Did you know that some of the more challenging herbs to cultivate are the “weeds” that pop up all over our gardens? You might be thinking, “Okay, but why would I want to cultivate a plant that is already abundantly available?” And you would have a point BUT I am still dedicating some garden space this year to cultivating a Plantain patch because this is one of the most used herbs in my apothecary and I am extra picky about sourcing my herbs from clean locations.
Read on to learn more about this herb and safe harvesting practices.
Plantain is an herb that is as useful as it is common. This plant’s presence is ubiquitous in central and eastern North America. There are three species of the Plantago genus that you can use interchangeably and that look quite similar. Plantago rugelii (native to north america), P. major, P. lancelota (the latter two are introduced and wildly successful.) Plantain loves to grow in compacted soil and thus is found in lawns, walkways, sidewalk cracks, roadsides, garden paths, and so on. It is an annual plant that forms a basal rosette of bright green leaves with characteristic parallel veins and a plain flower stalk, only growing a few inches tall and often in groups.
Plantain is a unique herb in that it contains both astringent and mucilaginous properties. This makes it wonderful for healing irritated mucous membranes - the astringent properties tone the tissues while the mucilaginous properties soothe them. Internally, this makes Plantain a key herb in tea blends for gut healing or digestive system support. Externally, Plantain is a key ingredient in many balms for soothing and healing skin tissue.
Plantain is a key herb in “The Healer”, our all purpose balm that moonlights as our absolute favorite moisturizer. I also use Plantain leaf fresh in the field to soothe the inevitable bee sting or coax out a splinter.
If you plan to harvest your own Plantain, make sure you get a positive ID and harvest it from a clean location. Although it grows readily in sidewalk cracks, I would not harvest sidewalk Plantain because who knows who walked or peed on this short plant, not to mention all the particulate matter from nearby car exhaust. If you are harvesting from a lawn, make sure it has not been sprayed with pest/herbicides. I harvest plantain from areas around the farm where I have had the soil tested and can be sure it is free of heavy metals and other undesirable compounds. If you can't harvest Plantain yourself from reliable locations, you can buy directly from organic farmers in your area. I have a blog post that shares small herb farmers across the continent.
The photo at the top is an illustration by Zoë Miller for my Bioregional Herbalism & Medicine Making course where I go further into this plant profile
This photo above is freshly ground plantain ready to be infused into oil, sourced from Becky Frye, an awesome local herb farmer I know and trust.
This last photo is Plantain with Calendula, Marshmallow, and Chamomile preparing to be infused into local Sunflower Seed oil in order to eventually become The Healer balm :)
I hope you enjoyed this ingredient spotlight! Let me know if there is an ingredient you would like to hear more about - just make an account and leave a comment on this post!