Monday, March 18, 2013

English Plantain

English Plantain

It is a shame that this nutritious plant shares the same name as that of the more popular banana plantain.  It does a disservice to both plants and makes research more difficult.  This lovely plant was found growing quite bountifully at Franklin's Harlinsdale Farm public park.  Harlinsdale Farm was a former historic horse farm of much significance.  It is currently being renovated as a park in Williamson County, Tennessee.  Much of the lawn is carefully maintained.  However, behind the horse barn is a wide swath of unused pasture nearly untouched except for the occasional mowing.  There are several edible wild plants proliferating there, the English Plantain being one of them.  I first saw this plant growing at the end of January but it is only now ready to pick the young leaves (mid-March). 

Harlinsdale Farm, Franklin, TN

English Plantain Flower
There are two types of plantain common to the United States. These are the common plantain, Plantago major, and the less common, English plantain, Plantago lanceolata. Both varieties grow as rosettes of oval leaves that feature ribbed veins which run from base to tip. The English Plantain grows more upright with leaves which are more slender than the Common Plantain. In late summer both types produce their own version of a brown-spiked flower head, which once seen, will usually be an "aha" moment to the viewer as they were quite common for school children to pick. It was cultivated originally in Europe and brought here by early settlers. The Native Americans referred to it as "the white man's footprint," as where ever the settlers went, it soon followed.

So what is so great about a plantain? To an herbalist, it's a crucial healing plant, particularly for treating skin conditions. As a matter of fact, if you have a bug bite or poison ivy, you can chew up some of the leaves of this plant and put it directly on the skin and it will take away the sting or itch and aid healing. That's a nice trick to know! It is used as an astringent and helps to heal infections, include eye infections like conjunctivitis. This herb is commonly used to make skin salves, teas, poultices and tinctures. It has been called Snakeweed in the past due to its ability to draw our poison from a wound or snakebite. A tea or infusion of plantain leaf has even been used as ear drops for ear infections (as long as the ear drum has not burst) to aid in healing and reduction of pain. Historically, it has been used to treat lung conditions (expectorant), stop diarrhea in children and treat yeast infections. The Anglo-Saxons considered it one of their nine sacred herbs and it was even mentioned by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet in reference to its skin healing properties.

It is also quite edible, though you must look for young leaves usually found in early spring. As the plant ages, the more bitter and fibrous it becomes. However, if you are starving, you can boil the plant in several changes of water to reduce the bitterness. Older leaves have a more woodsy flavor and is best eaten pureed. When the leaves are young and no longer than about four inches, they have a nutty, asparagus-like taste. The seeds are also edible and can be ground to make a form of flour. In recent studies of plantain seeds, they have been attributed to lowering cholesterol.

Nutritionally, the plantain is high in iron, and rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as numerous other vitamins and minerals. It is a powerhouse of beneficial chemicals in healing and preventing disease.

Here are some recipes to try:

Wilted Plantain with Sesame


8 cups of young plantain leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
sesame seeds, toasted (to garnish)


Heat sesame oil and garlic in a skillet. Add plantain leaves and saute until tender (about three minutes). Mix in soy sauce, orange juice and almonds.

Remove from heat and serve topped with sesame seeds. 

Creamed Plantain with Bacon


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
6 cups young plantain leaves
12 - 16 slices of bacon, fried crisp and chopped (about one package)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper (to taste)


Boil plantain leaves in a large pot of salted water until just tender. Do not overcook. Drain and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour until smooth. Add milk slowly. Stir continuously until mixture has thickened.

In a larger pan, combine plantain and sauce until well blended. Add nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Plantain Omelet


3 eggs beaten
3/4 cup young plantain leaves, stems removed and chopped fine
1 small onion, minced
2 tablespoons Swiss cheese
salt and pepper (to taste)
oil or butter for frying


Combine eggs, salt, pepper, plantain and minced onion in medium bowl. Heat oil in nonstick pan over medium heat.

Add egg mixture and tilt pan to distribute evenly in pan. Cook until set.

Sprinkle cheese over half of cooked egg; fold other half of egg over cheese. Serve warm.

Plantain Salve (medicinal)


pint size mason jar
plantain leaves (clean and dry)
olive oil (enough to fill mason jar)
1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
1 oz. pure beeswax
several drops of peppermint oil


Chop plantain leaves and fill mason jar (packed). Add olive oil to completely cover plantain leaves. Allow to steep for six weeks in a sunny window. Turn jar daily. This should turn the oil a rich, dark green color.

Strain and reserve the oil. In a stainless steel saucepan, heat oil on low and add beeswax until melted. Add the vitamin E oil which serves as preservative and peppermint oil for pleasant scent.

Last, check for consistency. Dip a spoon into the plantain salve and place in freezer until cool (about 1-2 minutes). If it is too hard, add more oil. If too soft, add more beeswax. When it is just right pour into a small jar or tin and cover tightly. Store in cool dark location.

Plantain Tea


1/2 cup fresh plantain leaves chopped
8 oz boiling water


Place plantain in bottom of mug. Pour hot water over and allow to steep for 1/2 hour. Strain and drink or use on skin.

Notes: While the content of this blog has been tried/tested and the research diligently presented, I am not responsible for your use of it. Always try a little of the food first to test for allergies. Please do your own research. Discuss with your doctor before you use any herbal medications.


  1. Plantain will heal a brown recluse bite if a poultice is kept on the bite and changed every 4-6 hours. I had one and it was healed in 5 days. I have had 2 friends use it to heal brown recluse bites, too. It is also great for bee and wasp stings, though healing the spider bite is a fantastic thing to know as the medical system only offers you the cutting of flesh when bitten by a brown recluse. I had one many years ago and the doctor prescribed me an antibiotic and a steroid and told me "and when it breaks open, put hydrogen peroxide on it." I ended up getting electrical acupuncture done and it was healed in just a few days. The plantain is plentiful and free and works as well.

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  3. I just made an English plantain tincture using raw apple cider vinegar. I plan to use it for facial cleansing, poison ivy rashes, and bug bites. :-)