Written by Laura Hobden, a Climate Victory Gardener and weed expert.
Plantain, known as Plantago major, grows all over North America and around the world. It is commonly found in yards and gardens where pesticides aren’t used. Chances are, if you’re a Climate Victory Gardener, you’ve come across this plant. And, while we’re often tempted to pull weeds to make space for fruit and veggies to grow, biodiversity and keeping plants like the plantain protects the soil and offers medicinal and nutritional benefits.
There are many types of plantain, easily identifiable by their tendency to lay flat and grow in areas that are often mowed. Their most noticeable feature are the parallel veins that run vertically along the leaves, that is, from stem to tip. If you’ve ditched the chemicals in your garden or yard, you may already have an abundance of plantain. When collecting, avoid plants in areas within eight feet of a road, where pesticides are used, and in areas frequented by pets.
Plantain’s Medicinal Uses
Any time you’re using herbs medicinally, seek advice from a local herbalist or your doctor. Do your research and educate yourself on the specific issues you’re treating. Herbalist and author of Heal Local, Dawn Combs, notes that there are no known contraindications for plantain, but do not eat this plant if you have a known allergy.
In Humbart Santillo’s Natural Healing with Herbs, plantain is called the bandaid plant, because it helps stop bleeding, supports tissue regeneration, and is naturally antiseptic. Chew or crush the leaves and apply directly to the skin and use a bandaid to keep it in place. After it dries, rinse the area with cool water. This also helps bring splinters to the surface for removal and neutralizes bug bites and poison ivy—all things we may come across in our gardens.
This medicinal plant can also be infused, essentially into a strong tea. Combs highlights plantain’s diuretic properties, meaning it moves excess fluid out of the system. In her book The Top 100 Herbal Remedies, Annie McIntyre points to the plant’s ability to act as a mild blood cleanser, reducing toxin-based health issues. The infusion can be used in eye compresses, spritzed on a sunburn, applied to itchy skin and rashes, and dabbed on acne and eczema. When consumed as an infusion, it may help with colds, sore throats, allergies, sinus, chest congestion, and some digestive issues. To make a plantain infusion, put three handfuls of fresh leaves into a one-quart canning jar with boiling water. Seep up to overnight, strain the plant material, and it’s ready to use.
Plantain can also be taken in tincture form. This is the most potent form and can be used in treating bladder infections and other internal concerns. Combs’s book Heal Local has detailed guidance on this.
Plantain’s Nutritional Benefits
Plantain is edible. According to herbalists and authors Combs and McIntyre, it’s a good source of bioavailable zinc, calcium, and beta-carotene. The plant can be eaten raw or cooked and used dried or fresh.
In the spring, when the leaves are more tender, they can be used in salads and shredded as a healthy garnish for any dish. When added to smoothies, they provide chlorophyll, which nutritionist Paul Pitchford points to for increased purification, renewal, and anti-inflammatory support.
Later in the year, you may prefer to cook the tougher leaves. They can be added to stir fries or wilted as a side dish. Remember to harvest and dry leaves throughout the summer for winter use, when they can be crumbled into bone broth or soups.
Many common “weeds” have medicinal qualities & are edible. Skip harmful pesticides, like Roundup, because they’ve been linked to many environmental and human health issues. By embracing these plants, we protect our local groundwater and biodiversity; we reduce the amount of labor needed to maintain our yards; we protect the soil by keeping roots in the ground to support soil communities; and we diversify our diet.
Please share images of your plantain plants, remedies, and favorite recipes on the Climate Victory Gardening facebook page. Laurel Hobden (Laurel@LoveDandelions.com), the author of this article, is an active member of the group and often posts about the benefits of weeds and other important Climate Victory Gardening practices. She also suggests this additional resource for a deeper dive into herbalism, eating weeds, and using them medicinally: Healing Wise, by Susun Weed.