Wild About - Plantain

It is my deep suspicion that plants actively and gleefully engage in the game hide and seek.  How else could you explain the fact that supposedly obvious plants can so easily evade notice, or that all of the sudden, after months of search, you find a plant right under your nose?  Slippery, they are.

Plantain played a good round of hide and seek with me.  When I first started learning about plants, it was near the top of my list of desired finds, because of it's reputation for easing the discomfort of bug bites (I'm that person who gets eaten alive all summer long, even when nobody else is getting munched).  Plantain is supposed to be a "weed," common to yards and empty plots all over.  So much for what's supposed to be.  I certainly didn't have any in my yard, and after a summer of riding trails and tromping through fields, I never did find a single plantain plant.

So early this spring, when the plants were just starting to emerge from the ground, and I was on my hands and knees picking the tiniest little emergent yarrow leaves, I was surprised to catch a glimpse of (could it be?) plantain.  There they were, leaves shaped like a tongue with parallel veins that left behind little strings when I picked the leaves.  And the old dried seed stalks were there, too, rising out of the basal rosette of leaves.  I snapped some pics and excitedly asked Rebecca (poor girl has the misfortune of being my go-to plant guide) if I had plantain on my hands.  Roger that, she says, it is your elusive plantain.  Woot!

Not two weeks later, I was screaming down a bike path when a plant jumped out at me. Darn it!  There it was again, my plantain.

Mind you, I'm still not see it all over.  It's not as ubiquitous here as other places, I suspect.  Perhaps it's the altitude?  Or maybe it just wants to hide, while I still seek.  But I do have two patches that I can access.  And this is good news for two reasons.  The first reason is that plantain is quickly becoming on of my favorite leafy greens.  It has a good flavor, and is nice in all of the usual leafy dishes you might think - salads, quiches, etc.  I've heard some describe plantain's leaves as tasting nutty.  I've already complained about this being one of my pet peeves - when a foodie doesn't know how to describe the taste of something, they call it nutty.  Plantain leaves taste like greens, not nuts.  Just be sure to chop it up perpendicular to the veins, to shorten those strings, like you would with celery.

It gets better though. Plantain is also a really effective and soothing medicine.  I took a cue from Beks and Kiva Rose, and infused beef tallow with plantain and peach leaves to make a salve good for bites and stings.  I put this into old (clean) lip balm tubes, and made sure all of my neighbors got some.

I also stripped the old stalks I found of all their seeds, and intend to plant them in my garden.  I'm pretty sure this is a sign that you have officially become a plant nut - when you are purposely trying to cultivate a plant others consider a weed.  Once I have them in my garden, I'll be able to use them in spit poultices (good medicine and a fun party trick).  How convenient for neighborhood bbq's!

Keep this plant in mind for wilderness first aid.  If you get bitten or stung, simply pick a leaf, chew it up, then spit it out as a poultice on your boo-boo.  Plantain will help draw out the poison.

I'm sharing this forage with Real Food Wednesday, and Fight Back Friday!


  1. Woohoo! I have a post about plantains, written up about a quarter of the way, having taken a million pictures, but I never got around to finishing it. You inspired me to write up the rest of it.
    You like the taste of plantains cooked? I find them pretty bitter! When raw, I like them mixed with wood sorrel in a sandwich, but in a quiche would just make the whole thing bitter...

  2. Penny - I haven't experienced the bitterness. But maybe that's because I've only used young leaves? And I've also never done a cooked dish that had 100% plantain; it was always mixed with other greens.

  3. I have heard it said that plantain is absolutely everywhere... until you need it. And I shit you not, every time I need it, I can't find a single plant. So yeah, I carry a salve with me. I stumbled upon the biggest plantain patch I've ever seen a couple of months ago so now I have a 2 quart jar of tincture marinating too :).

    I've never found them to be bitter either! But I think I might not be the best judge, as the only things I find completely unpalatable are the wormwoods :).

    Buttface, I really like it in a tea for gut issues too. Like if I accidentally eat gluten and am all inflamed and diarrhumpus on the inside, some plantain tea, with either calendula or mint or comfrey and a bit of meadowsweet, it sorts me right out.

    And I wouldn't call it misfortune- I love the plant picture emails!

  4. Could be that the species of plantain where I live are more bitter?
    Took me a while to find plantain when I was first looking for it. I couldn't find it anywhere! And then spring came, and wow, its EVERYWHERE!!!
    I dried some plantain. Think it'll have the same medicinal value even once dried, Butter or Bekka?

  5. If you sow the seeds, just be sure to snip off the seedheads as the plants mature except for the one or two you want to save for seed stock. Otherwise, next spring you'll have a solid pack of teeny tiny seedlings so thick you can't even see the ground. Trust me on this. Experience speaking.

  6. A friend just gave me a wild greens smoothie that had plantain and violet leaves- totally delicious.

  7. My post today is on using wild violets in baking and other ideas.....goes along with your wild edible/medicinal post. Don't you love how we can just find wonderful uses for free organic wild "weeds" growing in the yard? It's wonderful. Great post!


  8. You inspired me! I found some out back and picked a leaf, just to try (the comments about bitterness had me worried about re-living my dandelion salad experiment). It was wonderful! I am definitely going to pick myself a salad tonight!

  9. Penny- I'm fairly certain I read about someone using rolled up dried plantain in an infected tooth, but Bex would know for certain.

    Good advice, Gin. I had a similar problem with lemon balm. Yikes, silly (young) me for not knowing it was a mint!

    AlanaC- Never tried violet leaves, but now I want to!

    Joy - I think it is as it was meant to be, that we should look first to what is abundant all around us! Totally enchanted by the idea of violet now :)

  10. I dunno if I will ever be a real forager - I weeded my "flower beds (no flowers but you understand right?" of some prickly plant and grass and low and behold I have poison ivy all over my legs. I swear I didn't see any. Dandelions I can do, pine needle - check - dock ok - but regular ole weeds I am afraid, very afraid! But I soooo love your posts!

  11. I am so sick of grocery store prices, I've decided I should see what we can eat in our back yard, aside from what might grow in the garden. I say might, because we're still trying to figure the garden thing out. But, I'm pretty sure we've got plantain all over the place. You've inspired me to investigate...and make some bug sting balm too! Thanks!

  12. Oh, Christy. My Gran used to be able to "find" poison ivy that way.

    Dawn - Personally, I've found that there is a nice balance to be struck between gardening and foraging wild foods. I used to be an intense gardener, but I've scaled back this year. I forage what is plentiful and in season, and supplement with some garden favorites. I ended up with lower grocery bills, and less stress overall (than when I used to garden alone, and not forage).

  13. Just stumbled on this site (using Google) because I had heard plantain was edible after I learned about using the strings from older leaves for tying things (it's kinda stretchy). Loved the posts!


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