Plantain Weed: The Most Useful & Ubiquitous Plant in Your Backyard
It's that green, leafy weed you can find everywhere and anywhere. It grows in shade and sun, in between concrete, throughout your lawn, in meadows, pastures, wooded forests, gardens, wastelands or parking lots. It can be thin or broad-leafed, and there are several varieties found all over the world! But what is that stuff anyway?
PLANTAIN...and I'm not talking about those green bananas! Plantain Weed, Plantago major (Broad-leaf plantain) or Plantago lanceolata (Narrow-leaf plantain), is a readily-available, edible herb found in most people's backyards, and has amazing medicinal properties! Native Americans used it for its various healing abilities, such as treating insect and snakebites, reducing inflammation, lowering a fever, and healing wounds.
Similar to dandelions, plantain is loaded with iron, calcium and Vitamin K, and can be consumed raw (tender, young leaves don't need to be cooked) and eaten in salads. Older, broader leaves can be sauteed and cooked. Plantain can also be chewed and applied directly on a wound or insect bite as it is contains various antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and astringent properties.
We were introduced to the various medicinal uses of plantain after my son had the unfortunate luck of stepping on a ground nest of yellow jackets. They swarmed and attacked...not once, but TWICE, and left him with numerous stings all over his body...all while at summer camp! Luckily the knowledgeable staff at Two Coyotes Wilderness School www.twocoyotes.org knew exactly which wild plant to use. ENTER PLANTAIN: chewed immediately, it acts as a pain reliever; applied directly to the bites, it stops the pain and itching; and applied later as a salve, it reduces the swelling and discomfort of those nasty stings! That green weed worked like a charm!! After our "yellow jacket incident," I always keep on hand plantain salve in my medicine cabinet and dried plantain in the pantry.
Plantain extremely easy to harvest: just look for the classic characteristics to properly identify it and when in doubt, consult a reputable plant identification site such as the USDA's NRCS Plant Database https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PLMA2
Plantain is green, has oval or egg-shaped leaves, and will grow in a rosette with thick, fibrous stems (purplish-red toward bottom) that attach to a base. When the stems are broken, strings will be visible (similar to celery's veins). Long, pointy green flowers shoot up from the base of the plant, and contain a small pod full of tiny, dark seeds. Insider tip: you'll want to harvest the larger, broader leaves as they are more mature and contain more beneficial phytochemicals.
Here's a brief list of various ways you can use plantain this summer (and really, any time of the year):
1. Burns: Applied immediately as a cool poultice (use cheesecloth with fresh leaves applied as bandage), and later apply plantain salve
2. Cuts, sores or wounds: Flush wound with plantain tea or tincture; swish tea in mouth for oral sores, or apply crushed plantain leaves to freshly cut skin to stop bleeding
3. Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac: Use cool poultice immediately, then wash affected areas with plantain tea or plantain sludge (for cooling effect and itch-relief)
4. Sunburn: Apply cool poultice or plantain sludge immediately, then wash with plantain tea or carefully apply salve onto burned skin
5. Respiratory infection/cold/flu: Use plantain tincture under the tongue or drink freshly brewed plantain tea (warmed) with honey to relieve throat pain and nasal congestion.
6. Digestive upset/diarrhea: Taken as a tincture under the tongue or drink as plantain tea (warm or cool, with or without honey or natural sweeteners or soothing digestive herbs)
Who knew that this simple, underrated plant could be so darn helpful, multipurpose, and healing!! Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post where I'll give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own plantain salve! Trust me, you won't want to be without it, especially as the summer heats up and bugs are in full effect!!
A special thanks to Kellogg Garden www.kellogggarden.com for partnering with us to help share this green gift with you!