Plantain is a commonly spread weed, you can find it on all types of soil, for most of the year, only during the summer it tends to dry out due to the heat. It is a family of herbs, the plantain, among which we find several edible plants, in particular the lanceolate plantain, the greater plantain, and the buckthorn.
It is advisable to learn to recognize these spontaneous plants because they are edible with many uses: you can eat all the parts of the plantain and it is eaten both raw and cooked.
So don’t call it “weed”! This edible herb is not well known from a food point of view, but it is a really interesting vegetable due to its usefulness in the kitchen and also for its extraordinary nutritional and medicinal properties.
The plantain and how to recognize it
With the name plantain we mean not a single species, but an entire family of plants, the Plantaginaceae. In this macro together there are several interesting varieties, which we find spontaneously commonly present roughly throughout Italy.
As interesting varieties, because they are edible and well spread we remember the plantain lanciuola (Plantago lanceolata), which is recognized by the narrow and elongated leaves, with evident veins on the underside of the leaf, the greater plantain (Plantago major) recognizable by the elliptical, wide leaves and shorter, the coronopo (Plantago coronopus). The three varieties are all edible.
It is a 20/30 cm tall plant, which produces spiked seeds. The presence of these spikelets is very characteristic and allows plants of this species to be easily identified even in the middle of tall grass meadows.
Where to find the plantain spontaneously
This edible plant spreads everywhere: the greater plantain and the buckthorn on all soils, the lanceolate variety mainly on compact and humid soils and in pastures. It is generally encountered at the edge of paths, in pastures and uncultivated meadows. It does not fear the cold winter because its shoots overwinter under the ground and are ready to throw back as soon as the temperatures become milder, which is why we also find it in the mountains and hills.
Those who want to collect it to eat it should obviously choose places that are as uncontaminated as possible: it would be unhealthy to take herbs grown on the edges of busy roads and therefore inevitably polluted. A walk in the fields in spring or autumn should give you a good harvest.
The leaves start from the collar of the plant while starting from late spring the vertical stems bring the small flowers grouped at the apex, which then ripens into the brown spiked seeds, characteristic of the plantain. Precisely these seeds are the method of propagation, they are spread through the wind or small animals and spread this species very easily.
Use in the kitchen
In the past, plantain was used a lot both for edible purposes and for medicinal and curative use. We find traces of it since ancient times, it is mentioned as being used both in peasants’ soups and as a meal for livestock. It is currently in disuse, but it deserves to be rediscovered.
It can be eaten raw in salads, even if you have to choose only the youngest and most tender leaves.
Plantain in cooking is mainly used cooked, cooked in a pan like many leafy vegetables. We can put it in soups enriching them with a new taste, or I recommend a delicious plantain risotto that recalls mushroom risotto in taste. Other applications are in cold pasta, as a filling for ravioli (similar to the more famous borage), or in omelets. There are many recipes with plantain, you can discover several by searching the web.
Properties of plantain
From a nutritional point of view, this edible wild herb contains many mineral salts, especially zinc, and flavonoids.
It has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries: various beneficial effects are attributed to it: antibacterial, diuretic, purifying, and expectorant properties.
If you get bitten by a mosquito while you are outdoors, you can look for plantain and collect the leaves, rubbing them on the sting to soothe the itch. This is a traditional use of this herb.
Another traditional peasant remedy for wounds was to bandage with a compress of plantain leaves, then tie with bandages or gauze to retain the blood and let it ciccatrize.
Further herbal use still in use today is linked to the respiratory tract: in particular, the decoction or infusion of plantain is administered against colds, coughs, phlegm, and flu. In this, we can assimilate it to thyme and mallow, other medicinal products useful for the well-being of the body.
You may be interested to read about the Echinacea blogpost/ Marigold cultivation blogpost/ Chervil and its cultivation blogpost/ Plant asparagus legs blogpost/ Borage cultivation blogpost/ Grow dill blogpost/ Steak recipe.