How to Identify and Use the Plantain Plant

plantains

Erin Huffstetler

Plantain is a widespread weed found in virtually every lawn in America. It's low profile and non-aggressive habit often leave it protected from the homeowner. However, as is common with many lawn pests we label as weeds, plantain is actually a useful herb.

Plantain is a low growing herb, with a multitude of uses. It is most often used for bee stings and insect bites. You may also know it as the 'Bandaid plant,' a nickname it picked up because of its quick relief and ease of use.

What Is Plantain?

You have probably seen plantain many times in your own yard and it may be one of those nemesis weeds you fight off on a regular basis. Plantain is a low-growing plant that often has broad, medium green leaves sprouting right out of the soil in flat rosettes.

If left to flower, tall, thin spikes grow and tiny flowers appear that are almost indistinguishable. These flowers transform into the light seeds that are spread by the wind to other parts of your yard. If you want to keep plantain under control, remove the spikes as soon as you see them because the flowers make it hard to tell when they've gone to seed.

Plantain is a perennial plant with a thick taproot. They sprout in mid-spring, about the same time as the dandelions in your lawn. They are a very hardy plant and if you leave just a small bit of root in the ground, they will grow back. That's why they are such a nuisance in a well-groomed lawn.

  • Latin Name: Plantago major
  • Common Name: plantain, the 'Bandaid plant'
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: Found everywhere in the US
  • Exposure: Full sun

How to Harvest Plantain

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. 

If you are battling plantain in your own yard, the most effective way to kill the plant is to dig it up. However, use this as an opportunity to harvest the valuable leaves for your homemade remedies.

Plantain 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 faster than you probably hope it will.

The leaves are most often used fresh and must be crushed, chewed, or bruised to release their healing oils. Yet, you can also dry the leaves and work them into a poultice for immediate use. For long-term storage, use fresh or dry leaves to create an infused herbal oil.

How to Use Plantain

Plantain is a common weed and it has many uses. It is often overlooked in the lawn, due to its low growth habit, but it is a powerful little tool for a natural medicine cabinet.

For a quick remedy, children often know that a leaf can be chewed into a mash and the entire juicy lump placed onto a bee sting. The pain relief from this poultice will be immediate. If you're adverse to chewing the leaf, mash it between two rocks, adding a little spit if needed.

The leaf of the plantain can be lightly bruised, placed onto a wound and bandaged there. The next morning, the astringent properties in the leaf's juices will have drawn any impurities from the dirty wound.

Tip: Learning to identify plantain is very useful if your family enjoys the outdoors. It's the ideal quick fix for those scrapes and cuts that occur on bike trails, hikes, and other places where your first aid kit is not handy. 

Use plantain in any skin soothing salves, especially a baby rash recipe. If you are camping with a baby who is suffering from a diaper rash, try bruising some leaves and placing them in the diaper, right on the irritated area.

  • Internally, plantain tea is used for diarrhea. The tea is also useful against a yeast infection and it can help with a cough as it acts as an expectorant.
  • Plantain's seeds can be used as a bulk laxative, although gathering enough for a treatment might prove too tedious.
  • The leaves can also be used to create a natural yellow-green dye for fabrics and yarn.

All in all, plantain hides many very useful remedies in its unassuming appearance.