How to Grow and Care for Plantain Weed

Broad-leaved plantain with small green flower spikes and tiny white flowers on thin stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

One of the most common lawn weeds around is broadleaf plantain (Plantago major), a major headache for homeowners who dream of a perfect turfgrass lawn. Broadleaf plantain has a low growth habit that keeps it under the radar (and under mower blades), and its tolerance for heavy foot traffic and compacted soil means that it quickly colonizes in any lawn that sees a lot of hard family use. Plantain has oval-shaped medium leaves that grow in broad, low rosettes. If left to flower, tall, thin spikes with tiny flowers appear, which then produce tiny seeds that are easily spread by the wind to other parts of your yard. If you want to control this plant, dig them out before these flower spikes appear.

Once you learn about its many uses as an edible herb, however, you may come to view it a little differently. You'll soon begin to see plantain more as a harvestable crop than a pernicious weed.

Should you want to deliberately cultivate plantain, harvest the seed heads to plant in spring, in whatever area of your garden where you want to establish an ongoing crop. Otherwise, the simple act of routinely hand-weeding your lawn can produce all the plantain you want for the table.

If you notice any side effects or symptoms after eating broadleaf plantain, it could be an allergic reaction, and you should discontinue use.

Botanical Name  Plantago major
Common Name  Broadleaf plantain, plantain, common plantain
Family Plantaginaceae
Plant Type  Herbaceous perennial
Size  3–4 inches tall, 4–12 inches wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun to part shade
Soil Type  Any soil type; tolerates dense, compacted soil
Soil pH  4.6–7.8 (acidic to slightly alkaline)
Bloom Time April to September
Flower Color Greenish brown
Hardiness Zones 3–12 (USDA)
Native Area Europe, Eurasia (naturalized across eastern North America
Toxicity not poisonous/toxic, but can cause an allergic reaction in some people

How to Plant Broadleaf Plantain

When to Plant

Broadleaf plantain self-seeds so readily that there's rarely any need to deliberately plant it. The fine seeds take root wherever the wind blows them, so you can often simply wait for seeds to sprout up wherever you have a bare patch of soil.

Selecting a Planting Site

If you do wish to deliberately plant it, small plants can be dug up from the lawn and transplanted to your designated garden spot. Or, harvest seed heads from lawn weeds and plant them where you want them to grow.

There are virtually no serious pests or diseases that will affect your crop of broadleaf plantain. The more common problem is limiting its spread, which you can do by clipping off the flower spikes before they can set seed.

Broadleaf Plantain Care

Broad-leaved plantain plant with oval-shaped leaves near soil and grass blades

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Broad-leaved plantain plant growing from soil with small green flower spike

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Broad-leaved plantain plant with medium oval-shaped leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Broadleaf plantain prefers full sun, but will also grow well in part shade conditions.

Soil

As befits a plant with a reputation as a weed, broadleaf plantain will grow in just about any soil. It has a tolerance for dense, compacted soils, though will fare best and grow to its largest size in rich, loamy soil with good drainage.

Controlling Plantain as a Weed

If you are battling plantain as a weed in your yard, the most effective way to kill the plant is to dig it up, root and all. A weed-popper tool will generally extract the entire plant, including the fibrous root. They can also be spot treated with a broad-leaf herbicide, such as 2,4-D, but make sure you are not harvesting these plants for the table.

Water

In all but the driest climates, no additional watering beyond rainfall is needed. Ornamental varieties will appreciate about 1 inch of water per week—through rainfall, watering, or a combination of the two.

Temperature and Humidity

Broadleaf plantain thrives in the hot, humid conditions of summer across most of its hardiness range, zones 3 to 12. It prefers relatively humid conditions, but will also grow in arid climates if it gets supplemental water. West of the Rockies, it is a somewhat less prevalent lawn weed but is still frequently found.

Fertilizer

There's no need to feed broadleaf plantain. It generally does well without any fertilizing.

Types of Broadleaf Plantains

There are three regional subspecies of this plant (Plantago major subsp. major, P. major subsp. intermedia, and P. major subsp. winteri), which are hard to distinguish from one another. There are also two common related species, Rugel’s plantain (P. rugelii), and ribwort plantain (P. lanceolata) with similar cultural needs and similar uses as an edible.

There are also two cultivars of P. major developed as ornamentals. 'Rubrifolia' has purple leaves, and 'Variegata' has variegated leaves.

Harvesting Broadleaf Plantain

When harvested young and tender, the leaves are good eaten raw in salads, used in much the same way as spinach. Older, stringier leaves can be boiled for stews. Seeds are often sprinkled on salads or used to flavor stews, though harvesting them can be tedious.

Due to its common association as a lawn weed, make sure that you are not harvesting plantain that has been sprayed with any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Leaves can be pulled from the plant at any stage. Gently pull the leaf and it will easily separate from the root. Don't worry about harvesting too many leaves from the plant as it will grow back quite quickly. For use in salads, pick the leaves while they are young and tender. Older leaves are tougher and stringier, but they can be boiled for eating.

Propagating Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf plantain is very easy to propagate by collecting dried seeds and planting them in any suitable garden location. It is also fairly simple to transplant self-seeded specimens, even those growing as lawn weeds, into a suitable garden plot.

FAQ
  • Does plantain weed come back every year?

    This plant is a perennial, meaning that it comes back year after year. It can be found growing from Spring to Autumn in Europe, parts of Asia, and North America.

  • What parts of the plantain weed are edible?

    Every part of broadleaf plantain is edible. The leaves can be eaten when they're still young and tender in salads, or when older, they can be boiled, and used in stews and soups. The seeds from broadleaf plantain can be sprinkled on salads or used as flavorings in soups, sauces, or stews. 

  • Is broadleaf plantain an herb or a weed?

    Broadleaf plantain is a wild weed that can be found in lawns, pastures, meadows, and along roadsides. It is fast-growing and spreads quickly.