When it comes to plantain, we often think of banana plantain, also known as cooking plantain (Musa paradisiaca). However, plantain herb (Plantago major) is a completely different plant often used for its many medicinal qualities. Read on to learn about plantain herb benefits and cultivation.
How to Identify Plantain Herbs
Native to Europe, plantain herbs are perennial, adaptable plants that grow nearly anywhere and tend to be weedy. In spite of their benefits, the hardy plants are a source of frustration for many gardeners and, as such, are more often considered weeds.
The low-growing, ground-hugging plants display short, thick stems and rosettes of dark, shiny, oval, or egg-shaped leaves measuring about 6 inches (15 cm.) long and 4 inches (10 cm.) wide. A leafless stalk rising above the plant sports spiky clusters of tiny, green flowers in late summer.
Plantain Herb Benefits
Traditionally, plantain herb has been used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from coughs and congestion to nausea, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea. Some herbalists think the herb may level out cholesterol numbers and help control blood sugar.
A poultice of plantain leaves or a spritz of plantain tea contains antibacterial properties that make it an effective treatment for skin irritations, including bites, cuts, scrapes, sunburn, and poison ivy.
Although plantain is considered to be safe, the herb should never be used to treat an illness without guidance from a medical provider.
The entire plantain plant, including the roots, is edible. The tender leaves can be lightly boiled like spinach or used fresh in salads.
Cultivation of Plantain in Gardens
Plantain herb growing requires very little effort, as the plant grows across the country in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Plantain herb grows in full sun or partial shade and nearly any soil, including sandy or rocky soil.
Plant seeds directly in the garden in spring or start them indoors a few weeks ahead of time. A week of chilling time in the refrigerator (stratification) helps ensure germination.
Harvest plantain any time by snipping the leaves or digging the roots with a spade or garden fork. Always wash the leaves thoroughly and be careful about harvesting plantain growing along roadsides or in unfamiliar ideas, as these plants may be sprayed with herbicides.