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.
Plantain is a perennial plant that grows from the early spring through the late fall. The leaves on the broadleaf plantain plant are fairly egg shaped or oval. The edges are wavy yet smooth. The leaves grow in a basal rosette shape.
Broadleaf leaves can range in width from half an inch wide when they are young, to five inches wide in some cases. They have 5 to 7 veins running parallel from the base that attaches to the stem.
The stems of the broadleaf plantain plant resemble a small version of celery. They have an indentation right down the middle and are crisp when snapped. The stems are thick at the base of the leaves.
The vein-type strings that are visible on both the front and the back of the leaves can be traced to their raised origins on the back of the stem. Both the stems and the leaves are basically hairless.
Long stem style flower shoots grow up from the middle of the broadleaf plantain plant. The flower shoots contain a long thin pod that is highly flexible, and house the edible seeds of the plant.
Each shoot of spike is roughly the shape and height of a pencil. It has a coarse and granular textures and very tiny green flowers. The flowers on the shoot measure approximately 1/12 to ⅛ of an inch in diameter. Every flower has two stamens and four petals, along with one pistil.
Broadleaf plantain flowers are present from spring through early fall. The seed pods emerge beneath the flower as it withers away.
This edible and medicinal weed is typically capable of growing up to about 1 foot tall.
Beta Carotene, Iron, Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid, Calcium, Oleanolic Acid, Vitamin K, Flavonoids, Vitamin A to name a few.
Broadleaf Plantain and Psyllium
The seeds in the flower shoots contain Psyllium. As noted above, these tiny parts of the broadleaf plant boast a myriad of nutrients. Several plant varieties produce Psyllium, but plantain is a rich source of the compound and the easiest to find and identify in most regions.
Even the folks over at the United States Food and Drug Administration are willing to admit the value of Psyllium – something they rarely do when referencing either wild or cultivated herbs.
The FDA now allows manufacturers who use an ingredient with Psyllium to note on the label that it can be effective in reducing the chances of heart disease and help lower cholesterol.
Psyllium seed husks are a potent source of dietary fiber. The compounds in the seeds are indigestible, and often used in over the counter medications designed to combat diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. The natural matter in the seed husks might also be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.
Broadleaf Plantain Medicinal Benefits
This awesome edible and medicinal weed might most frequently be used in homemade natural salves or poultices. It has incredible drawing power, and can help draw out toxins and splinters from the body.
The compounds in broadleaf plantain boast antimicrobial, astringent, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-hemorrhagic properties.
This wild medicinal weed is also a superb expectorant, the primary reason it is used in natural remedies to treat bronchitis. The aucubin in plantain enhances the secretion of uric acid from the kidneys, helping to prevent stones from forming. The apigenin in the plant is a natural anti-inflammatory compound.
Broadleaf plantain, when crafted into a salve, wound wash, or poultice mixture and left on until it hardens to the point it is dry, it can help treat various types of wounds, sunburn, poison ivy, as well as insect bites and stings.
The astringent properties in broadleaf plantain are what make this wild healing weed a good natural remedy ingredient in recipes designed to treat colitis, diarrhea, stomach ailments, gastritis, and other bowel related issues.
It has long been used as a remedy for stomach and bowel infections, as well as urinary tract infections, and because the herb has antispasmodic and demulcent effect it can be used to soothe irritation and reduce spasms in relation to colic in infants and young children.
The expectorant properties in plantain can make it an effective ingredient in natural remedies designed to reduce the secretion of mucus into airways, when a person is suffering from the common cold, bronchitis, tonsillitis, asthma, hay fever, sinusitis, and lung infections.
Possible Plantain Side Effects
Although broadleaf plantain is pretty soundly considered a safe wild plant to be used both topically and internally by folks of all ages, taking it might not be without some risk.
Pregnant and nursing mothers should avoid consumption and use of broadleaf plantain until more studies are conducted on the safety of such exposure.
In addition, some folks are hypersensitive to psyllium.
I am not a medical professional of any type. The broadleaf plantain information presented here is purely for educational and research purposes only. Neither our farm, nor the website or the company behind it shall be held liable for any injury or side-effects as a result of following the information in this article.
Even when an ingredient in a home remedy comes from nature and your spouse or best friend raves about it, that does not negate the possibility of you having an allergic reaction to the same dose. Discussing the use of broadleaf plantain with your doctor before beginning use is highly recommended.