Edible Weeds – Broad Leafed Plantain

broad leafed plantain

Picture by Rex Trulove

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.

Plantain description

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?


  1. Donna

    I never knew any of this I usually kill or dig it up, will stop this and I will keep the information when I am in need of the plant’s medical value

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Don’t forget the excellent food source, too. 🙂 Seriously, people are often surprised at how good it tastes. It is still debated whether it was brought to America accidentally or whether it was brought here intentionally by the early colonists from Europe.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      LOL…well, you might be, but you are also having a healthy meal. It is also one of the best ways to get rid of the weeds…eat them. 😀

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      @barbrad, one of the reasons broad leafed plantain is so common in so much of the world is that it isn’t picky. It will grow in places that get hot and dry and it will grow where there is abundant moisture and cooler temperatures. It will grow in different kinds of soil, too, though it prefers soil that compacts, like clay, over sandy soil. That said, if the ground is dry, the plants will grow, but very slowly. It does best when it gets at least some water. Put in a slightly different way, plantain will grow nearly anywhere than dandelions will grow.

    2. Rex Trulove Post author

      I should also say that where broad leafed plantain doesn’t grow, narrow leafed plantain often does. Since the two have similar properties, one or the other grow in most places between the arctic circle and the antarctic.

    1. Sandy KS

      That I am sure of. They spread like a wildfire. As long as they don’t take over my tomato plants growing I am good. My daughter was helping me clear some of what we call weeds out. As I told her it will be less to pull out in the spring.

    2. Rex Trulove Post author

      Well…maybe I shouldn’t say this, but the reason they spread like wildfire or like weeds ( 🙂 ) is because a healthy mature broad leafed plantain plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds. The good news, though, is that they won’t compete with your tomatoes. Plantain has a root structure that is seldom more than a couple of inches deep. A healthy tomato plant has a root structure that is often nearly two feet deep or even deeper. (I have a cherry tomato plant that is almost five feet tall, despite being munched on by deer and I know that the roots on that one tomato are very deep. They are probably more than 3 feet. Of course, I specifically planted it deep as a seedling. It was over a foot tall, not counting a 4 inch root ball, and I planted it so only two sets of leaves were above the ground.) The plantain won’t be able to get to the nutrients that the tomato is getting.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I’m not sure if it grows in the Philippines, though it does grow in north and central Asia. There are around 200 very closely related species, including two that grow in water, so it is very likely that there is a species that does grow there and that could be used like broad leafed plantain.

  2. Ceci

    It is able to find here easily, Asian area, if not mistaken. My father cooked it for drink to reduce body heat.

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