Plantain Identification, Benefits and Uses
There are two types of the wild plantain herb that grow on our land and I would like to help you learn the identification benefits and uses of both plantain plants. Firstly, the broadleaf and secondly, the narrowleaf. The uses are similar but broadleaf is my personal favorite when using for cuts, bites because of the larger leaves.
Name: Broadleaf Plantain
Other Names: Common plantain, Greater plantain, Soldier’s herb
Botanical, Scientific or Latin Name: Plantago major
Plant Family: Plantaginaceae (plantain family)
Name: Narrowleaf Plantain
Botanical, Scientific or Latin Name: Plantago lanceolata
Plant Family: Plantaginaceae (plantain family)
As I am writing this post, my stomach started hurting from cleansing reactions (constipation). My first reaction is to go outside and forage for some fresh plantain leaves to make a soothing tea. Because it is mid-March and the herb is not growing yet, I settled for some dried leaves that were in my kitchen cabinet. My cup was not halfway empty and my stomach felt much better.
Did you know that you can buy powdered plantain seeds at your local store as a dietary fiber supplement called Metamucil. The main ingredient is listed as psyllium husk powder which comes from the plantain seed. I am not joking. Of course, there are other added ingredients including aspartame for flavoring and yellow no. 6 for coloring 🙁
The entire plant is edible.
Plantain is an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory herb and has many benefits and uses. Some of the ways it can be used are to draw toxins from the body, help heal skin issues, fight respiratory infections, suppress mucous, heal wound and relieve pain.
- Alterative – helps to gradually restore body functions and increase health
- Antiseptic – discourages the growth of microorganisms (bacteria, fungus, virus)
- Astringent – helps tighten and tone the skin
- Deobstruent – removes obstructions in the body
- Diuretic – increases urination
- Styptic – stops bleeding when applied to wounds
- Vulnerary – promotes the healing of wounds
- Draws toxins from bites, stings and snakebites
- Fights respiratory issues and suppresses mucous from coughs and bronchitis
- Relieves stomach issues (diarrhea, ulcers and irritable bowel)
- Clears skin issues (eczema, rashes, diaper rash, acne and sunburn)
- Tea helps detox nicotine from body
- High in calcium, vitamin A, C, K, T (helps stop bleeding)
- High in potassium, calcium
- Seeds are high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and contain psyllium (laxative). They are used commercially for dietary fiber products that relieve constipation and diarrhea.
How to Identify
This is a low-growing perennial herb that is easy to identify. The main difference is is the leaves. Firstly, the Narrowleaf is just as the name implies, the leaves grows narrow or thin. Secondly, is the Broadleaf that grows broad or wide leaves. All plantains have strong parallel veins through the leaf. and tearing the leaf will expose “threads”.
- The green leaves grow in clusters close to the ground with smooth purple-colored stems.
- The long thin stalks have seeds at the top.
- The tiny white flowers grow on the long mature stalk.
Where To Find In The Wild
This highly valuable plant is available all year and grows throughout North America.You can find it blooming from April until November in your backyard, local park, walking trails, country roads and fields. You should always check to make sure the area has not been sprayed with chemicals before harvesting and you should never eat a wild plant unless you are 100% positive of the identification.
Where To Find Online
You can order organic dried plantain leaves at Starwest Botanicals. They have competitive prices and quick ship same-day shipping.
How to Use
The entire plantain plant is edible and can be used for medicine and in recipes for nutrition. Drying and storing it in your pantry is a great way to have on hand during the winter months for medicinal uses.
- The young tender leaves can be added to a salad, sandwich, soup, smoothie, sauteed with veggies, or made into a tea. Older leaves are tougher and can be used like spinach.
- The young green seeds can be eaten raw. When the seeds dry and turn brown you can ground them into flour. Dried seeds are high in fiber.
- Mash leaves between rocks or chew in your mouth to make a poultice. Apply directly onto cuts to stop bleeding, bits, blisters and itching. Wrap fresh whole leaves on top as a “bandage”. The herb will quickly help stop any pain, infection and stimulate tissue repair.
- Make a strong tea from the leaves, soak with cloth and apply as needed, to soothe and heal burns.
- Drink 2-4 cups of tea a day to suppress a cough.
- Dry the leaves and seeds using a dehydrator or hang upside down. Store covered in a glass jar to use during winter.
How To Make Tea (Infusion)
An infusion is made from fresh or dried leaves (whole, cut or powdered). Do not boil the herbs because the leaves are delicate. The nutrients are easily extracted.
- 1 tsp dried herbs or 1 tablespoon fresh herbs
- 1 cup gently boiling water
Put herbs in a mug or into a tea strainer, pour hot water over herbs, cover and steep 15 minutes for a light tea or longer for a strong tea. Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired. You can find mesh tea balls, strainers, squeezers and infusers at Starwest Botanicals.
How To Make Tincture
A tincture is more concentrated than a tea. Is more convenient to use and has a long shelf life. The alcohol extracts the medicinal qualities from the plant and preserves it. I like to store my tinctures in glass amber bottles (with dropper) but any clean glass jar will be good. Store in a cool dark place and they will keep indefinitely. You can find glass amber bottles at most health food stores or online at Starwest Botanicals.
- Fresh or dried leaves
- 80 proof vodka
- Quart jar with lid
Fill a quart glass canning jar halfway with fresh or dried herbs. Pour 80 proof vodka over the herbs filling almost to the top of the jar. Stir well, seal lid tightly and label with herb and date. Keep in a dark place (cabinet) and shake once every day for 2 – 4 weeks. Strain and transfer liquid to glass amber bottles or any clean jar. Sore in a cool dry place.
Plantain Leaf Chips
My daughter has been making kale chips for years. Well, why not use plantain leaves? This is an easy and nutritious recipe that you can use when telling others about your foraging adventures.
- Forage for 12 large broadleaf leaves (or however many will fit onto your baking sheet).
- Wash and dry
- Spread onto a baking sheet so that they don’t touch
- Brush lightly with olive oil onto both sides
- Sprinkle salt, garlic powder or another spice you like
- Bake 325* for 5 minutes. Flip and bake another 3-5 minutes or until crisp. Check to make sure they don’t burn
Wild Plantain Pesto
You can use just about any wild edible green plant for making pesto such as chickweed, cleavers, dandelion greens, garlic mustard, lamb’s quarters, red clover leaves and wood sorrel. This is a basic recipe that can be made to your taste.
- 2 cups packed fresh plantain leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds or pine nuts
- Dash of sea salt
Process the seeds or nuts in a blender or food processor. Add remaining ingredients and blend smooth. Great on top of pasta, zucchini noodles or veggie sticks.