Forgotten Plants: once prolific in the kitchen gardens of our ancestors, but now so rare that the average person might never have even heard of them. Many of these deserve to find space in our gardens again! This is the fifth post in the series.
I love the story of the dandelion. How it was such an important and useful plant to the Europeans that they brought it with them when they came to the New World. Hundreds of years later they grow prolifically just about everywhere, but few people know what medicinal and nutritional powerhouses they have growing right in their backyards!
I have been familiar with the dandelion story for a long time, but I had no idea that another abundant garden weed shares the same history. That weed is plantain.
I must admit, although I must pull at least a hundred of these plants out of my garden each year, I did not even know its name until I discovered it in the pages of Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginners Guide. I remember being so excited to discover that this common weed was actually an important and useful herb that I jumped right out of bed (where I do most of my reading) and excitedly ran to tell my husband the good news, book in hand.
My husband, I am afraid, does not quite share my enthusiasm for medicinal herbs (perhaps because so many of these “weeds” do like to waltz out of their beds and over his lawn) but to his credit he agreed that this must be exciting news to me. Perhaps, you also prefer your weeds out of your lawns or gardens, but at least you will know that this is one that can be put to use in the kitchen or medicine cabinet, instead of the compost pile!
Plaintain has gone by a number of names throughout history, too many to list them all here. It is interesting that Alexander the Great reportedly used plantain to cure headaches, the Anglo-Saxons listed it as one of the “9 sacred herbs,” and that as early as 1500 it was featured in texts on medicine and healing. In North America, it was a commonly grown and used plant right into the 20th century — until urban life and modern medicine took over — and the plant, and its benefits, were largely forgotten.
There is probably no need for you to plant plantain, as it grows naturally just about everywhere. If somehow your garden is without it, or you want to add a dedicated patch in your medicinal herb garden, it can be grown from seed and prefers a sunny location
Harvesting and Benefits
Plantain is as easy to harvest as it is to grow. The leaves are the most commonly used part of the plant, and can be harvested at any time throughout the growing season. Young leaves as best for eating, as older ones tend to be tough and fibrous.
Medicinally this plant is a powerhouse! It’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory nature make it excellent for all kinds of wound-healing. It takes the sting out of bee stings and the itch out of insect bites. It has properties that help control bleeding. It’s a liver stimulant, purifying the blood and is used for various liver problems. German researchers have discovered that the plant can be useful in healing numerous lung conditions, including asthma and bronchitis. Rosemary Gladstar even states that it can be used to draw out slivers that are too deep to pull out.
Nutritionally it is similar to the dandelion: loaded with iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
So what are the best ways to use this amazing plant?
Perhaps the easiest way to use plantain medicinally is to make a poultice. Just about everyone recommends a similar process. Collect the leaves, chop them, mash them a little, and place them over a cut, wound, bite, boil, infection, splinter, or sting. Then wrap with a cloth to hold them in place. In her book, Gladstar states that the poultice may need to be replaced with fresh leaves every half hour or so, as they do their work of pulling out infection.
In the Kitchen
Plantain’s green leaves can be sautéed like spinach, added to a green smoothie, or boiled to bring out the sweetness. It is, of course, edible raw, but its bitterness makes it unpalatable for most.
Have you ever made use of this glorious weed? Please share your experiences!
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