Our lawn is covered mostly with four plants. Grass, clover and dandelions I am well familiar with – but the fourth seemed barely worthy of a name. It is neither beautiful, nor so ugly that you need to get rid of it – it just is. I recently read about this plant which indeed does have a name, plantain or plantago mayor and I became intrigued by its many uses, nutritional and medicinal. All its parts are edible, and while I haven’t found any ripe seed pods yet this year, I have been using the young, light green leaves raw and cooked.
Where to find them: Lawns, fields, roads, gravel, cracks in pathways. It was brought to North America by colonizers and was referred to as “white man’s footprint” as it was found growing in all the European settlements where the land had been disturbed.
Identification: The plant is made of a rosette of oval leaves. The veins begin at the base – the central one being straight and extending through the full length of the leaf. The remaining veins are curved along the line of the shape of the leaf. The flower is a stiff rod, at first green and then turning brown which sticks straight up from the centre of the plant.
Uses: Young leaves can be eaten raw, while the older ones should be cooked until tender. The leaves which have antibacterial and astringent properties can be used as a poultice to apply to stings and wounds to reduce pain and prevent infection. Seed pods can be cooked much like asparagus, and the seeds are used as a substitute for psyllium. It is also a valuable weed in your garden as it breaks up hard soil and holds loose soil together to prevent erosion.
Nutritional Value: Rich in iron and vitamins A and C.
Recipes using Plantago Major
The easiest comparison of this plant with something familiar would be spinach, although the leaves are tougher, more like kale. The flavour is not strong, so pairing them with seasoning, herbs, garlic, lemon, fish sauce, soya sauce and other flavourings all work well.
I first tried steaming them in oil and a splash of water with garlic which I then combined with omelettes and pasta or just served as a side dish.
I also made a smoothie, using 1 cup of young raw plantain leaves, 2 sprigs of mint, a little honey, 2 cups of almond milk and a banana and an apple. Pureed in the blender and chilled it made a delicious healthful drink, even if the appearance was less than stellar.
Now that scapes are in season, I decided to augment my scape pesto with some plantain. This recipe can be frozen for several months, so I tend to make a good batch of it – by a good batch I mean enough for one meal plus two jars.
Scape and Plantain Pesto
1/2 lb scapes
one handful of young plantain leaves
1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cups walnut pieces
Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until almost smooth. Salt to taste or parmesan cheese can be added, but I usually add those when I serve them. This pesto is excellent with pasta, spread on bread or crackers, or served with fish.