Monday, October 1, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Plantain

Plantain is a weed I would welcome.
Common Plantain (Plantago major)

Common Name: Plantain
Scientific Name: Plantago species
Family: Plantaginaceae (the Plantain family)

Common Species:
  • Psyllium (Plantago afra)
  • Che Qian Zi (Plantago asiatica)
  • Buck’s-Horn Plantain (Plantago coronopus)
  • Ribwort/Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago lanceolata)
  • Common/Broadleaf/Greater Plantain (Plantago major)
  • Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima)
  • Hoary Plantain (Plantago media)
  • Blond Plantain (Plantago ovate)
  • Fleawort (Plantago psyllium)

Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima) is considered one of the best tasting Plantains
Description:
Plantain is considered a common lawn weed. However, it has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal plant (for inflammation, bleeding, and infections) as well as a potherb and salad green. It is also a great addition to the Forest Garden, as it attracts beneficial insects, is a dynamic mineral accumulator, is tolerant of drought, and is a great forage crop for animals.
History:
Native to Europe and Asia, and used for thousands of years as a medicinal (primarily) and food (secondarily) plant. It has spread easily, typically with accidental introduction of seeds, and found new homes around the world. It is seen as a lawn weed in most "modern" cultures, but is still used by traditional, or tradionally-minded, people as food and medicine.

Trivia:
  • Many of the Plantago species are used in the commercial preparation of dietary fiber supplements known as Psyllium.
  • Plantain, while originally from Europe, was introduced to North America with European settlers, hence the name “white man’s foot.”
The fibrous stands in Plantain can be removed before eating.
USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:
  • Edible Leaves – decent taste, but most species are fibrous unless strands removed first (young leaves are most tender), often blanched to make more tender. Most often used as flavor/nutrition addition to mixed salads (reportedly the best eating are Buck’s-Horn and Sea Plantain)
  • Edible Seeds – takes lots of time to harvest, but can be eaten raw or cooked or ground as flour addition. Considered a great fiber source.
  • Medicinal Species – long history as anti-bleeding and anti-swelling
Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Maritime Species
  • Drought-Tolerant Species
  • Wildlife food
  • Feed plant for domestic animals – chickens will eat the seeds (let them harvest themselves!) and greens sparingly
  • Dye Plant
  • Tea Plant – dried or fresh leaves

Yield: Not applicable/No good information available
Harvesting: Anytime there are green leaves on the plant. Seeds are harvested Summer-Autumn
Storage: Use leaves fresh or dry immediately. Seeds are used fresh or dried immediately.

Platain flowers attract numerous beneficial insects
Common Plantain (Plantago major)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-15 (although some species are less cold tolerant)
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information available

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species available. Some have been improved as ornamentals.

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile
Flowering: May-September

Life Span:
No good information, but likely irrelevant as Plantago species reseed on their own so easily... just ask any lawn-Nazi!

Ribwort/Buckhorn Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) has longer thinner leaves than Common Plantain (Plantago major)
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 4-24 inches (10-60 centimeters) tall and wide – depending on the species
Roots: Many species have fibrous roots, but some (Plantago lanceolata) have a taproot
Growth Rate: Fast

Plantain seed heads harvested and ready for further processing... or feed like this to chickens!

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Does not tolerate much shade
Moisture: Medium to Wet soils
pH: can tolerate a wide range of soils

Special Considerations for Growing:
Plantago species are considered weeds because they can grow almost anywhere at anytime. This is a great problem to have, in my opinion; but neighbors with highly manicured lawns may not agree. Of course, I will never live that close to a neighbor again if I can help it!

Propagation: Typically by seed – direct sow in Spring. Can transplant “wild” specimens. Many locations already have their own populations; just encourage their growth.

Maintenance:
None

Concerns:
As with many "weed" species, Platain may cause an allergic reaction in some people (very few). Always try a new food in small amounts to see how you will react.


Another image of Common Plantain (Plantago major)

8 comments:

  1. Fantastic and informative looking site. I'm surprised I haven't come across it before now. Thanks for the great content I'll be tuning in regularly.

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  2. Ijb. Please help. Is this the plantain I love?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nope. Sorry. The platain mentioned here is a small herbaceous plant often less than a foot high, and it belongs to the Plantago genus. The platain fruit, which resembles an oversized banana, is actually just another type of banana (Musa genus). It is more starchy and less sugary than dessert bananas, and it is found in the tropics. I know you were getting excited about growing some of your plantains in a non-tropical climate... but it just isn't going to happen. :)

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