Plantago - Weed or Herb?

Most of you will recognize this as a common weed that grows everywhere. You probably pull it out of your gardens and toss it away. It grows anywhere there is disturbed soil, along roadsides, in fields and in gardens. It is a very well known weed, but is also one of the best healing herbs out there!


Plantago, generally called "plantain" (no relative of the small banana) was first brought to the US with the first colonizers, where it quickly spread. The aboriginal people called this plant “white man’s footstep”, as it followed the path of the white settlers, growing along wagon roads and railroads. The Latin name of the common plantain also echoes this, Plantago majorPlantago referring to the sole of the foot.

At first the Native people were distrustful of a plant that came with so much trouble trailing behind. But those people knew that all things have a purpose and that we must not interfere with its fulfillment. When it became clear that White Man’s Footstep would be staying on Turtle Island, they began to learn about it’s gifts. This wise and generous plant, faithfully following the people, became an honored member of the plant community. White Man’s Footstep, generous and healing, grows with its leaves so close to the ground that each step is greeting to Mother Earth.”

From: "Braiding Sweetgrass" a book by botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

Unlike many other introduced plants, plantain has never reached invasive status. Instead, it’s considered a naturalized plant, being a good neighbor and fitting in the ecosystem, not bullying or displacing the local plant residents. Eaten by wildlife and pastured animals.


There are a few different varieties of plantain that grow in this area, all are edible and used in the same way. 

The most common is Plantago major, broad leaf plantain, white man's foot or greater plantain, with rounder leaves, seen in photos below. 





Also growing here, but less common is Plantago lanceolata, ribwort, ribleaf, narrowleaf plantain, English plantain, with longer, thinner leaves, shown in photos below.



Both the leaves and the seeds (psyllium) are eaten and used in medicine. 
LEAVES: 

Plantain leaves are anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving and work very well applied topically to insect bites, rashes, eczema, scratches, splinters, poison ivy and any other skin irritations or wounds. Just crush a leaf and apply, or chew slightly to make a poultice. You can also make a tea and, after cooling, apply to wounds to aid in healing. 



The tea can be taken internally to help with gut irritation, ulcers, heartburn, bowel problems, lung congestion. "Plantain acts as a gentle expectorant while soothing inflamed and sore membranes, making it ideal for coughs and mild bronchitis,” wrote David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AHG, in his book Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine.

Plantain leaves are decent sources of magnesium, potassium (more than bananas), vitamin A, and vitamin K. They also supply some vitamin C and B vitamins, such as thiamine and riboflavin. Young leaves can be added to cooked dishes where you would use spinach. Use young leaves in salads, soups, stews, smoothies or stir-frys or as a steamed vegetable. Simmer in water for 15 minutes and eat like spinach. Older leaves tend to be too tough, thanks to the fibres that form the deep veins, but can be used in a vegetable stock or they can be used as a wrap for a dolma like dish.





You can make your own herbal teabags using coffee filters. You can get directions from a previous blogpost  "Making Your Own Herbal Teabags"







Plantain is high in calcium, it's antibacterial, antiseptic, and has silica which can help with remineralization of teeth. As such it makes a great mouthwash. 


You can also turn the leaves into an herbal salve or ointment. 
"Making Herbal Salves", a previous blogpost, explains how.



Seeds: 

The seeds are also called psyllium. Its the source of psyllium for most commercial psyllium powders, (i.e.  Metamucil). 


The psyllium in plantago has been used for GI conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, constipation, and hemorrhoids. It has also been used to treat hyperlipidemia and for its anticancer effects, and it may be useful for glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Although some clinical data exist to support use of plantago in constipation, respiratory infections, and hyperlipidemia, clinical information regarding other potential psyllium uses is lacking.



Avoid the use of psyllium if you are pregnant or lactating. 
Very high doses of psyllium may affect blood pressure or cause diarrhea.


Some Helpful Uses For Plantago (Plantain)

-   Add Plantain seeds to salads and breads as well as grind them up to use with other flours for bread. 

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-   Lavender Plantain Bath Saltsalso a great way to use up lavender leaves once the flowers have faded away.

To make, blend 3/4 cup Epsom salt and 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh plantain leaves mixed with fresh lavender leaves (and/or flowers) in a mini grinder, coffee grinder or chop by hand.
Spread the now-green salts in a single layer on wax paper and allow to air dry for a day or two. Once completely dry, store in a tightly closed glass jar.
To use, pour the bath salts into a cotton or an old clean sock, or sew up in coffee filters. Tie up tightly and toss in the tub as it fills with warm water. Shelf life is at least 6 to 9 months. 

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-  Plantain-infused vinegar makes a great hair rinse for itchy, flaky scalps or a spot treatment for pesky bug and chigger bites.
To make the vinegar:
Fill a canning jar full of dried, crushed leaves. Pour apple cider vinegar over them and cap with a non-metallic lid. Vinegar will corrode metal, so if that’s the only type of cap you have, use a layer of plastic wrap between it and the vinegar. Let this sit for a week or two in a cool, dark place, stir or shake when you think of it. Strain the vinegar and store for a year, possibly longer, in a glass container out of direct sunlight.
To use as a hair rinse:
Dilute the infused vinegar with an equal part of water. (So, if you have 1/2 cup vinegar, use 1/2 cup water). Mix well and pour over hair after shampooing to help relieve itchy flaky scalp.

Winter Sewing


Russel Lipins
The lupins are coming up! These are Russel Lupins. They come in various colours but purple is the most dominate. Since these are from open pollinated seeds, they are probably purple, but I'm ok with that. The odd one might be a different colour. I'm hoping to get one red one.

These seeds were planted in December and put outside for the remaining winter months. I lost track of them outside when the snow was deep, but found them again a few days ago. I brought them inside and put them under lights in the warm house. Now they are coming up! I planted with them with several other perennial seeds but these are the only ones up, so far. It has only been three days. I'm sure the others will start sprouting in the coming weeks.