Plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P.major & P.media)
Plantains grow everywhere. You have probably stepped on many walking over a meadow or pavement crack. They don't have flashy foliage and flowers and are generally ignored, people only generally having heard of the Caribbean banana-plantain to which it is not related. However, these ones are a really, really useful plant with a colourful history and deserve a closer look.
Plantago species contain anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti allergic and wound healing compounds. It was recorded as one of the nine sacred herbs in a remedy in the Anglo-Saxon Lacnunga, a 1,000 year old text held in the British Library (see above quote). This remedy contained nine herbs for wound healing, and modern scientific research shows that its chemical compounds support this traditional use.
Insect bites, cuts and wounds: For fresh insect bites, chew, or pound a fresh (clean) leaf to release the juices and apply directly to the itchy or cut area.
Hayfever and sinusitis: A traditional infusion containing Plantain leaves harnesses the Plantains unusual dual mucilaginous (gloopy and soothing to irritated membranes) and astringent (drying to runny secretions such as a runny nose) properties.
Digestive disorders: The same properties above can also be used in combination with other herbs for irritated digestions such as a runny tummy, IBS and colic.
Urinary tract infections: The soothing and antibacterial properties are used in combination with other herbs e.g. marshmallow, thyme, buchu, cornsilk as an infusion.
Coughs: Juice the leaves using a masticating juicer, and add equal parts honey. If you dont have a masticating juicer, you can blend the leaves in a little water and strain out the liquid.
Crispy Plantain Chips: These tasty snacks have a mineral rich flavour and are full of goodness. Similar to Kale chips but drastically cheaper.
Take fresh washed plantain leaves, chop into crisp sized pieces, drizzle with 1tsp of olive oil, and any flavours you like. An example recipe is to add salt and smoked paprika to taste.
Place in one layer on a baking tray, pop in an oven at 15o degrees celsius with the door cracked open to let the moisture out. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn around the tray for about 5 more minutes or until dry and crisp. do not overcook.
‘Mushroom’ flowers: The young flower heads are delicious and taste like mushrooms. Add to stir fries, salads, eggs etc.
Plantain is also used in a children's game. By looping the flower stem over itself, it can be used like a pop gun. this will help spread the seed too! (this only works a) on P.lanceaolata & b) once the flower head has gone to seed and is dry)
Three types of Plantain
Found in meadows and lawns ranging in siz from small ones on mown lawns to up to waist height in long grass. The leaves have parallel veins on the back that can be pulled away (see above picture). They are often found on well trodden paths. The Lacnunga writes in poetry
Plantago lanceolata - Ribwort Plantain with 'lance-like' leaves. This Plantain (Left in picture) has long leaves with a flower head made up of a cluster of tiny brown flowers with a 'halo' of stamens surrounding it (see also picture above). This can range in shape from a round ball to a long thumb sized spike.
Plantago major (Broad-leaved plantain) has large round leaves that can be small when on a well trodden path or large as a hand and bigger. (See right hand side of picture). Its other name 'Rats Tails' refer to the whip like flower head.
P.media. is something in between the two, with broadish leaves like the P.major, but flowers like the P.lanceolata. but 'fluffier' looking and purplish.