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Monday, March 2, 2015

Foraging Plantain- Wild Food and Medicine

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There's one plant that I forage all the time, and it's one of those plants that, even if you don't plan on becoming a full time forager, that I suggest you learn. Because it is simply one of the most useful plants out there.
And it's pretty easy to learn how to forage it.

Plantain.

No, I'm not talking about the plantain that is related to a banana. This is another plant named plantain- scientifically named plantago.

There are many different species in the plantago family, but although they differ somewhat, they all have the same basic properties.

Super healers.

Not to mention edible.


So, why is plantain so worthwhile to know about?

Well, its most famous use is for skin issues.

Whether we're talking about burns, mosquito bites, bee stings, poison ivy rashes, nettle stings, eczema, psoriasis, etc... you name it- plantain heals it, often bringing instantaneous relief.

I actually made a cream with plantain and coconut oil, and my friend, who had had a skin issue that wasn't going away, no matter what she did, applied the cream and the issue went away.

Plantain is this miracle plant.

If you get stung by nettles or bees, or get a mosquito bite, etc... immediately, you take some plantain leaf- smash it up and make it into a poultice- the most effective and quick way to do this is just to chew it up a bit, then apply it, liquid and all, onto the affected area.

In addition to being healing for the skin, plantain is antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and is an anti inflammatory.

Here's some more about plantain, from GreenMedInfo:

Furthermore, the leaves have also been heated and applied topically to swollen joints, sore muscles, sprains, and sore feet. Interestingly enough, Plantain is a common folk remedy in many part of Latin America for treating cancer. It has also been used for many centuries in treating sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and mouth sores.

Studies have shown that plantain has anti-inflammatory effects, and it is also rich in tannin (which helps draw tissues together to stop bleeding) and allantoin (a compound that promotes healing of injured skin cells). Further studies have indicated that plantain may also reduce blood pressure, and that the seeds of the plant may reduce blood cholesterol levels. Plantain seeds were also widely used as a natural laxative, given their high source of fibre. Teas made from the plant, were used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, intestinal worms, and bleeding mucous membranes. The roots were also recommended for relieving toothaches and headaches as well as healing poor gums.

Amazing, right?

I make plantain tincture and use it whenever I'm sick.

Ok, so this is kind of backwards, I know, but now I'll talk about how to identify plantain, and then about its edible uses.

I usually start with the edible aspects of a plant, and only afterwards touch on the medicinal aspect, but since I use plantain first and foremost as a medicine in my house, I figured I'd focus on that first.

Ok, so now, how do we identify plantain?

Well, it grows in a rosette on the ground. A rosette meaning all the leaves start from one central point and radiate outward.

Depending on the species, the leaves can be narrower or wider, and more pointed or rounded. I've seen plantain leaves be as long as a foot and a half long, and as short as two inches.

So, how do you know its plantain?

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Its veins.

Plantain has parallel veins, either 3 or 5 on each leaf, And these veins are very thick- if you try to rip the leaf, the veins will be the last thing to rip. 

Now the flowers on plantains differ depending on the species, but the thing about them is they don't look very flower like. They're either green or brown and white- not pretty and colorful. They send up one central stalk with a flower either at the end of it, often with little white bits sticking out of them. Maybe that's their stamen? I don't even know. It just ends up looking a bit like Saturn's rings...



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Here are two views of the plantain flowers growing near me.

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Other plantain flowers look a bit different sometimes- longer and green, like this.

If you've ever read recipes that call for psyllium husks, or have heard of it being used medicinally- that's plantain seeds.

To be honest, I've never bothered harvesting the seeds, since they're a laxative, and its not something we generally need in our household...

But if you want to use the seeds- I know some people use them for making crackers, etc... Just collect the flower heads, let them dry, and then once dry, rub your hands over them to remove them from the stem.

But while I don't use the psyllium, I do occasionally use the plantain leaves for food.

Plantain leaves, depending on when you pick them, can either be very bitter or mildly bitter. I usually prefer them mixed with something else for that reason, and don't use it as a straight green.

I have successfully put plantain in smoothies for my family, and put it in salads, and in greens for sandwiches. If cooking, note that they often get more bitter when cooked, so you might want to blanch them first, squeezing out the liquid to remove some of the bitterness.

Because plantain is such a thick leaf, many foragers like using them to make plantain chips, like kale chips.

Get to know plantain.

I am so lucky that it grows right outside my front door.

And you probably have it growing there too.

It grows everywhere, on every continent, in every place, pretty much. In yards, popping up in cracks in sidewalks, in parks, etc...

I love plantain, and you will too.

Have you ever heard of or seen plantain before? Have you used it, either medicinally or for food? What has been your favorite use for plantain?

5 comments:

  1. Yes Penny, I discovered plantain last year and wondered how I could have gone my whole life without it! It really is everywhere, and I already recognized the plant easily, but had no idea how useful it was. Now it is one of my favorite foraging plants to point out to non-foraging friends: easy to identify, incredibly useful and ubiquitous. When my baby is born in July, I will not let him/her grow up without learning about this wonderful plant. However, due to the quite unpleasant taste I get when chewing up a poultice, I have never been tempted to eat this plant.

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  2. There's not a lot of reliable information about this.
    http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2148003
    Any effect on pregnant women hasn't been determined...

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    Replies
    1. If your pregnant don't use it.

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  3. lol....stung by beets? ;) "If you get stung by nettles or beets, or get a mosquito bite, etc...."

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  4. Thanks so much for this great post Penny. Hubby and I have read about it a little and it's medicinal purpose...but I never really considered it much. But thanks to you, I will definitely be using it more. I could use the seeds though. LOL

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