Useful Weeds: Plantain
It’s still very early in the gardening season here in southern Missouri. Things are growing but we’re not harvesting much beyond herbs and greens. However, this is a season for harvesting weeds. We make use of dandelion, but there’s also several others coming up. Many of the weeds that tend to annoy those folks looking for a perfect lawn are some of our new favorite companions, the useful weed: Plantain among them.
Ten years ago I knew nothing of this amazing weed. I first took notice when I saw our goats preferring them over other things growing in the fields. Goats, for those who do not know, are not grazers like cattle. Instead, they are what we call "browsers". They search and seek out their first choices which are usually brush, leaves and trees. But they also love certain weeds, and plantain is among them. Plantain is a wonderful way for a goat to settle an upset tummy. As we watch the animals, we learn!
After witnessing our goats loving plantain, I then did a bit more research which I will share with you here. Starting with a bit of history!
Alexander the Great is credited with bringing broadleaf plantain back to Europe with him in 327 BC. The Saxons quickly grew to label it one of their nine most healing and sacred herbs.
Native Americans referred to plantain as “white man’s foot.” This edible and medicinal weed was so dubbed because everywhere the Native Americans traveled this healing and edible weed could always be found in great abundance.
Both ancient Roman and Greek doctors placed a high value on the healing powers of plantain. The Greek used plantain for wound healing, animal bites, and burn treatment. Pliny the Roman used broadleaf plantain to care for patients who had sustained bites from wild animals.
Plantain is one of the most readily available and easily identifiable edible and medicinal weeds in the United States. It contains a lot of protein for a plant, making it a great survival food source. The Psyllium that the plantain contains are one of the primary reasons it is also a potent wild medicinal plant.
Plantain grows most everywhere and once you learn to identify it, no doubt you’ll be seeing it beneath your feet all the time. It is full of nutrition and completely edible The young leaves are the best for eating as the bigger leaves tend to be bitter and a little tough. Beyond the young leaves being a great addition to salad, the plant has numerous medicinal benefits.
Broadleaf plantain grows wild throughout the United States, most of North America, Europe, and Asia. It is technically a noxious weed that pops up about anywhere there is full sun.
If you take just a few moments to look down and around, you will almost assuredly notice plantain growing in and adjacent to agricultural fields, along sidewalks in suburbia, in parking lots in urban areas.