Inspired by this post, I went out and picked some plantain leaves (we have plantain growing all over the yard - I never knew you could eat it!) I tried just a single leaf first, to see if it was good (I didn't want to relive the "You Can Eat Dandelions" experience - ugh!) and, finding it actually almost sweet (if you can imagine lettuce being sweet, that's what it was like) my nine year old daughter and I went out and picked enough leaves for everyone to have a salad for supper.
Well, the ten year old, seven year old, and six year old wouldn't touch it, but my foraging partner and the three year old (who was too young to get to vote) ate it with gusto, and even Daddy tried it (mostly because he always tells the kids to eat everything I make, and he didn't want to be seen disobeying his own order). He was the only one who said it was stringy (I didn't find it so) and seemed put off by the slight hairs on the underside of the leaves. Honestly, I didn't notice those things at all. Perhaps I was just blinded by the excitement of trying something new; but I think I'm going to keep making these salads this spring.
I read that some find plantain to be bitter; I think this must be similar to spinach, which gets bitter when the weather gets hotter. I recall reading in Euell Gibbons' book Stalking the Wild Asparagus that when harvesting "wild" food, you have to think of those plants like you think of vegetables: they can be excellent when they're at their peak, and downright awful when they're not. You wouldn't want to eat spinach once it's sent up its seed stalk; in the same way, you'll be disappointed if you try to eat dandelion greens once they have flower buds (although I have never managed to find enough un-budded dandelions to make a salad).
All this to say that plantain salads look like a great idea for early spring greens, before the lettuce is big enough to harvest, but I anticipate that it won't be very palatable in a few weeks. We'll have to see.
Meanwhile, hooray for free food!
|plantain (and a little sheep sorrel, too!)|
"I commonly find plantain in gardens and lawns, along trails, in sidewalk cracks, and in similar habitats. It prefers full sun, but will grow in partial shade. It also prefers rich moist soil, but it will grow even in poor, fairly dry soils.
Plantain is edible. The very young leaves can be added to salads, or cooked as greens. The leaves do become stringy and strongly flavored rather quickly as they age, particularly where they grow in hot, dry, or very sunny locations. This does not mean they are no longer edible, only that at this point, they are better suited to making stock or tea.
Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C).
The immature flower stalks may be eaten raw or cooked. The seeds are said to have a nutty flavor and may be parched and added to a variety of foods or ground into flour.
Among the more notable chemicals found in plantain are allantion, apigenin, aucubin, baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol, and tannin.
Medicinally, plantain is astringent, demulcent, emollient, cooling, vulnerary, expectorant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antitoxin, and diuretic. It effects blood sugar, usually lowering it. It has been used to treat lung disorders and stomach problems. For these purposes, a tea is made from either the leaves or the whole plant and taken internally. This same tea may be used as a mouthwash to treat sores in the mouth and toothaches. It may also be used externally to treat sores, blisters, insect bites and stings, hemorrhoids, burns, rashes, and other skin irritations. Alternatively, a poultice of the leaves may be applied to the afflicted area. This is probably plantain's most common use. For relief from a bee sting or insect bite, simply shred (or chew) a plantain leaf and hold it on the bite for a few minutes.
I've begun making a plantain ointment which is proving to be remarkably effective. Reports so far (and personal experience) indicate that it very rapidly relieves itching and swelling from bee stings, insect bites, poison ivy rash, and other allergic rashes. It also seems to speed healing of sores and bruises. The best part is that not only does this ointment work as well as or better than the usual commercial preparations, it's also completely non-toxic.
Plantain seeds are very high in mucilage and fiber, among other things. The seeds of a closely related species (P. psyllium) are the primary ingredient in laxatives such as Metamucil. Common plantain seeds may be used in the same fashion."
More than you probably wanted to know, right?