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Common Backyard Weed is True Healer

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 by: Melissa Sokulski
Tags: plantain, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Plantain is easy to recognize by the flower stalks played with by children: one has a long stem with a little green bundle on top that they use to wrap and snap off, the other a long green stalk of seed pods that children enjoy pulling off with their fingers. This common backyard weed is actually a healing plant and a hardy edible green, used both in Eastern and Western botanical medicine.

There are two common types of plantain that grow in everyone's yard, and even through cracks in sidewalks. They are the broad leaf plantain, or Plantago major, and the thinner leaf English plantain, or Plantago minor/Plantago lanceolata. These plantains are small green weeds, not at all related to the tropical banana-like fruit plantain, whose botanical name is Musa paradisiaca.

Plantain leaves have parallel veins, and when broken the little strings hang out of the leaf stalk ends.

Plantain leaves ingested or used externally clear chronic skin conditions. They make a valuable first aid poultice which soothes wounds and cuts. Immediately pick and chew a plantain leaf to crush it; then put it on a bee sting to take away the pain. Lesley Tierra in Herbs of Life writes that it is "a seemingly miraculous poultice for stopping the pain of bee stings, spider and snake bites and other insect wounds. It will draw out the stinger and poisons from these bites and can bring out deeply imbedded splinters if left in place for a day or two." (1)

In Chinese herbal medicine Plantain seeds are known as Che Qian Zi, and are used to treat bladder infections as well as clearing cough.

The seeds of Plantago major are also edible and closely related to psyllium seeds, which are from the plant Plantago ovata or Plantago psyllium, which grows in the Middle East. Local plantain seeds can be used the same way as psyllium: as a thickener in recipes or as a bulking agent to help move the intestines. The seeds can also be ground into flour, or just thrown in whole into breads, oatmeal and porridges, which is how many Native Americans used the plant (2).

The plant itself is not native, and was known to Native Americans as "white man's footprint", as they noticed the plant popping up everywhere the European settlers went. (3) It seems to be here to stay, however, and can be found in abundance all across the United States.

Try it in salads or stir-fries, and make sure to remember to reach for it if you or family members get stung by a bee (or stinging nettle). Making an oil out of the leaves allows one to benefit from the soothing properties of the plant year round.

Plantain Oil

  • Pick enough plantain to chop and fill a jar.
  • Cover the plant with olive oil.
  • Steep for 4 - 6 weeks.
  • Filter out plant matter, reserving oil.

The oil can be warmed and mixed with beeswax; then, when cooled it will harden into a salve. Or simply use as is.

It is an excellent oil to soothe itchy skin conditions, especially from rashes or bites. It can also be safely used on animals who have itchy red skin.


Tierra, p. 74
Ibid. p. 75
Ibid. p. 75


Bensky, Dan and Gamble, Andrew. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. Eastland Press. Seattle, WA. 1986.

Elias, Thomas S. and Dykeman, Peter A. Edible Wild Plants, A North American Field Guide. Sterling Publishing. New York. 1990.

Tierra, Lesley. The Herbs of Life. The Crossing Press. 1992.


About the author

Melissa Sokulski is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of the website Food Under Foot, a website devoted entirely to wild edible plants. The website offers plant descriptions, photographs, videos, recipes and more. Her new workbook, Wild Plant Ally, offers an exciting, hands-on way to learn about wild edible plants.
Melissa also runs The Birch Center for Health in Pittsburgh, PA, providing the best in complementary health care: acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbal medicine.

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