Plantain weed seeds smokable

Foraging Plantain for Wild Food and Remedies

No relation to the tropical, banana-like plant with the same common name, plantain is a common weed with edible leaves and seeds. It is also one of the best herbal remedies for scrapes, bug bites, and bee stings.

Where to Find Plantain

If you have a sunny driveway, you probably have some plantain growing along it. Plantago (plantain’s scientific name) loves sunny places with disturbed soils and is common in lawns, parks, and gardens.

Identifying Plantain

All of the plantains have in common that their leaves grow in a low rosette, and that the leaves have prominent, stretchy, parallel veins. If you pull off one of the leaves from the plant you’ll often see those veins sticking out of the stalk like threads (think celery). The leaves have smooth edges or a few soft teeth.

Plantago major (common plantain) has wide, oval leaves. P. rugelii (Rugel’s plantain) leaves are the same shape as common plantain’s, but with red or purplish coloration on the leaf stalks. P. lanceolata (narrow-leaved or English plantain) has narrow leaves that can grow anywhere from a few inches to a foot long, but are almost never more than an inch wide.

All three species have flowers and seed heads that emerge from the center of the leaf rosette on leafless stalks. Plantago lanceolata has 1- to 2-inch seed heads with tiny white flowers. The seed heads of both P. major and P. rugelii. cover most of their stalks and start out with green, scale-like seeds that eventually turn black or brown.

Harvesting Plantain

Plantain is an invasive plant and you do not have to worry about over-harvesting it. Gather the leaves spring through fall.

Harvest the seeds after they’ve turned brown or black. I don’t bother trying to winnow the chaff from the tiny seeds – just think of it as extra fiber.

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What to Do with Plantain

Use the smaller leaves raw in salads. Use the larger leaves to make chips. You can substitute plantain leaves for kale in any kale chip recipe: those stringy veins actually become an asset, adding extra crunch to the chips once they’re dried.

Add the seeds to crackers, breads, muffins, etc.

Plantain leaves are anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving. They are an herbal remedy that works wonders on mosquito bites, bee stings, and minor cuts and scrapes. The simplest way to use them is to crush up a leaf and rub it on the bite or scrape. You can also turn the leaves into an herbal ointment. But by far the most effective way to use plantain (if you aren’t grossed out by it) is to make a spit poultice. Chew one of the leaves for a moment and then applying the wad of chewed up leaf.


The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L. A review, Department of Pharmacognosy, School of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, Norway, accessed July 2, 2015.

Health Benefits of Plantain Leaf, Global Healing Center, accessed July 2, 2015.

Photos by Leda Meredith

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Plantain Weed

Learning about Mother Nature’s edible and healing plants is a critical component of living a sustainable, self-sufficient, and prepared lifestyle.

Broadleaf Plantain, commonly pronounced plan-tin, is a “common” weed that most folks recognize. You likely see it in your lawn, but chances are you don’t know its name. However, there is nothing common about Broadleaf Plantain, a perennial leafy, low-growing plant in the Plantaginaceae family.

Long recognized for its incredible nutritional and medicinal properties, the plantain weed was a mainstay in the diets of Europeans more than 4,000 years ago.

The edible herb can be found in roadside ditches, meadows, pastures, vineyards, and orchards. To the continual frustration of home gardeners, this hardy weed also flourishes in lawns, flowerbeds, and home gardens.

Broadleaf Plantain thrives in all United States Plant Hardiness Zones, but especially in moist, sunny, well-drained soil. The tiny plant typically flowers April through September.

Plantain Weed Description

Broadleaf Plantain presents dark green, oval shaped leaves that grow in a tight rosette. The sturdy leaves exhibit thick, short stems that meet at the base.

When the stems are broken, they reveal tough, string-like veins that resemble those found in a stalk of celery. Long-pointed, lime green, tiny flowers grow from the base. The petite flowers produce a small pod containing dark brown seeds.

Who knew a plant like this would have healing properties? Simon / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Broadleaf Plantain reproduces almost entirely by seed. However, plants sometimes regenerate from a broken leaf or cut root crown. A healthy plant produces greater than 15,000 seeds per year. Sticky when wet, the little seeds adhere to wildlife or are transported by birds and the wind.

Plantain seeds retain viability in the soil for more than 65 years. Needless to say, this is a persistent plant that is here to stay.

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Plantain Weed Varieties

There are two kinds of plantain: the larger Greater (or Broadleaf) Plantain and the smaller leafed Ribwort Plantain.

While often discounted as an invasive “ditch weed,” both varieties of plantain offer impressive nutritional value and amazing medicinal benefits.

Plantain Weed Cultivation And Harvest

Easy to cultivate, Broadleaf Plantain thrives in any soil, preferring a sunny, moist location. The tenacious plant is an important source of food for caterpillars and a diverse array of butterfly species.

You should harvest tender edible leaves in early spring. Later in the season, gather the flower spikes to dry for winter herb use.

If you are fortunate enough to have Broadleaf Plantain established in your homestead landscape, you may want to stop considering it as a weed.

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Why go through all the work to try and dig it up or eradicate it with noxious chemical herbicides, when you can harvest the tasty little edible plant for its nutritional and medicinal properties?

Wild Harvesting

Broadleaf Plantain can be cultivated in the home herb garden, or easily found on a spring or summer walk in the countryside. Always choose to harvest in locations away from the road where the area may have been sprayed with toxic pesticides or herbicides.

Gathering in places where the Broadleaf Plantain plant grows in moist, semi-shaded areas is best. These plants will be highest in moisture content and packed full of nutrients and healing properties.

Healing Properties Of Plantain Weeds

Due to its exceptionally high content of vitamin C, the plant is considered one of the strongest antioxidant herbs available. This plant was a traditional remedy for scurvy and immunity boosting spring tonic.

The entire plant offers expectorant, anodyne, astringent, antiseptic, and sedative qualities.