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Herb of the Month

by Joyce Marusarz    

PLANTAIN (Plantago major and lanceolata)

Plantain is a perennial plant which is native to Europe and northern and central Asia. It has naturalized here and throughout much of the world. The two main types of plantain growing here are Plantago major, which is a low-growing plant with oval leaves and a stalk with very small flowers growing up it, and Plantago lanceolata, with slender leaves, a thin stalk, and small flowers growing at the top. Both can range from a few inches up to a foot or more depending on soil conditions and both have similar uses.

Plantain grows in lawns, along roadsides and in disturbed and compacted soil. It has the ability to survive frequent trampling and to break up hardpan surfaces, while simultaneously holding together the soil to prevent erosion. Ways to control plantain in your lawn is to keep a healthy mowed lawn so the seeds do not get distributed and to dig them out using a screwdriver or like tool to remove the long tap root. There are also herbicides that will kill plantain.

Plantain is edible and can be used medicinally. Plantain is not associated with any common side effects and is thought to be safe for children. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the pollen. Plantain can be harvested any time from early spring until frost. Nutritionally, plantain is rich in iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, C and K.

The tender leaves can be used in salads or can be steamed like spinach or fried in a little olive oil to bring out a nutty asparagus-like flavor. They can be blanched and frozen and later used in a sauté, soup or stew. The flower stalks can be eaten raw or cooked and the seeds can be ground into flour.

Plantain has been widely used as a topical substance in poultices and lotions. It has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is rich in tannin, which helps to draw tissues together and stop bleeding and it also contains allantoin, a compound which promotes the healing of injured cells. The leaves can be heated and applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains and painful feet. A quick spit poultice can be made, if you are out and get stung, scraped, get a splinter or have other skin problems. Just chew some up, put the wad on your wound and cover it, if possible, to hold it in place.

I have been making and using a simple salve made of plantain, yarrow, comfrey, calendula, olive oil and beeswax for years. I put the herbs in a crock pot and fill it with olive oil, about halfway up the herbs. Cook it on low for several hours, filter out the herbs and add beeswax to the oil until there is an ointment consistency on a chilled spoon dipped in. I use this salve on all my cuts and scrapes—it feels soothing and my cuts never get infected.

In conclusion, plantain is abundant almost everywhere. It is a healthy food for the body and has some very effective medicinal uses. I feel that it is one of our basic survival plants and people need to know about it so that it can be utilized as needed!

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