The Plantain is a perennial herbaceous plant, present almost everywhere in our territory. Due to its botanical features, it’s easily recognizable, although not everyone is familiar with its therapeutic properties, and few know that it’s an edible herb. The plant is officially classified as a medicinal herb. An old saying from popular tradition goes: “The path to plantain is closer than the path to the doctor”, signifying that the plant can be found everywhere and all year round, to the extent that it’s considered an open-air pharmacy.
Let’s get to know this wild plant better and its properties. We’ll discover how to use it in home remedies, both for treating minor ailments and in the kitchen for delicious dishes from traditional cuisine.
Botanical Overview of Plantain
Plantain belongs to the botanical family Plantaginaceae, which includes several species. The one of our interest, being richer in properties and more prevalent in our regions, is the lanceolate plantain, scientific name Plantago lanceolata.
Another common species of plantain is Plantago major, characterized by broader basal leaves.
The botanical name of plantain derives from the Latin word planta, meaning ‘sole of the foot’, clearly referring to the flat basal leaves that resemble the shape of a foot.
It’s an ancient herb, but its place of origin isn’t well-defined. Currently, it’s widespread throughout the northern hemisphere.
Plantain can reach a height of 30-40 cm in total. It’s a perennial plant that withstands the winter months well. It’s equipped with overwintering buds at ground level, which are protected by the soil litter or snow. The leaves are clustered in a rosette at the base of the plant. The fact that the shoots originate from the base allows plantain to thrive even in grazing meadows. The leaves of the lanceolate type are long and oval-shaped, with prominent veins. They are a deep green color and somewhat glossy on the surface. The flowers emerge on long, straight, filigree spikes of brown-yellow color. Flowering occurs from spring to autumn, and the flowers are very small and white. Plantain reproduces naturally through self-seeding. The small seeds falling to the ground (after being carried by the wind) disperse, mainly aided by ants and birds. Plantain adapts well to all types of soils, even the poorest ones.
The leaves of plantain are primarily consumed. They are harvested throughout the year and consist of:
- Iridoid glycosides
- Mucilage, a plant rich in D-galactose and L-arabinose
- Phenolic acids and flavonoids
- Mineral salts, especially potassium and zinc
Due to these constituents, plantain has expectorant and demulcent properties, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing effects, astringent qualities, anti-anemic properties, and emollient effects.
Phytotherapeutic Uses of Plantain
Plantain is a plant rich in properties, widely used in phytotherapy, let’s see how. Firstly, it’s capable of stopping bleeding and aiding wound healing due to the mucilage present in the leaves. For external use, the crushed fresh leaves can be used. An ointment is prepared from them, which not only heals wounds but is also useful for soothing skin inflammations, eye irritations, and treating superficial burns. In folk medicine, this plant was also used to treat insect bites, thanks to its anti-itch effect. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it useful for naturally treating colds and other winter ailments. Moreover, it’s highly effective against cough, hoarseness, asthma, and bronchi obstructed by mucus.
It can be used for intestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Its infusion can be used for gargling in case of inflammation of the mouth and throat. We want to emphasize that plantain has no contraindications. The well-known allergy to this plant is related to its pollen and not its constituents.
To make use of the various properties of plantain, an infusion is an ideal solution. Let’s see how to prepare it: Put 2/3 grams of dried leaves to soak for 10 minutes in a cup of cold water. Then bring it to a brief boil and let it cool. The infusion can be used as a mouthwash to combat throat or mouth inflammations.
For plantain syrup, gather a good amount of young leaves, enough to fill a pot. Cover them with water and simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Then strain, squeezing the residue of the leaves well to extract all the juice. Add sugar, preferably cane sugar, at a ratio of 600g per liter of syrup. You can add some juniper berries for extra sweetness. Then, reheat over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has cooled, pour it into bottles to be stored in a cool and dry place. If you don’t have the opportunity to gather plantain in a clean place to prepare your own natural remedies at home, you can find various ready-to-use preparations at this link.
Plantain in the Kitchen
Plantain is an edible herb that has always been used, both cooked and raw, in the tradition of popular cuisine.
It’s recommended to choose the tender leaves to enhance salads. Often, plantain is used along with other edible herbs to prepare fillings for savory pies, bundles, ravioli, farinatas, and omelets. Another unique aspect of the plant is that its leaves color the dishes they come in contact with green. Therefore, it can be used to add color and flavor to homemade fresh pasta.
A curiosity about the flower heads: they are also edible and taste similar to champignon mushrooms. The flower heads are pickled in balsamic vinegar and can be enjoyed as a delicacy.
Even the roots, well-washed and finely chopped, can be stewed in the colder months, to be combined with other vegetables as a filling for pasta or rolls. Plantain is, therefore, another wild herb with numerous properties that you can find growing naturally in your gardens or yards. This herb adds to the others we’ve already discussed, like purslane, borage, dandelion, burdock, St. John’s wort, and common mallow. Happy foraging.
- New Zealand Journal: “‘Grasslands Lancelot’ (Plantago lanceolata L.)” – This research touches upon the growth rates and meat flavors/odors of animals fed with Plantago lanceolata.
- CIGR Journal: “Moisture-dependent physical properties of Plantain (Plantago major L.) seeds by image processing analysis” – The study investigates the physical properties of Plantain seeds and their significance in traditional medicine.
- Scientia horticulturae: “Detection of genetic and phytochemical differences between and within populations of Plantago major L. (plantain)” – The study focuses on the genetic and phytochemical variations within different populations of Plantago major L.