Plantain: From Weed to Medicine

Happy Seeds of Wisdom Wednesday! This week we wanted to highlight a plant that often gets ignored in the garden. The wild herb plantain, which is often considered a weed, is commonly popping up around the community gardens and oftentimes taking over the pathways. It has been said that plantain was brought to Europe by Alexander the Great, and Europeans have spread it around since. Native Americans have actually referred to it as “Whiteman’s Foot” because it grew wherever white men had passed through.

Photography Credit:
As you’ve probably noticed in your own garden, plantain manages to thrive in any type of soil and full sun. You can harvest plantain at any point from spring through fall. If you’re wanting to plant more plantain to reap the benefits of this low maintenance plant, you can clip the heads of seeds once they turn tan and plant in the ground or container. Clipping the flowers before they become seed heads will help you control the spread of plantain throughout your whole garden, yard or park. You can spread the seeds in early spring and top with a light layer of mulch. Other than that, these plants don’t need much care. They have very fibrous roots that are extremely useful for preventing soil erosion which makes them a great crop to plant in the walkways between your garden rows, if you properly manage them and prevent the growth of seed heads of course.
I encourage you to – instead of weeding these and discarding them – eat the entire plant, roots and leaves, or use them for medicinal purposes. The leaves can be used just like spinach – salads, steamed, in soups, sautéed, oven baked chips, etc. There are a few different varieties of plantain. The Broadleaf variety is best for eating because of its bigger leaves, but other plantains can be enjoyed as well. It is best to harvest young leaves for eating so they’re not as stringy. However, the mature, stringy leaves are great for making tea or chips with an added crunch. Plantain leaves are also easy to dry and save for later use.

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In herbal medicine, plantain is commonly used to make calming salves, tea, tinctures and infusions. It can also be used to make a face toner to calm any blemishes, burns or rashes on your face. A tea of plantain leaves can double as a healing mouthwash and aid in healing and relieving the discomfort of toothaches, mouth sores and gum disease. Additionally, the leaves have properties that relieve pain and inflammation and provide antimicrobial benefits for external inflammation. Bug bites, bee stings and scrapes can easily be treated with a spit poultice of plantain – pop a leaf into your mouth, chew it and crush it, then put the chewed-up plantain on your bug bite or scrape. A strong plantain tea can help sooth sunburn, poison ivy, rashes and eczema when sprayed on the inflamed skin.
When eating plantain, you get a dose of calcium, copper, fiber, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, vitamins A, C and K, and a plethora of disease fighting phytochemicals. Once again, the anti-inflammatory tea has shown it can calm internal inflammation like bladder and kidney infections, UTIs, digestive issues, nausea, ulcers, bowel issues, and heartburn. Studies have also found that plantain is a demulcent – meaning it relieves mucous membrane discomfort and irritation experienced from a dry cough during a cold or flu – which makes it very soothing to the whole respiratory system.
It’s important to be aware that consuming plantain can sometimes have a laxative effect on some people, so slowly up your intake to learn what your body can tolerate. But it’s certainly a worthwhile herb that you hopefully won’t overlook in the future. If you want to try eating the wild plantain you find, check out this recipe for oven baked chips.

Photography credit: Leda Meredith

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  1. Preparedness Mama - Plants to Know: Plantain Herb
  2. Wellness Mama - Plantain: A Healing Herb in Your Backyard by Katie Wells
  3. Wild Foods Home Garden - Plantain
  4. Leda Meredith - The Forager's Feast - Foraging Plantain & Recipe for Plantain Leaf Chips by Leda Meredith
  5. Gardening Know How - What Are Plantain Herb Benefits: Learn About the Cultivation of Plantain by Mary H. Dyer
  6. Global Healing Center - Health Benefits of Plantain Leaf by Dr. Edward Group
  7. Healthfully - The Health Benefits of the Plantain Leaf by Megan Ashton

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