As seen in: Issue 27

Plantain: The Overlooked Medicinal Weed

Sometimes, we cannot see wonderful things that are right under our noses. Many gardeners are looking for plants that are unique and exquisite. This is often the case with medicinal herbs; the exotic, rare, high-potency herb that grows only once in a blue moon is favored over the everyday weed that grows abundantly on the lawn or between the majestic rows of our gardens. It’s time to look at weeds from a new perspective, appreciating the simple plants that are well within reach and full of potent medicine.

Powerful Plantain

No matter where you live in the world, whether the city or countryside, you likely have already seen this humble weed. The genus Plantain includes several species; the most common is Plantago major (also known as broadleaf plantain, ribwort, or greater plantain), as well as the narrow-leaved one, Plantago lanceolata (English plantain or lambs tongue).

The modest-looking plant was brought to North America by the European Settlers, eventually given the name “White man’s foot” because plantain was found everywhere along the paths of the white man. The weed has very few demands, growing happily between two slabs of concrete, or in the freshly tilled soil of the gardens.

Not All Is What It Seems

Plantain is dull in appearance and as a result, gardeners often choose to rip the weed out of the soil. It is essential that we begin to look past its bland, green, rubbery leaves, and see the superhero powers they have within them. 

The First-Aid Kit 

If you’re planning on doing any outdoor activities, the tough leaves of the all-terrain plantain can be your first line of defense against insect stings and bites, scratches, first-degree sunburns, minor wounds, Poison Ivy, or itchy, irritated skin. 

All you have to do is chew on one or two fresh leaves, apply them directly to the affected area, and let the plantain do its magic. The medicinal weed will soothe and cool the skin, but plantain also holds properties that will draw things like splinters, dirt, stingers, or even venom, poison, and other infections from the body.

The plant’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties disinfect and help kill pathogenic organisms, speeding up the healing process and repair of damaged tissues. 

The really good news? Plantain grows in abundance and is free and extremely safe medicine. 

Internal Repair

Plantain is not only an incredible medicinal herb for external conditions; it also works wonders for the body’s internal organs. From the roots to the seeds, the entire plant is edible and is a wonderful ally of both the gastrointestinal tract and the digestive system!

The small, young leaves, as well as the immature shoots and green seeds, can be enjoyed as a delicious vegetable. The leaves contain vitamins A, C and K, beta carotene, silica, calcium, and potassium. 

As for the seeds, they are an excellent source of protein and fiber. When the seeds are mature and brown in color, they can be used similar to psyllium seeds, which are produced by their not so far cousin, Plantago ovata. Plantain seeds are packed with mucilaginous components, just like pectin. Once the seeds are hydrated, they will form the precious mucilage, a process called myxospermy. 

  • Take 1-2 tbsp of dried plantain seeds and soak them in a glass of hot water until the mucilage forms. Then, drink to soothe and lubricate the whole digestive system.  

Taken as a tea, dried plantain leaves will detoxify the body, working well to treat colds and flu, bronchitis, and bladder infections. It is also an excellent treatment for inflamed tissues. Plantain is a demulcent and will relieve minor discomfort and irritation by forming a soothing film over the affected mucous membrane. 

  • Infuse 1/4–1/2 tsp (1–3 grams) of the dried leaves in a cup of hot water for 10-15 minutes. Drink up to three cups a day to reap the benefits. 

The next time you encounter the plantain weed in your garden, instead of harshly sentencing it to the compost pile, rejoice, dry the plants, and make some wholesome medicine for the year to come! Plantain is a staple of the herbal apothecary; it’s a wonderful gift from Nature. 

Featured imaged courtesy of Living Green and Frugally.

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A therapist and healer for over 15 years, Caroline’s passion for medicinal plants only began after leaving the city for the quiet country life in Quebec, Canada. Eager to learn, she’s never looked back, using forests and wildflower fields as her classroom ever since. In a time where reconnecting with plants and nature is badly needed, she spreads her love for herbalism by holding teaching workshops about the powers of medicinal herbs and natural remedies.