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Broadleaf Plantain – The “Weed” You Won’t Want to Be Without

Some may view this humble plant as “just a weed”, but once you learn about the wide range of benefits and uses of broadleaf plantain, you'll never want to be without it. From nutritious leafy greens to soothing healer inside and out, this wild plant is a blessing is disguise. In this post, we'll share how to identify plantain herb, broadleaf plantain benefits and how to manage it in the yard and garden.

broadleaf plantain leaf

How to Identify Plantain Herb

Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is one of thirty-four Plantago species around the globe – all of them edible and medicinal.

Where Broadleaf Plantain Grows

Broadleaf plantain is native to Europe and temperate parts of Asia. It (and other plantain species) have spread to most of the world, except the arctic regions. They grow throughout most of the United States and North America.

Plantain grows just about anywhere – from cracks in sidewalks, to roadsides and meadows, to garden beds and lawns. (We have some suggestions for plantain control near the end of the post.)

broadleaf plantain - plantago major

What Plantain Herb Looks Like

Broadleaf plantain is a perennial, coming back year after year from the roots. Leaves grow in a rosette, close to the ground. Plantain leaves are 1-6 inches in length, broadly lance shaped to egg shaped, and are hairless or sparsely short haired.

strings in the stem of plantago major

Each leaf has prominent parallel veins, like celery. If you break a leaf in half, it has strings.

The flowers shoot up from the center of the basal rosettes in spikes 3-12 inches tall. They're rather dull colored, changing from green to brown as the seeds mature.

plantain weed seed stems

The small brown seed pods each contain 4-20 seeds. When they mature, pods split open and spill the seeds to the ground. Plantain seeds can last at least 60 years in the soil, so if you've had plantain show up in your garden once, chances are you'll see it again, even if you don't let new plants go to seed.

buckhorn plantain - plantago lanceolata

Buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is another common plantain species. It's also called ribwort or narrow leaf plantain. As the name suggests, this plantain has longer, narrower, lance shaped leaves. It also forms a rosette of leaves with veins from the base to tip.

Broadleaf Plantain Benefits

Broadleaf plantain is edible for both animals and people, and has a wide range of medicinal uses.

Nutrient Dense Food

The entire broadleaf plantain plant is edible from root to seed. Nutrients include vitamin A, as well as vitamins C and K, zinc, potassium, and silica. Plantain seeds are rich in proteins, carbohydrates and omega 3 fatty acids.

Young plantain leaves can be eaten raw. They make flavorful salad greens, pairing well with other milder greens or fruits like diced apple. As the plant gets older, the leaves get tougher, and are better cooked. Chop them (remember the strings) and use them as you would spinach or other sturdy greens.

Plantain roots are small compared to many wild plant roots, but they can be cooked and blended into soups and vegetable dishes.

The seeds of Plantago major are related to Plantago ovata, or psyllium seeds. (These are used in popular fiber supplements.) Their seed coat contains up to 30% mucilage, giving it a gelatinous quality when wet. You can grind up plantain seeds in their husks to use as thickening in recipes, or as part of a hot porridge mix.

plantago major seeds

Wildlife Eats Plantain, Too!

Cardinals, sparrows and other small birds munch on plantain seeds. Many herbivores such as groundhogs, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep and other mammals eat the leaves and flowering stalks. Caterpillars of buckeye butterflies and several moths eat the leaves. (Source)

Plantain Herb as Medicine

Broadleaf plantain is nothing short of AMAZING for bug bites, stings and other skin irritations. I use fresh plantain leaf directly on insect bites, or plantain infused oil or salve. The itch of  mosquitoes bites and burn of wasp stings fades in minutes with an application of plantain herb.

Plantain salve made from infused oil is great for spot treatments and hemorrhoids. I dry some plantain for tea, too, but most frequently I use it fresh or in salve.

Plantain is also good for drawing out slivers. Simply place some fresh, smashed plantain or plantain salve on the sliver spot, cover with a bandage, and leave overnight. The next morning you should be able to gently squeeze out the sliver or pluck it from the wound.

plantain weed leaf

Plantain is also used medicinally to:

  • inhibit bacteria growth
  • counteract poisoning
  • relieve pain and inflammation
  • clear obstructions in the gut and airways
  • increase the flow of urine
  • reduce fever
  • stop bleeding
  • improve eye drainage
  • treat or heal wounds

The article Grandma Called it Medicine Leaf has more information on the medicinal uses of plantain, including some simple recipes.

Other plantain articles on the site:

Plantain in Folklore

Some historical references, gathered from various locations:

Legend has it that Plantain was a young girl who longed for her lover's return and spent so much time watching and waiting for him by the roadside that she eventually transformed into this common roadside plant.

Plantain was one of the nine sacred herbs of the ancient Saxons and was an early Christian symbol of the path followed by the multitudes of the devout.

It derives one of its common names, White Man's Foot, from Native American folklore, as the plant seemed to follow the path of the white settlers everywhere they went. Longfellow made mention of this in the classic Hiawatha

Many cultures have reference to Plantain as an aphrodisiac.

A Dr. Robinson of the New Family Herbal of days past, says that the Assembly of South Carolina presented an Indian a “great reward” for his discovery that the Plantain was the ‘chief remedy' for the cure of the rattlesnake bite.

Folklore tells us to place Plantain beneath the feet to ease tiredness, or carry it in the pocket to protect from snakebite. One source says to bind Plantain to the head with a red wool sash to cure headaches.

Plantain Weed Control

If you have plantain weed taking over your lawn or garden, your soil is trying to give you a message – it's too compacted.

Plantain weed thrives in high traffic areas like foot paths or where vehicles drive over the lawn. It also has no problem with slightly soggy soil. The area under our rain barrel spigots was taken over by broadleaf plantain this year.

Since the seeds hang out patiently in the soil for decades, the best way to control plantain long term is to reduce soil compaction.

  • Aerate the soil.
  • Add organic matter, such as compost.
  • Improve drainage, if needed.
  • Stop driving on the lawn.

Dig individual plants if you like. (The roots are small so they are easy to pull.) Yes, broadleaf weed killers knock out plantain, too, but those chemicals are poison, so I don't want them in my yard.

What's in a Name?

Other names for broadleaf plantain include common plantain, plantain, dooryard plantain, Ripple Grass, Waybread, Slan-lus, Waybroad, Snakeweed, Cuckoo's Bread, soldier's herb, soldier's woundwort, indian wheat, Englishman's Foot and white man's foot.

Broadleaf plantain is the wild plant that I use most. I make up enough salve to share with family and friends because it works so well for skin irritations. I wouldn't be without it. Grandma Catherine was right – it is a medicine leaf.

Weekly Weeder at Common Sense Home - drying herbs

The Weekly Weeder Series

This article is #14 in the Weekly Weeder Series, a collection of posts I wrote some years ago about using wild plants for food and medicine. You can find the whole series on the Herbs and Wildcrafting page.

Other popular posts in the series include:

Do you have a use for plantain that I missed, or a request for information on another wild plant? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. If you'd be interested in a video course about the weeds we cover, let me know that, too.

Originally posted in 2011, updated in 2019.

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  1. Buck’s horn or stag’s horn plantain (erba stella or minutina in Italian, corne de cerf in French) is not the same as ribwort or narrow-leaf plantain, which is Plantago lanceolata. Buck’s horn has forking leaves (like a buck or a stag’s horn); its scientific name is Plantago coronopus, from the Greek meaning “crow’s foot.”

  2. Hello! I’m a beginner at making herb salves and tinctures. I have a question about picking the herbs. Is there a best time for doing this when the herb is at its peak for effective healing chemicals? Does this vary according to herb? For instance, I have lots of plantain in my yard, and I planted comfrey this past summer. I understand the comfrey takes a while to reach its maximum effectiveness for the allantoin chemical in it. But can these herbs (I’m leaving the comfrey alone until next year) be picked in the fall/winter/early spring as well as in summer to make effective poultice/salve/tincture? I’d like to make some more plantain salve, and it’s been a pretty mild fall here in northern Virginia. Should I wait til spring? Also, when is the best time of day (if any) to pick? Thank you!

    1. The most common recommendations I’ve seen (and it’s possible some herbs may be different because there are a lot of plants out there) generally indicate that roots are best harvested in fall, when the plant has concentrated compounds in them in preparation for winter. Greens and flowers are typically harvested when they are in peak condition during the growing season.

      Working with plantain, the only time I’ve run into trouble with potency is in years with exceptionally heavy rains. When I picked plantain that looked great but was growing in very wet soil and made it into salve, it did not stop the itching as it should. There’s unfortunately not a great way to deal with this if the rains won’t let up, which is why I try to store enough dry herbs to hold us over for two seasons, if possible. In the years of heavy rain, older dry herb is likely to work better than washed out fresh herbs.

      For us here in Wisconsin, my late season plantain often has powdery mildew, so it’s not suitable for use. But if your plantain and other plants are in good condition, it should be fine to harvest them.