Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Broadleaf Plantain, Common Plantain or Greater Plantain (Plantago major) illustration (By: Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen, 1796 - Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm))
Season: Spring & Summer
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Broadleaf Plantain, Common Plantain or Greater Plantain (Plantago major). This plant has no connection with the fruit that looks like a Banana that is also called a Plantain. It is a leafy green found in waste places, paths, lawns in full to part sun. There are many variations of the Plantain, but the best one for eating is the Broadleaf.
You can use the fresh, young leaves raw on a salad, but I have to say, I'm not really keen on them. Not bad tasting, but the chewy texture, dry/nothing taste isn't my favourite. However, used steamed or chopped up and a little in soups, or other cooked foods, it makes a good, healthy green. Not a green to serve by itself, but with others greens, or just as one of many ingredients, it is quite useful. Leaves must be young and immature, or they will be stringy.
The biggest problem with the Broadleaf Plantain is where it seems to be found. By paths, waste areas, lawns, etc. You never know if a dog took a pee on it by a path, what the soil is like in some waste areas, or if chemicals were used on the lawn. So, if you can find it where you are confident it is not contaminated from above or below, by all means use it as a cooked green. Once the flower spikes come up, it gets tougher and stringy, so not worth it after that unless you boil it well, chop it fine and add to food. Before you add it, make sure it is still not too stringy.
One of the nice things about it in foods, is it has soothing qualities, and is a nice green to include with hot foods.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
They produce a lot of seeds on the ends of the long thin seed heads. Gather when mature, rub between the hands over the area you want them, tamp lightly, put over a very thin layer of fine mulch, and there should be no problem getting a good crop.
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Plantain page.
- Plant Size: 15-30 cm (6 to 12 inches) diameter, Flower spikes can reach 50cm (20 inches) or more, but usually are 30 cm (12 inches) or less
- Duration: Perennial
- Leaf Shape: Ovate (Oval).
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: (rosette) of basal leaves (leaves at the base)
- Leaf Size: 5-25 cm (2 to 10 inches) long and 4-12 cm (1 1/2 to 5 inches) wide
- Leaf Margin: Entire (smooth edged), most often it is wavy
- Leaf Notes: The leaf veins (5 to 9) all start from the base of the leaf and sweep toward the tip. The veins are also obvious as they are like channels that are lower than the top of the leaf. The stem of the leaf is trough shaped. (Looking at the shape of the leaf, veins and stem, you can't help but wonder if they evolved/are designed to collect and channel water to the center of the plant to water the root in times of little precipitation.)
- Flowers: The tightly packed, small flowers are a brown tinted green on a spike 5-15 cm (2 to 6 inches ) long on a stem 10-30 cm (4 to 12 inches ) tall (in perfect conditions, sometimes significantly taller). There are usually 3 to 10 of these spikes (6 seems about average) coming from the center base of the plant.
- Fruit: Tiny yellowish tan to reddish tan oval shaped seeds with off-center pointed ends. Each plant can produce huge numbers of seeds. (Don't eat the seeds)
- Habitat: Full to part sun. Disturbed soils, compacted soils. Lawns, gardens, pathways, fields. Very often found on or along well used dirt trails as it can withstand being walked on and growing in very hard packed soil.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Broadleaf Plantain, Common Plantain or Greater Plantain (Plantago major) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.
Broadleaf Plantain, Common Plantain or Greater Plantain (Plantago major) plant. (By: Javier martin)
Broadleaf Plantain, Common Plantain or Greater Plantain (Plantago major) illustration. I love these old illustrations of plants, so I couldn't resist two of them on this page. The detail is so helpful for learning about the plant. (By: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany)
Broadleaf Plantain, Common Plantain or Greater Plantain (Plantago major) seeds. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
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