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 in plantain is one of the primary reasons it is also a potent wild medicinal plant.
Plantain is also referred to (although less commonly) as wagbread and rippleseed. The botanical scientific name for broadleaf plantain is Plantago major. Long or narrow-leaf plantain is also a wild edible, and medicinal weed that grows in most regions of the United States.
Broadleaf Plantain 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 or were herded, this healing and edible weed could always be found in great abundance.
Early Christians considered broadleaf plantain to be symbolic of the path devout followers traveled as they went forth to spread the gospel.
Both ancient Roman and Greek doctors placed a high value on the healing powers of plantain. The Greek Pedanius Dioscorides 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.
From ancient times through our modern era, broadleaf plantain has been considered a natural aphrodisiac in some cultures.
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 is roughly the shape and height of a pencil. It has a coarse and granular texture 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.
Plantain Edible Parts
You can eat every part of the broadleaf plantain plant. The younger the leaves, the better most folks think they taste. But, in a survival situation, the flavor of a safe and wild edible will be far less important than the nutrient value it can provide for your body.
As the leaves of the broadleaf plantain plant age, they tend to also become far more stringy and a bit tough. The aging leaves are better suited for use in teas, salves, and tinctures. If eating the older leaves, they will taste far better if boiled or roasted.
The seeds from the plantain plant can be eaten raw, but are also often boiled, broiled, or roasted.
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You can use broadleaf plantain as a substitute for lettuce or greens of any type in salads and recipes. This wild edible makes a tasty addition to salsa, pesto, and juices.
One of my favorite ways to make broadleaf plantain is to fry it up with green onions. Toss a little bit of garlic and oregano on top of the onions, and you have a homegrown or wild gourmet side dish.
How to Clean Plantain
Because plantain grows at ground level in high-traffic areas, it is constantly getting a whole lot of mud, animal feces, and whatever else is on the bottom of shoes and bicycle tires on it.
Instead of just washing in water, I soak the broadleaf plantain I forage in a bath of either apple cider vinegar or baking soda.
Typically, I fill the sink with about a grocery store bag of broadleaf plantain plant parts, enough water to cover them, and ½ of a cup of apple cider vinegar – or the same amount of baking soda. Simply swish them around, then rinse.
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.
July through September is generally the best time to harvest Psyllium from the plantain shoots. If you wait until later in the fall to harvest them, they can be cut at the base of the stalks and hung to dry like herbs.
To harvest the Psyllium, run a knife (a butter knife will work) backward on the broadleaf plantain flower shoot stalk – or simply use your fingernails if you are a female prepper who hasn’t lost all of her working around the survival homestead.
Grind up the seeds so they can be used to make nutrient-rich protein shakes, sprinkled on both cold and warm cereal – they are delicious on oatmeal.
The plantain seeds that contain Psyllium can also be used whole in tea, as well as in both edible and medicinal recipes. Try using the seeds in bread and muffin recipes, it adds a robust flavor.
Some folks staunchly maintain they experience more natural healing benefits when the seeds containing Psyllium are ground. If you dry the seeds and store them in a container with a firm-fitting lid in a cool dark place, they should have at least a 2 year shelf life.
Long-leaf plantain looks distinctively different in length and shape than broadleaf plantain:
Broadleaf Plantain 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.
During a survival situation, you can simply pick some leaves, chew on them or crush them, and wrap them around the injured area.
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.
How to Use Broadleaf Plantain
Wound Washes, Salves, and Infusions
Salves, wound washes, and infusions can be used to treat a plethora of injuries in a topical manner. When making a healing salve, always mix the recipe in a non-metallic pot.
I typically use a ratio of 1 cup of carrier oil or lard with 1 pound of fresh plantain leaves. Use your favorite carrier oil, but I recommend olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil.
The salve is also a great natural anti-wrinkle night cream or chest rub when battling a cold or respiratory infection.
A hot or cold infusion of broadleaf plantain that a wound can be soaked in or have the solution sprayed upon to help it heal.
You could use this same delivery when treating sunburn as well as poison ivy, oak, and sumac, or opt to use a healing salve made out of the broadleaf plantain plant for a long-lasting and solid topical treatment.
When making an infusion from this wild medicinal plant, you can use water, but it will most likely be far more potent and boast a longer shelf life if the parts of the plant are steeped in apple cider vinegar. Vinegar infused with plantain typically helps soothe the skin or soreness and itching almost immediately.
When a broadleaf plantain-based infusion, salve, or wound wash is used to treat an injury, it may also help speed up the healing process and stem blood flow.
Broadleaf has also been used as a primary active ingredient in natural remedies to treat snake bites and even first-degree burns.
A vinegar infusion can be used to soak blistered, burnt, or rashed skin in. The same mixture can be used as a shampoo The broadleaf plantain infusion can be mixed with one part bentonite clay or baking soda and used as a skin mash as part of a natural beauty routine.
Make a cup of broadleaf plantain tea to treat kidney infections, urinary tract infections, stomach ache, bladder infections, yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and heartburn.
To make the tea taste better, especially if using older broadleaf plantain leaves, stir in some raw honey. This will not only make the tea taste sweeter, it will infuse it with even more healing properties.
Broadleaf Plantain Dosage Recommendations
Broadleaf plantain tea dosage is recommended for no more than three cups a day for adults. This recommendation is based upon the tea being made from about ½ of a teaspoon (approximately 3 grams) of either fresh or dried leaves and a standard coffee cup filled with water.
When using fresh leaves chewed and turned into a mush for application to a wound, bite, or sting, about two to five times per day.
Infusions or tinctures are typically recommended to be administered no more than three times per day to adults who are given three milligram doses.
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, as reported here.
Frequently Asked Questions
The toxicity rating in humans is low when common plantain is consumed. It is commonly used as a medicine and an all-purpose plantain salve for scrapes or bee stings.
The plantain herb is commonly called a weed and likes to grow wherever civilization has roamed, including your backyard. Foraging for this green is simple and even the young leaves can be easily picked from the plant.
No, common plantain is not the same as the banana-like fruit which falls under a different family of plants.
I am not a medical professional of any type. The broadleaf plantain information presented here is purely for educational and research purposes only. Neither me nor the website nor 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.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.
4 thoughts on “Plantain: How To Identify and Use This Edible ‘Weed’”
Are you going to do an article on the benefits of the narrow/lance leafed Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)? I think it has some similar benefits.
Trish, I am not sure, since there is a lot of overlap, but if we do I will make sure to reply the link back to your here.
I think buckhorn is a variety of plantain. Does it carry similar properties?
This source has some info: https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Plantago+coronopus