Plantain is one of my all time favorite herbs. It grows EVERYWHERE, and is super easy to spot once you learn how to identify it. No, we’re not talking about the banana-like plantain, but a “weed” that I’m betting is right outside your door.
I mainly use Plantain for its healing properties, but along with being medicinal it’s also perfectly edible. It isn’t exactly the greatest tasting green thing in your yard, however if worst came to worst, as least it would be good to know that you can eat it. Plus, it’s super nutritious.
There are two main species of Plantain: Broadleaf (Plantago major; also called “Greater Plantain”), and Narrowleaf (Plantago lanceolata; also called “Ribwort Plantain”, “English Plantain”, or “lamb’s tongue”).
Plantain leaves form a rosette, growing out from the center-point.
Broadleaf plantain has oval shaped leaves, while the Narrowleaf variety has lance-shaped leaves.
Both have prominent veins running parallel from the base to the tip of the leaf.
If you break the stem, you will find strings similar to what you find in celery stalks.
The seed stalks grow from the center of the rosette. Broadleaf seed stalks have a long head of seeds.
Narrowleaf plantain has a cone-shaped seed head at the end of the seed stalk. As a child, my friends and I would shoot these seed heads at one another as a game (remember doing that?).
Where It Grows
Plantain can be found throughout most of North American, Europe, and Asia. It prefers to grow in sunny places, in meadows, fields, lawns, gardens, and even between cracks in the sidewalk and in poor soil conditions.
You may have one or both varieties growing in your yard. If you live in the US, I’m sure you can find some if you look well enough.
Plantain is my go-to for any type of sting or insect bite. Narrowleaf Plantain is preferred, as it is said to have stronger medicinal properties of the two varieties.
Anytime any of my kids or myself get stung, I head to a patch of Plantain in my yard, pick a fresh leaf, chew it up, and place the slimy glop directly on the sting. Hold it there for a few minutes, and the poison is soaked up and the pain vanishes. Works every time.
I also make a Plantain oil to use during the winter when fresh leaves are hard to find. Fill a clean pint jar with pieces of fresh plantain leaf, cover all with 1-2 inches of organic olive oil, and allow to sit for 2-3 weeks before staining off. This oil can be used on any type of skin irritations or wounds.
Not only is it great for insect bites, it’s also wonderful at healing cuts, burns, eczema, hemorrhoids, diaper rash, sunburns, poison oak/ivy/sumac, and practically any inflammation of the skin. A poultice can help draw out splinters and thorns.
Internally, a tea can be taken for gastric inflammations, and constipation. Plantain juice can be gargled to help relieve mouth sores and sore throats. A syrup of Narrowleaf Plantain can be taken to reduce phlegm, and to relieve coughs particularly accompanied by a sore throat.
Plantain seeds can be eaten as a laxative. They can also be used in healing skin wounds and infections. I’ve been told that the seeds are also an effective treatment for Candida, which I am interested in looking into more.
Both varieties are high in Calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K.
Typically it is the Broadleaf Plantain which is sought out as a wild food. The entire plant is edible, though the leaves aren’t very tasty raw. The thick veins make chewing this plant unpleasant, in my opinion. You may choose to remove the strings before consuming.
Leaves can be eaten raw, steamed, blanched or boiled. The leaves and roots can also be dried for a tea. The seeds can be added to dishes for a kick of nutrition, or ground into a meal. Dried seeds can also be used as a thickening agent in soups and stews.
There are no poisonous look-alikes. Excess consumption could lead to diarrhea. As with all things, use good judgement and do your research before foraging for wild plants.