Noxious Weed or Healing Herb?

Plantain2Credit: USDAGo down to your local park or look on roadsides or near a sidewalk and you may see a weed with egg-shaped green leaves that have deep veins. These leaves grow from a central stem in a rosette with several seed stalks emerging from the center.

When homeowners see this weed growing in their yard, many are tempted to reach for the weed killer. But before you poison this plant, you might want to snip a leaf or two and save it. The plant is a broadleaf plantain, or Plantago and some herbalists believe that it cures nearly everything.

Although the herb shares a name with the plantain banana, the two plants are not related. Common plantain is now found all over the world, but the plant originates in Europe. Native Americans called it “white man’s foot” because it would grow wherever white men walked. The herb Is now naturalized in Asia, the Americas, New Zeeland and Australia, and Africa.

During pre-historic times people took the plant as a panacea, or cure-all for external injuries, bites, stings, bruises, burns and internally for coughs and other upper repertory ailments. The seeds may be taken as a laxative like psyllium husk. Young, tender leaves are also good in salads and taste similar to spinach.

Recent studies of the plant indicated that the leaves are laden with aucubin, which is a powerful anti-toxin, and allantoin, which has coagulant properties. People with clotting disorders or who take blood thinner should never drink plantain tea for this reason. The leaves also contain citric acid, ascorbic acid and salicylic acid. The plant is a common ingredient in anti-smoking herbal tonics. Native Americans once carried powdered plantain root as anti-venom for rattlesnake bites.

Smaller PlantainCredit: USDAOne doesn’t need to cultivate plantain. The herb grows well in any place and often becomes invasive. Many states list plantain as a noxious weed due to its invasive tendencies. In order to control plantain, pull all leaves from the rosette. Tended lawns can keep plantain under control through frequent mowing.

Plantain can be found in almost any untended place such as meadows, vacant lots and public parks. If you do plant the herb, it will grow well in any soil, but prefers sunny locations. Plantain is also good in butterfly gardens since caterpillars prefer to eat it.