Although it is seen as a garden weed in many parts of North America, Plantain is a powerful plant that has many medicinal uses. Even more, plantain is an edible plant that can be foraged in both wild and urban environments. Plantain is a genuinely excellent medical aid, and people should learn about its properties rather than pulling it out and throwing it away.
Plantago is commonly referred to as plantain, and there are about 200 species of this small plant that often grow underfoot in many habitats. Their leaves can be narrow or broad, depending on the species. They are found all over the world including most of the US. Plantain’s historical use is so long it has even been referenced in both Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s works.
This powerful plant is often dismissed as a common weed and people don’t pay too much attention to it. Only a few people know that It is nutritionally similar to dandelion: full of iron, vitamin C, vitamin K and B vitamins. This article will focus on the Broadleaf Plantain or Plantago major, which makes for an excellent edible and medicinal plant.
Plantain is originally native to Europe and today; it can be found in many parts of North America. Believed to have been brought to the Americas by the Puritans, plantain was referred to as “white man’s footprint” amongst some Native American tribes because of how it well it thrived in the disturbed areas surrounding European settlements. The strong fibers within the leaves were also used for making thread, fishing line and even cloth
How to identify plantain
Broadleaf Plantains have three or five parallel veins that diverge in the wider part of the leaf. The leaves are low-growing and form basal rosettes. The leafless stems may grow in multiples from the base, standing tall and erect. The stems are never branched and they can grow as tall as a foot. The stem cones or spikes in a head of tiny flowers and can be a short cone or a long spike, with numerous tiny wind-pollinated flowers.
Suggested reading: Top 10 Medicinal Herbs for your garden
When to harvest plantain and where to find it
If you plan to harvest plantain, you should look in your backyard as chances are you already have some plants growing undisturbed there. Plantain likes growing in full sun. It likes growing in compact or disturbed soil on lawns, pastures, and fields. However, I’ve seen it growing out of the cracks of sidewalks and roads, waste ground and even in places where there is little sun. When harvesting Plantain, make sure to get it from an area that has not been sprayed with any chemicals or pesticides. And as a general precaution, you should only pick and consume Plantain after you have correctly identified the plant.
Raw young leaves are best harvested in spring when they are young and tender. In summer, harvest seeds and older leaves for cooking.
How to consume plantain
I prefer to consume young leaves raw or cooked. Older leaves are fibrous and are best cooked with the fiber removed. The seeds are small and tedious to collect but are edible and can be used as a flour extender. Steamed, young Plantain leaves can be used as a spinach substitute although they are slightly bitter.
Here is a recipe for a tasty Plantain salad:
2 cups Plantain leaves, cleaned, tough fibers removed if necessary
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp white sesame seeds (optional)
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp white sesame seeds (optional)
- 1/2 tsp Japanese pepper powder (optional)
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water.
- Cook the Plantain leaves in boiling water for 4 min.
- Remove the leaves from the boiling water and immerse them in the ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Drain the leaves.
- Mix the seasoning ingredients together in a separate bowl.
- Drizzle the seasoning over the Plantain to taste.
- Toss to mix.
- Serve cold as a side or as an appetizer.
Recommended reading: Summer Forage: Wild Edible Fruits and Vegetables
Medicinal uses of plantain
Plantain has been used by the first pioneers due to its natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is of great use when it comes to speeding recovery of wounds, and for itching or pain associated with skin problems. A tea made from the leaf can be sprayed on mosquito bites to ease the itch.
Externally, Plantain has been used for insect and snake bites, and as a remedy for rashes and cuts. I use it to make a healing salve, which can be used as a natural antibiotic ointment on cuts and bruises.
The seeds of Plantain may be difficult to harvest, but they worth the trouble as they can reduce blood cholesterol levels and are also widely used as a natural laxative.
Plantain poultices have been used for centuries to promote the healing of bites, stings, sores and wounds. The plant is rich in tannin, which helps draw tissues together to stop bleeding. You can make a simple poultice by crushing fresh leaves then applying it to the infected area. Replace with freshly crushed leaves every day, until the wound heals.
The plant can also be used as a cough syrup and the recipe below was often used by my grandmother to treat coughs, sore throat, diarrhea or fatigue.
3 cups fresh Plantain leaves, cleaned
1 cup honey (preferably raw and organic)
- Process the leaves in a food processor.
- Strain the juice into a saucepan through a cheesecloth.
- Add the honey to the juice.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes on low heat.
- Stir to mix.
- Allow to cool.
- Store in a clean glass bottle in a cool dark place.
Take 1 teaspoonful, 3 times a day.
You can also make a tea, tincture or salve from Plantain since it greatly eases the itch of itch of poison ivy, oak or sumac.
My grandmother also used to prepare a tea or infusion of the leaf to treat ear infections. She would pour it into the ear to ease the pain and shorten the duration of the infection.
Plantain Tea / Infusion
Plantain infusions are usually used as a wash to soothe sun and wind burn, wounds and rashes.
1 cup fresh Plantain leaves, washed
1-2 cups water
- Put the leaves and the water in a pot.
- Bring to a gentle boil.
- Remove from heat and let it steep.
- Strain the leaves.
- Best if used fresh but it can be stored for a few days in the fridge.
Recommended reading: The most powerful antiseptics you can make at home
Plantain Infused Oil / Salve
Infused Plantain oils or salves are good for helping to heal skin conditions.
- Lightly bruise or crush clean, fresh Plantain leaves.
- Fill a clean glass jar with the bruised leaves.
- Use half the amount if using dried leaves.
- Cover the leaves with olive oil or your choice of oil.
- Cover and let sit in the sun for two weeks.
- The oil should turn deep green in color.
- Strain the leaves out.
- The oil is ready for use.
Method to Make a Salve:
- Add 1 oz of beeswax pastilles to 7 oz of plantain infused oil.
- Put the ingredients in a heatproof container.
- Set the container gently in a pan of warm water, making sure that there is not enough water to flow into your inner container.
- Gently increase the heat to medium-low until the wax melts.
- Stir the mixture.
- Remove it from the heat and pour it into a salve jar.
- Once cooled, the salve is ready for use.
Watch the video below to discover healing remedies and other survival secrets inherited from our grandparents:
Plantain is generally considered safe to use and there aren’t any known risks associated with the use of this plant. I’ve heard about people being allergic to its pollen, but no other issues are known.
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