Though this is specifically about broad leafed plantain (Plantago major), this information is also true of narrow leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata). Although this is a common weed and a plant that many people spend a substantial amount of time, effort and expense to eradicate, this is a plant that has some really nice food and medicinal properties. It is a survival food, but truth is, it is quite tasty even outside of a survival situation. This plant has a world-wide distribution.
Broad leafed plantain is a low growing perennial with oval leaves. Each grows on a short stalk and these are arranged around the plant base. The leaves are usually 2-4 inches long and not quite as wide. The appearance of the leaves is somewhat wavy, rather like chard or spinach.
The flower spike comes from the center of the plant and it is seldom more than six inches tall. The flowers aren’t colorful but each flower spike can produce a large number of seeds.
The roots are shallow and spread almost the same distance away from the center of the plant that the leaf tips reach. Because of its growth habit, plantain can be useful in limiting soil erosion.
Where plantain grows
Plantain grows well almost any place where the dirt has been disturbed and it will even thrive in clay soil. It isn’t native to America or many other areas of the world where it is now found abundantly, but it has quickly become naturalized in most countries and can be found throughout the US. Plantain is native to Europe and Asia. It now grows in all US states and Canadian provinces.
Medicinal applications of plantain
Plantain has astringent, analgesic, anti inflammatory and antibiotic properties. Because of this, the leaves can be crushed and applied to cuts, scrapes, abrasions, punctures, boils, burns and insect bites to relieve both pain and swelling. The leaves also contain substances that promote rapid healing.
Tea made from the leaves has been used for some time to treat diarrhea, congestion, bronchitis, digestive issues, kidney problems, urinary issues, colds, coughs and infections. The tea is made at a rate of 1 tablespoon of chopped leaves in a tea ball to a cup of hot water and this can be sweetened with honey. It can be used as needed.
Plantain as food
The young leaves of this edible weed and survival food are excellent when added to green salads, uncooked. They have a flavor that is similar to that of very mild young asparagus.
The leaves can also be cooked almost any way that spinach or chard leaves can be. As the leaves get older, they get tougher and more bitter, but they are still good in soups and stews or when stir-fried in hot olive oil.
The seeds can be eaten right off the plant or they can be cooked. Native Americans have dried the seeds then ground them for use as flour.
This plant is high in many minerals, most notably calcium. It is also high in vitamin C and A. Plantain contains anti-oxidants, so it could additionally be useful for treating and preventing cancer.
Plantain is not only a useful and delicious edible wild herb, it is very easy to identify. It is a good plant to know about in survival situations, since it grows nearly everywhere. Besides being quite edible, it has some really good medicinal properties and it is great for emergency treatments. This is a plant people should know about. If it is growing as a weed in your yard or garden, instead of poisoning it, why not harvest it?