least for the first winter for their existence. The young water plantains can be planted outdoors towards the end of spring.
Water plantain can also be propagated by means of root division, ideally undertaken in spring or autumn. Propagating the plant via division is rather simple. You can plant the divisions directly in their permanent positions outdoors.
Water plantain should be used with caution, as the fresh leaves as well as the roots of the plant are somewhat toxic. However, when you dry or heat the plant, its toxic compounds are destroyed.