Learning About Plantain

Learning About Plantain

Types of Plantain

When I talk about plantain there is sometimes confusion about what I'm referring to. I have a son who lived in Ghana, and when I say plantains, he thinks I'm referring to a banana type of fruit that was a favorite food when he was there. To be clear, that is not what we are talking about here.

We are learning about the herb, plantain. There are basically two types. One has a broad leaf and the other has a long, narrow leaf. 

All of the benefits we discuss will apply to both, although we are going to focus on the broad-leaf plantain.

What to Look For

There are basically two things you are going to pay attention to when identifying the herb, plantain: the leaves and the seeded stem.

The leaves have veins that run from the stem at the bottom of the leaf to the top point. Whether we are looking at the broad leaf or narrow leaf plantain you will see these prominent veins. 

In the center of the plant there will be a single stem that sticks up and is covered with seeds. In the broad leaf version the top half to two thirds of the stem is covered with these seeds. In the narrow leaf version it is more like a little tuft of seeds at the top of the stem. Either way, this is an identifying feature for this herb.

How is Plantain Useful?

Plantain is a drawing herb. It has some other great benefits as well, but this drawing action is its main property.

This is best demonstrated with a couple of personal stories.

One summer I was a leader at a camp with a group of young women. We had learned about stinging nettle and I had told them that whenever you get stung by stinging nettle the antidote is nearby.

Later that day some of the girls were going down to the river next to our camp. One of the girls brushed against some stinging nettle that we hadn't identified until that moment. She ran up the hill and looked straight at me and asked where to find the antidote.

I have to admit, I didn't know for sure which herb it was in that moment, but as we looked around we found some narrow leaf plantain. She picked some of the leaves, chewed them up a little and placed them on the burning sting the had inflicted. She said that she felt immediate relief as the plantain drew out what the nettle had left behind.

Another summer at a family camp, my brother was stung by a yellow jacket. We took the same approach and quickly brought relief to that sting.

What Parts of the Plantain Can be Used?

The leaves are generally the part of the plant used. However, the seeds can also be used for a laxative action that is similar to psyllium.

Happy Hunting

Sometimes you may be able to find plantain growing in lawns. Whenever you use any herb from a lawn you want to be sure it hasn't been subjected to pesticides. I've mostly seen broad leaf plantain in lawns and narrow leaf when we are in a camping situation. That has been my experience, but keep your eyes open for both.