Weed Spotlight: Plantain

My neighbors already think I’m nuts but I’ve proved it to them once again: I’ve been crawling around the yard on my hands & knees, doing ‘selective weeding’. No, I don’t want a perfectly-kept suburban lawn of grass. I’m looking for and harvesting Plantain!

One easy way of finding it is to first look for Nettles. Then look closely nearby – you’ll generally find a Plantain or two … Nature provides! Should you accidentally run into a Nettle and feel its sting, look around for a Plantain. Crush one of the leaves to release the juice (better: chew it up a bit) and rub it on the Nettle sting. No more discomfort! Same thing goes for insect bites and bee stings.

The use of Plantain goes back centuries. It is mentioned in an herbal manuscript thought to date from around 1000 CE. There it is called (Anglo-Saxon English) Weybroed or Way-broad, due to the fact that it was and still is found alongside roads and has broad leaves. Even as late as the 1930’s it was known in the Highlands of Scotland as “Slan-lus”, or plant of healing. (It probably still is today … Scots readers?)

Broad-leafed Plantain Plantago major can be found anywhere today – even in suburban lawns. It is extremely versatile.  The entire plant is useful all the way from the flowering top to the root. Its list of therapeutic actions is about as long as my arm but to say that it is effective for most any skin inflammation is putting it mildly. It will calm the pain of a burn and help clear up any rash from eczema to ringworm. Although I haven’t needed to try it, it is said to help the pain of a toothache (powder the dried herb and pack the powder around the affected tooth). Because it’s a mild diuretic, it is useful for water retention. Although not as effective as Yarrow, it’s a styptic (to help staunch bleeding).

Plantain is mentioned in an 1822 gardening book as a salad herb, which makes sense. Like young Dandelion leaves, young Plantain leaves are a useful addition to a spring salad – Plantain is an immune system enhancer.

Magically, it’s used to help promote healing (that long list of therapeutic actions makes this obvious), for protection and to instill strength. The flower looks like a little spear – take your hint from this.

So, just like Dandelion, don’t bemoan the Plantain in your yard. Harvest it! (But always leave a few to go to seed so you have a fresh crop next year.)