A common plant that grows across most of the United States, plantain likes to put down roots near human activity. In fact, Native Americans called the plant “white man’s footprint” because it grows readily wherever people walk. Plantain is found along roadsides, popping up through sidewalk cracks, in meadows and other areas where the soil has been disturbed. Read on to learn more about the history of plantain.
Plantain Plant History
It’s important to note that this article pertains to common plantain (Plantago major) and not the banana-like plant of the same name. Plantago major is also known as broad-leaved plantain, Englishman’s foot, cuckoo’s bread, snakeweed or ripple grass.
Not surprisingly, plantains in the garden are common. Also not surprisingly, the plants are usually considered unwelcome weeds. This is unfortunate because plantain is considered one of the most important healing herbs on the planet, and is probably more nutritious than most of the leafy greens typically cultivated in garden patches.
Plantain is native to North America, Asia and Europe, where it was once thought to be a sacred herb. The leaves have been used medicinally for millennia to treat urinary problems, sore throats, respiratory disorders, stomach ailments, skin irritations, heart problems, sore muscles and rheumatism. Native Americans understood how to put plantain to good use to cure fever, heal wounds and treat nasty dog, snake and insect bites. The leaves are also thought to prevent infection.
One simple remedy still in practice today is to chew a leaf to make an impromptu poultice for minor wounds, rashes, stings and other skin irritations. The benefit comes not only from the plantain leaf, but from human saliva, which contains antimicrobial substances that help repair damaged tissue. The fiber-rich seeds are a natural laxative, while plantain tea is often used as a treatment for diarrhea. The leaves can be infused in oil for treatment of cradle cap or diaper rash.
If you notice plantains in the garden, don’t hesitate to pick a few tender leaves. You can also harvest leaves from plants growing wild, but be sure the area hasn’t been treated with herbicides or other chemicals.