What if there was an herb that was free, found almost in every driveway or pathway, was great for summertime bites, stings, burns, and even had some internal benefits? Would you mow over it? No, you’d say tell you more.
Commonly mistaken for a weed, this green foliage called Broadleaf Plantain, or Plantago Major if you want to get technical, is actually an herb that is beneficial both topically and internally. It grows close to the ground with broad green leaves, thus the name. If left alone, it does grow sprigs or sprouts or spikes and the tiny flowers are what is blown to pollinate more. As with any foraging, you never want to take the entire plant as this can mess up the ecosystem, and cause extinction.
This herb growing in the yard is sometimes referred to as the band-aid plant, because the leaves can be mixed with saliva or water to create a poultice for quick relief to an insect bite, sting, or burn. It also has “coagulating properties” to stop minor bleeding.
Its origins date back to the Anglo-Saxons (450 A.D. to 1066 A.D.) and they listed plantain as one of their 9 sacred herbs and considered it to have great healing power. Native Americans embraced this when brought over by Europe.
Found all over America and even into Canada, broadleaf plantain is a perennial plant and blooms mostly late spring to early fall, about the same season as mowing season ironically. More research found internal remedies such as making teas with it or eating it in a salad. These benefits can range from anti-inflammatory, coughs, constipation, diarrhea, and yeast infections.
Why are people so interested in alternative healthy lifestyles all of a sudden and looking for cures “outside the box” so to speak? Food costs are rising, medical insurance and medicine in general are all over the board in price. Also free, wild food is readily abundant and adds nutrition to your diet. People all over the world are taking part of the farm to table movement. It is helping with the human race sustainability of our world.
Getting back to the ingestion of this herb, whether in a tea or a salad, the words of my childhood friends come back to mind. God made dirt, so dirt don’t hurt. Well as an adult now, I say clean everything. One big warning of this herb is where you are foraging it from. Clear of any pesticides or insecticides you should be fine. I picked the leaves tenderly, cleaned them gently, then blanched them quickly in hot boiling water and then into an ice bath. Once dried, tossed them in my summer salad, which provided an Unami, toothsome, leafy, lettuce-like taste, rather bland actually. It did add a really bright green hue that added color to the salad mixed with rather colorless iceberg lettuce.
There are over 200 species of plantains and not referring to the banana looking plantain. The one shown in the picture is the one described and referenced in this article. It adapts well to most sites, well-drained soil, meadows, along pathways or driveways, and very low mowing heights. But if you do feel the need to control the growth here are some healthy ways to do so according to our Auguste Escoffier Research Center quoting Gale:
* This species typically requires repeat applications of triclopyr or two-or three-way mixtures of 2,4-D containing products.
* Helpful turf management practices include conducting soil aeration, avoiding overwatering, and using the proper mower cutting height for each turf species.
* Once under control, dense stands of turf and ornamentals will shade the soil surface–making establishment of new plantain seedlings more difficult.
In layman’s terms, this herb needs a lot of sunlight, will grow wildly large and can become a nuisance to a well-manicured summer yard. Other sources suggest digging the plants up because again, being perennials, they will come back.
“Broadleaf plantain: plantago major.” Landscape Management, July 2010, p. 26. Gale OneFile: Vocations and Careers, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A233974594/PPVC?u=lirn53876&sid=PPVC&xid=ed8b1c30. Accessed 28 July 2019.