That Weed in Your Driveway Is One of the World's Most Medicinal Plants
I'm an avid gardener, plant collector, and biologist, but somehow this common plant escaped my research until now. I've seen this plant my whole life, but wasn't sure what it was. It didn't seem that amazing, so I fell into the infamous trap of calling the plant a "weed" and not thinking much else about it. How wrong I was!
I have nothing against so-called weeds. I have entire sections of garden that grow wild and produce amazing wildflowers and random weird plants. Going out there to take pictures just now, I realized this stuff is everywhere in my garden and my grass. I had no idea these plants were one of the major medicinal species in the world. But they are, and I'm swimming in them!
About the Broadleaf Plantain
Plantago major, often called a broadleaf or common plantain, is a species of flowering plantain that's native to Europe and Asia. Over time it's been widely dispersed everywhere else and is one of the most abundant and widely distributed medicinal crops in the world. Most people have seen them growing in or around their driveway or within their lawn grass. That's because this plant thrives in compacted soils where other plants fear to tread.
Reportedly it was one of the first plants that colonists brought to America, and was critical in soil rehabilitation in otherwise trampled and compacted colonized areas. Each plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds, which have a way of naturally getting mixed in with cereal grains via wind dispersal. This is how they've been dispersed around the globe.
"White Man's Footprint"
Another name for the broadleaf plantain is "white man's footprint" or "white man's foot." This is a term used by Native Americans to describe how this plant seemed to surround colonial settlements. Trampled, disturbed ground naturally attracts these amazing plants. Each place the colonists moved, this plant would pop up. Apparently you could track the colonist's movements just by seeing where the "white man's footprint" was growing.
The Powerful Healing Properties of Broadleaf Plantain
Broadleaf plantain is a natural astringent, and making the leaves into a tea can help relieve diarrhea and upset stomach. It's also a highly nutritious leaf vegetable, high in A, B1, B2, B3, C, and K. Plantain also contains calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Like with most leafy greens, the new leaves can be eaten raw in a salad, while the tougher leaves can be cooked to soften them. Perhaps the most common use historically is as a poultice for wounds and insect stings.
- Allantoin: stimulates skin cell and tissue regeneration
- Asperuloside: anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-algesic
- Aucubin: anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-algesic
- Mucilage: reduces pain and discomfort
- Ursolic Acid: inhibits cancer cell proliferation & promotes healthy muscle
Other Healing Properties:
- Anesthetic: induces insensitivity to pain
- Antiseptic: prevents the growth of disease-causing microorganisms
- Antihistamine: relieves symptoms of allergic reactions / allergies
- Antiviral: treats viral infections
- Antitoxin: works to neutralize toxins and poisons
- Anti-inflammatory: helps reduce inflammation
- Sedative: calms the nervous system and promotes rest
How to Make a Plantain Poultice
Start with a handful of broadleaf plantain leaves. Crush the leaves with a mortar and pestle (or equivalent) until juices start to come out of the leaves. You will have a sort of mash of leaf fragments and juice. It's important the cell walls are broken to release the healing properties of the plantain leaves. Affixing an intact leaf to a wound will not be adequate.
Apply the mash directly to the affected skin and secure with a cloth, bandage, or cling wrap for 30 minutes. Reapply as often as needed.
Use a Plantain Poultice to Treat:
- Poison ivy/oak/sumac
How to Make Plantain Tea
Start with a cup of fresh broadleaf plantain leaves. Thoroughly wash the leaves and place them in a heat-proof container with a lid. Boil two cups of water and pour it over the leaves. Cover and let the leaves steep until the container is room temperature.
Drink 1-2 cups of plantain tea per day to help alleviate the conditions below. Can also be used to rinse wounds before and after applying a poultice. Can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Use Plantain Tea to Alleviate:
- Common cold
- Mouth ulcers
- Respiratory infection
- Upset stomach
- And as a rinse for wounds and skin irritations
Have You Ever Seen a Broadleaf Plantain?
Broadleaf Plantain in My YardClick thumbnail to view full-size
Diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice is reserved for licensed healthcare professionals. Drugs, supplements, herbs, essential oils, and miscellaneous ingestibles may have dangerous side effects.
Sources and Further Reading
- Broadleaf Plantain in Lawns. (2016, October 26). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://ag.umass.edu/turf/fact-sheets/broadleaf-plantain-in-lawns
- Broadleaf Plantain Plantago major. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from http://www.ediblewildfood.com/broadleaf-plantain.aspx
- Do Not Kill This Weed! It's One Of The Best Healing Herbs On The Planet (& It's Probably Growing Near You Right Now!). (2017, March 14). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.naturallivingideas.com/plantain-benefits-uses
- Hussan, F., Mansor, A. S., Hassan, S. N., Tg. Nurul Tasnim Tengku Nor Effendy Kamaruddin, Budin, S. B., & Othman, F. (2015). Anti-Inflammatory Property of Plantago major Leaf Extract Reduces the Inflammatory Reaction in Experimental Acetaminophen-Induced Liver Injury. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4537734/
- J., Sosa, G., & Schulz, J. (2015, November 20). Broadleaf Plantain: Food & Medicine Beneath Your Feet. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://momprepares.com/broadleaf-plantain-food-medicine-beneath-your-feet
- Nafici, S. (n.d.). Weed of the Month: Broadleaf Plantain. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.bbg.org/news/weed_of_the_month_broadleaf_plantain
- Najafian, Y., Hamedi, S. S., Farshchi, M. K., & Feyzabadi, Z. (2018, February). Plantago major in Traditional Persian Medicine and Modern Phytotherapy: A Narrative Review. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5878035/
- Plantago major. (2018, August 22). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantago_major
- Spotlight on Weeds: Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.purduelandscapereport.org/article/spotlight-on-weeds-broadleaf-plantain-plantago-major
- Wanjek, C. The Five Healthiest Backyard Weeds. (2011, July 31). Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://www.livescience.com/15322-healthiest-backyard-weeds.html
- Zubair, M. (2010, October). Genetic and Environmental Effects on Polyphenols in Plantago major. Retrieved September 27, 2018, from https://pub.epsilon.slu.se/5468/1/zubair_m_101022.pdf
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Kate P