Not to be confused with the banana like plant also named plantain, this is a very common and very useful weed that is found abundantly in the UK. I am going to detail the identification of Ribwort and Broadleaf (greater) plantain in this post, but other plantain varieties include:
Useful ID information
Leaves: low lying oval leaves that have very pronounced ribbing length-ways along the leaf
Flowers: long green flower spike that can be up to 20cm high. The flower spike is made up of lots of little seeds that start off green, turning browner and drier with age.
Location: Lawns, parks, footpath edges, wasteland, riverbanks and edges of cultivated land
Leaves: Long slender leaves which grow up away from the ground. These leaves also have pronounced ribs
Flowers: Green/ brown flower spikes made up of small seeds. These flower spikes tend to be smaller and have less seeds. They also have a white tendril skirt on the flower head.
Location: Same as above.
The leaves are edible, but are better when they are the fresh, young and small, as they are a little tough if not. These can be added to salads, stews and stir fries. You can use in place of spinach or kale in recipes and they have similar nutritional benefits.
The seeds are also edible and can be eaten directly off the plant, dried or crushed into a powder. The seeds are best when the flower has germinated, so wait until the seeds are almost turning brown to harvest. The seeds have a lovely nutty taste so can be added to crackers or bread, sprinkled over salads or stir fries or used to as a vegan egg replacement.
Plantain has a number of herbal health benefits, and the leaves have been used medicinally for centuries. Their leaves have a number of therapeutic uses outlined below:
They are soothing to the skin as a result of the mucilage present in the leaves. Mucilage is a thick, gluey substance that is secreted by almost all plants. Plantain has high levels of mucilage.
The leaves are also styptic which means they stem blood flow. The leaves can be made into a homemade plaster, by mushing up the leaves with a bit of water and making a pulpy texture that can then be placed on wounds, cuts and grazes. You can even just chew on a bit of leaf and place it over the cut if you are out and about on your forage.
Plantain is also an excellent ‘drawing’ plant (and no I do not mean it would be a good plant to draw!). The plant possesses properties that means it is excellent at drawing out splinters, or in other countries animal venom.
When eaten or made into a tea or tincture, plantain has ‘drying up’ properties. It will help to dry up excess mucus during a cold, from hay fever or an allergic reaction
It also has antispasmodic properties so it can sooth a sore throat or persistent cough
It can help with digestive issues too. Drinking a cup of tea made from the leaves (dried or fresh) can be useful for tummy pains, poor digestion, colic or spasms.
Drinking this tea can be good during a female’s cycle to help ease heavy periods.
This is such a wonderful plant that has so many uses and its right on your doorstep. So, what are you waiting for, let’s get foraging!
**Disclaimer: If you are on any other medication, don’t take foraged remedies as it can interact with the medication. Always check with your doctor if it is safe to take herbal remedies.