Before I learned what it was, I must have pulled at least a hundred of these plants out of my garden each year…
Can you guess what it is?
When I discovered how important and useful it is, I jumped right out of bed (where I do most of my reading 😉 ) and excitedly ran to tell my husband the news. Now, instead of throwing it into the compost pile, I can put it to good use in the kitchen or medicine cabinet.
This is the 5th post in our Forgotten Plants series — plants that were once prolific in the kitchen gardens of our ancestors, but now are so rare that the average person hasn't even heard of them. Many of these plants deserve to find space in our gardens again!
If you're familiar with the story of the dandelion, you're familiar with the story of plantain, too! They share very similar histories.
Plantain was so useful and important to Europeans that they brought it with them when they came to the New World. Hundreds of years later, plantain grows prolifically just about everywhere. However, few people know what a medicinal and nutritional powerhouse they have growing right in their backyard.
What are a few of plantain's historical benefits?
Reportedly, Alexander the Great used plantain to cure headaches while the Anglo-Saxons listed it as one of the “9 sacred herbs”. And, texts as early as the 1500 feature it in relation to medicine and healing.
In North America, folks commonly grew and used it until the 20th century. Then, urban life and modern medicine took over, and the plant was largely forgotten.
Planting & Harvesting
You probably don't even need to plant plantain, as it grows naturally just about everywhere. If, however, you want to add a dedicated patch of it to your medicinal herb garden, it can be grown from seed and prefers a sunny location.
Plantain is as easy to harvest as it is to grow. The leaves are used mostly commonly, and can be harvested at any time during the growing season. Young leaves are best for eating, as older ones tend to be tough and fibrous.
Plantain is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory — making it excellent for healing wounds. It takes the sting out of bee stings and the itch out of insect bites. In fact, check out our Homemade Bug Bite Stick, featuring plantain!
It also helps control bleeding. It stimulates the liver and purifies the blood. German researches have discovered that it is useful in healing certain lung conditions, including asthma and bronchitis. And according to Medicinal Herbs by Rosemary Gladstar, it can be used to draw out slivers that are too deep to pull out.
Nutritionally, it is similar to dandelion: loaded with iron, B vitamins, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K.
So how can we use this amazing plant?
Use #1 — Plantain Poultice
A poultice is perhaps the easiest way to use plantain. Collect the leaves, chop them, mash them a little, and place them over the cut, wound, bite, boil, infection, splinter, or sting. Then wrap with a cloth to hold in place.
Medicinal Herbs by Rosemary Gladstar states that the poultice may need to be replaced with fresh leaves every 30 minutes or so.
Use #2 — In The Kitchen
Sauté plantain's green leaves like spinach, or add them to a smoothie, or boil them to bring out the sweetness.
Plantain is, of course, edible raw — although its bitterness makes it unpalatable for most.
Have you ever used plantain?
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