By: Marlene Affeld ~
Broadleaf Plantain, also known as common plantain (Plantago major), is a herbaceous perennial broadleaf plant found flourishing in the wild throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. Other common names include, cart-track plant, common plantain, greater plantain, dwarf plantain, dooryard plantain, ripple seed plantain, or white man’s footprint. The edible herb can be found in roadside ditches, meadows, pastures, vineyards, orchards and waste locations. To the continual frustration of home gardeners, the hardy wild weed also flourishes in lawns, flowerbeds, and home gardens. Broadleaf Plantain thrives in all United States Plant Hardiness Zones, from sea level to mountain ridges, in moist, sunny, well-drained soil. The tiny plant typically flowers April through September.
There are two kinds of plantain: the larger, broadleaf Greater Plantain and the smaller leaf Ribwort plantain. While often discounted as an invasive “ditch weed”, both varieties of broadleaf plantain offer impressive nutritional value and amazing medicinal benefits. Fields of Nutrition describes the many medicinal benefits and nutritional profile of Broadleaf Plantain. Because of its exceptionally high content of vitamin C, the plant is considered one of the strongest antioxidant herbs available; a traditional remedy for scurvy and immunity boosting spring tonic.
Broadleaf plantain presents deep green, oval shaped leaves that grow in a tight rosette. The sturdy leaves exhibit thick, short stems that meet at the base. When stems are broken, they reveal tough, string-like veins that resemble those found in a stalk of celery. Long-pointed, lime green, tiny flowers grow from the base. The petite flowers produce a small pod containing dark brown seeds. Leaves, flowers, seedpods, and seeds are packed with essential nutrients and safe to ingest raw or cooked. The entire plant offers expectorant, anodyne, astringent, antiseptic and sedative qualities.
Broadleaf plantain reproduces almost entirely by seed. However, plants sometimes regenerate from a broken leaf or cut root crown. A healthy plant produces greater than 15,000 seeds per year. Sticky when wet, the little seeds adhere to wildlife or are transported by birds and the wind. Seed retain viability in the soil for more than 65 years. This is a persistent plant that is here to stay.
As an edible, the young leaves of the broadleaf plantain are more nutritious than any other green; higher in beta-carotene than carrots and higher in iron and calcium than spinach.
Historical Medicinal Use
This vital wild edible plant has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for a host of ills including digestive disorders, flatulence, chronic diarrhea, mouth and stomach ulcers as well as dental caries and gingivitis. Dried leaves, flowers and seeds make an excellent, healing herbal tea. At first taste, plantain tea may taste too bitter, but is quite palatable when infused with a slice of fresh lemon and a bit of organic honey to taste.
In North America, plantain has been traditionally used as a panacea in many Native American cultures, valued for its antibacterial, antiscorbutic, antitoxic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. The leaves, chewed, crushed, chopped or shredded are a traditional treatment for a diverse array of medical issues including preventing infection from wounds or animal or insect bites. A poultice is made from the mashed leaves and applied directly to a wound to prevent infection and aid healing or the leaves can be chewed and then applied to relieve the pain or irritation of an insect bite. A poultice of the raw leaves was also applied to extract poisonous snake venom. A drawing poultice of crushed flowers or the whole plant is applied to cuts, burns, sores, scrapes, ulcers, bruises, swellings and painful rheumatic joints.
Rich in calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium, broadleaf plantain leaves are useful when brewed as a tea to combat nausea, making it one of the best herbs for pregnant women to relieve morning sickness, to strengthen uterine muscles prior to labor and to slow heavy menstrual flows or afterbirth bleeding.
Medical research confirms that broadleaf plantain is a useful alternative medicine for bladder infections, bronchitis, high fevers, hypertension, asthma, emphysema and blood sugar irregularities. The powerful plant, when ingested as a tea, is currently found useful in stopping smoking and is being added as a main ingredient in many natural stop-smoking formulations.
A Tasty Diet Addition
The leaves present a taste similar to spinach. When harvesting, select tender, young leaves. Older leaf stalks contain fibrous strings that should be removed prior to use. Although older leaves are good sources of nutritional and healing properties, the taste tends to be bitter. Dried seeds can be ground into a nutritional flour to add to breads and to use a thickening agent in soups and stews. Dried seeds are frequently used as a “peppery” seasoning agent, sprinkled on salads or added to baked goods.
Broadleaf plantain can be cultivated in the home herb garden or easily found on a spring or summer walk in the countryside. Always choose to harvest in locations away from the road where it may have been subject to spraying with pesticides or herbicides. Gathering in locations where broadleaf plantain grows in moist, semi-shaded areas is best. These plants will be highest in moisture content and packed full of nutrients and healing properties.