Plantain: A Weed You Can Eat

Common plantain is indeed a weed, but it can be so much more if harvested young and cooked like spinach.

| April/May 2011

  • Plantain
    Plantain, commonly regarded as a weed, is a nutritious veggie that can thrive in any climate.
    PHOTO: AGPIX/GERALD TANG

  • Plantain

As a young man living in Grand Rapids, Mich., I would often see hungry people lined up for free food at food banks. What they didn’t know was that the yards, parks and vacant lots all around them were full of free fresh veggies. They may have seen them as weeds, but some of these “weeds” could have been harvested to augment the food bank fare.

One of the most common and plentiful of urban wild vegetables is a weed known as common plantain (Plantago major), which can grow from almost any patch of dirt. Common plantain is not only hardy enough to sprout up from cracks in asphalt and concrete — even gravel roadsides — but it can thrive in any climate.

Nutritionally, plantain is equally amazing. Related to spinach, plantain leaves are rich in iron and vitamins A and C. Plantain may be eaten uncooked, but adult leaves tend to be stringy, and seedpods are a bit tough. Preparation is as simple as boiling washed plants until tender, then serving the leaves as you would spinach, or the seedpods as you might green beans or asparagus. A little apple cider vinegar helps enliven the taste of cooked leaves, and I personally like them served hot with butter, salt and pepper. Seedpods are good in stews, soups and stir-fries, or with melted cheese over them.

Len McDougall
Paradise, Michigan



elovelace
4/27/2020 8:13:00 PM

Hi JM, the anti-coagulation effects of the plantain weed are due to its high Vitamin K content. Patients on blood thinners or those with clotting disorders should be careful with plantain weed, but no more so than they are with other leafy greens (like spinach and kale). -Eric, RN


SunnyJim
2/12/2020 5:40:50 PM

Monday, May 28, 2018 As a boy I would occasionally get stung by bees (often my own fault) and otherwise receive injuries such as abrasions, rose thorn injuries and other bites. I have a broken heart, but that came later. (🎼If I give my heart to you, I'll have none and you'll have two). These injuries would sometimes happen at my grandmothers house . Back in those days (circa 1948-1952) milk was delivered in glass bottles. My Grandparents yard was not all grass! It was a mix of grass, clover, plantain and hoptoads. No weedkilling or fertilizing was ever done to my recollection. As a boy I would take the empty quart milk bottles and trap bees that were visiting the clover. Unwisely One they were in the bottle I would place the palm of my hand over the container so the bee couldn’t get out. Frequently enough (once? twice?) The bee would sting the palm of my hand. I would run in to get Grandma to get help to relieve the bee sting pain, with the stinger still embedded in my palm, venom being posthumously pumped in. Grandma did not have a remedy for stupidity, but she did have a remedy for the bee sting! That amazed me and left a lasting impression on my little 7 year old brain. So here we are 70 years later seeking some understanding of what she did to relieve the pain and stop the swelling! Grandma would first remove the stinger (ouch). Then she would send me out to the yard to get plantain leaves. Her yard was full of growing things including plantain plants, weeds as I saw them. How she told me to get that specific plant I cannot remember. I may have had to bring in several plants until I accidentally brought in the right one. A small price to pay for stupidity. It also taught me which was the right plant to seek for the ailment. This picture does not do justice to the appearance of plantain in her yard: Hers was more prostrate (flat) in its growing habits. Chalk that up to lawnmower training. We frequently see such things in the yard. I have seen dandelions that were 2feet tall where they were allowed to grow and had to be tall to seek the sun. In the yard I have seen dandelions 2 inchest tall where they have been lawnmower trained! Life does indeed find a way! Plantains are related to the ornamental plant Hosta. In fact the Hosta is also called the Plantain Lilly. Once I brought in the right healing plant grandma would bruise the leaves and then apply that to the bee sting area, telling me to hold it there for god only knows how long. The bee sting stopped hurting and the swelling went down. Functional folk medicine right before my eyes. Grandma went up again in my level of respect! How had she learned this? In the old days, before treatment centers were on the corner of every street; before there were hospitals in towns folk medicine was all there was. SO, here I am on Memorial day, 5/28/018, having my coffee at 6 AM. The remembrance of grandma treating my bee sting with plantain leaves suddenly popped out of whatever memory cubby it had occupied in the deep recesses of my brain into the forefront of thinking. Now, I have tools! I looked up 'Plantain as a folk remedy'. The results are attached. She knew, It worked and it was plant pharmacology! Alas I have not seen plantain in so many years. Yards these days in civilized areas have grass only, no clover, no plantains and only the vagrant weeds of the season. I would bet that some of the yards near Pullman still have plenty of plantain. I'll have to look next time I am in Colman or Pullman. I bet I could find it in Potosi WI where the yards are left more natural. At any rate, today was the day to understand why Grandma knew to select common garden plantain to soothe my bee bites and other problems. Her training has lasted these 75 years. How bout that! I know what to look for and how to use it. How about that! See http://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/plantain.html for the complete discussion, about using Plantain and other herbs. If I were to have done anything else in life other than Brewing I think I would like to have been a plant pharmacologist, or perhaps a politician….Wait a minute! What about the FBI thing? Oh yeah, then there was the Forest biologist thing. It all seems to center on science. So many things to do. I think Plant Pharmacology and botany rank right up there with Brewing, writing, fishing, and just plain living a life of learning. Yea! Fast forward. Today, is the day I learned that Plantain is edible. Thank you. David Kapral Monday, May 28, 2018


peggystivason
6/24/2018 7:13:53 PM

Is Plantain Major good for pain such as , degenerative, neck pain ? Been in awful pain for years . Thank you






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