The Rapidian

Foraging Grand Rapids: Plantain

Plantain is an amazingly healthy herb, useful for a number of ailments, and it's all around you.

Where to find plantain

The biggest, greenest, loveliest looking plantain I've harvested all summer I found in Riverside Park in one of the boggy sections.  The flower stems were mid-calf height and thick with seed.  It's there park-wide, however, fresh for the taking.  I've also picked it at Riverside Middle in the fields between the two schools, and at Aberdeen and Huff.  Huff is a great site for a lot of diverse plants because of the marshes.  Work a ramble into your schedule sometime while summer is still here.

Broadleaf plantain (plantago major)

Broadleaf plantain (plantago major)

Ribwort plantain (plantago lanceolata)

Ribwort plantain (plantago lanceolata)

Plantain is one of my favorite plants - it's so round and happy looking, so unassuming, yet packed with serious medicine for much of what ails you. Once I learned to identify it, I found it everywhere; it's so ubiquitous the Indians called it White Man's Foot because the English carried it over the ocean with them as a potherb and it acclimated itself handily and spread.  The settlers used it for snake bites, diarrhea, ringworm, ulcers, hemorrhoids, and bedwetting!  

Personally I prefer the look of the broadleaf plantain over the ribwort, but they are both great for such diverse problems as: wound healing, asthma and bronchitis, eczema, diaper rash, and constipation.  Plantain is antiseptic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral.  It's very soothing and healing for bug bites and stings, scrapes, and poison ivy and can be applied directly without any real preparation.  If you go for a hike and get a painful blister, look around for some plantain, rip it up a little and chew it and then apply it as a poultice directly - you will feel better almost immediately, and the plantain will work on making sure that blister doesn't get infected.  My 9-year-old son goes rollerblading, and when he falls down, he knows what to do!  During the half of the year plantain isn't available fresh (you'll still see it in the winter, if there isn't too much snow, but it looks significantly less perky), you can easily make a salve out of plantain, olive oil, and beeswax (plus essential oils, if you like - I use tea tree and lavender oils).  It will soften dry, itchy winter skin and heal rashes.

Fall is ragweed season, and plantain can help with that.  I've found that eating a few fresh plantain leaves will keep me from being too congested.  The leaves are bitter this time of year, though, and while bitter greens can help with a number of digestive issues, if the taste bothers you, make a tea of it with some peppermint, and your kids will happily drink it too.  Plantain tea is also good as a sunburn wash.  It's cooling, soothing, and healing all at once.  Plantain contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and calcium, so it's a good healthy (free) green to incorporate into your diet.  I eat it as a means of stimulating my metabolism, which has gotten a bit more sluggish as I've eased into middle age.  

There are no side effects to plantain consumption.  It's considered safe for even children to ingest.  Again, you have to be careful where you harvest it.  Do not take it from the road - it will have absorbed any number of chemicals leaked from cars.  Remember that roadside plantain will have been exposed to dirt, pollution, and exhaust, and treated lawns are sprayed with poisons.  Instead, go to any park or preserve, and you will find plenty of it for the gathering.

I've used plantain in many different ways and have fallen a bit in love with it.  Why not search your yard today and see if you can make this herb work for you and your health



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