Foraging for Plantain

WHY FORAGE FOR PLANTAIN

Can it still be considered foraging if you gather weeds from your backyard?

Plantain, seen by many as a pesky lawn weed, is a great plant for beginner foragers and beginning medicine makers. It is very common yet a powerful herbal and first-aid plant. It easily reproduces, so there is little risk of overharvesting. And if you have it growing in your own backyard, you truly know if there have been pesticide or herbicide exposure.

If you don’t already have some nearby, prepare some soil, preferably in sun, add some water, and wait. Plantain almost always accepts the invitation.

A woman holds a string of plantain leaves.

WHEN TO FIND PLANTAIN

In my area, plantain is a perennial that grows year round. They produce by seed or by sections of roots left in the soil. If you live in a 4-season climate, they will likely appear in the spring.

WHERE TO FIND PLANTAIN

They are commonly found in lawns, gardens, and roadsides, often in compacted and nutrient-poor soils. In my garden, they are clustered around the base of some of my containers, thriving off the drainage and growing in very hard soil.

HOW TO IDENTIFY PLANTAIN

There are different types of plantain, the main varieties found as a “weed” are Broadleafed plantain, Plantago major, and Narrowleaf plantain Plantago lanceolata.

All varieties have parallel, fibrous veins that mark the leaves from end to end, and are covered with soft hairs.

Broadleaf Plantain grows in a rosette shape, about 16” tall, but they usually low to the ground, especially if they are mowed or walked on. The leaves are 2-7” long, and somewhat egg-shaped at the end of a thinner, V-shaped stem. The flowerheads rise 4-16” from the base of the plant, and are clusters of tiny green-white flowers along the top of thin stems.

Narrowleaf Plantain, also sometimes called Buckhorn, have thinner leaves, less than 1 ½” wide. There are 3-5 prominent veins that run the entire leaf length. They can grow 3-10” long, and grow from the base quite erect. The flower stalks are 6-20” tall, and end in dense spikes of small flowers, with visible white stamens.

Narrow Leaf Plantain (Ribwort)

Plantago lanceolata, Narrowleaf Plantain

 

Broad Leaf Plantain

Plantago major, Broadleaf Plantain

California native bee on the flowerhead of Narrowleaf Plantain

California native bee on the flowerhead of Narrowleaf Plantain

HOW TO HARVEST PLANTAIN

Using small snips or your fingers, simply pull the leaves off at the base! If you’re using fresh, follow the instructions below. If you’re drying for future use, rinse in cool water and dry using one of these methods. 

HOW TO USE PLANTAIN

All parts of plantain are usable! I mostly use it as a topical herb, to alleviate skin troubles like itching mosquito bites, or drawing out slivers that are too deep to fish out with tweezers.

The leaves can be chopped, mashed or placed right on the problem area. When hiking or out in the garden, I simply chew up a leaf or two and press it on my skin. The leaves of plantain can also be brewed in a strong tea, and a cloth soaked in the tea can be placed on directly over the area. On cuts or scrapes, mashed plantain can be placed directly on the wound to slow bleeding.

The leaves of plantain are also edible, but best consumed when young before they get tough and bitter. They are very nutrient dense, containing protein, starch and several vitamins. The seeds can be toasted and ground, and added to baked goods or breakfast porridge. They are also a mild laxative, a cultivated variety of plantain is used as the main ingredient in Metamucil. In Europe, as I’ve learned from Instagram friends, the leaves are a traditional food. They are used as a wrap for a dolma like dish.

Read the full article at Practical Self Reliance