Plantain, Good For Everything, and Usually Under Foot

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

plaintain1Plantain. Let’s be clear. Not the banana. We’re talking about Lantago major, also called broadleaf plantain, white man’s foot, ribble grass, way bread, great rat’s tail or greater plantain. It is, in fact, related to the banana, as a species of perennial flowering plant in the plantain family. It is also related to hosta, also known as plantain lily, which it somewhat resembles.

Still not a banana. This herb is a leaf vegetable rich in calcium and vitamins A,C and K. The leaves are produced in a flat, broad oval rosette. The flowers are many, tiny, greenish in color, and held aloft above the leaves by a tall, single spire of a stem. Those flowers produce tens of thousands of seeds per plant, which are dispersed by the wind.

Once its job is done, that tall stem has historically been dried, twisted, and braided into useful objects, such as twine, baskets, and mats.

Plantain’s name, white man’s foot, came from the observation by indigenous people that it followed European expansion, having been introduced from Europe. Plantain thrives in disturbed soil, appearing trodden into the wasteland by intrusive feet.

The leaves have been ingested as a tea or tincture as the mucilage from its crushed leaves soothes inflamed membranes. Young leaves are tender and something like spinach. More mature leaves might be better stewed.

plantain floweringUsed for healing where ever it is found, it has been applied externally as a poultice and is valued for its anti-microbial, astringent, and regenerative qualities. There are strong traditions that a poultice of plantain is particularly valuable in drawing out venom from the bites of snakes and spiders and the stings of bees and wasps. Perhaps.

One of the customary ways to prepare that poultice is to chew the leaves into a paste, and apply that to the wound. Here, I recall the time my darling daughter offered a baby finger to the parrot, Merlin. Merlin bit. Amazon parrots have beaks like bolt cutters, so we were lucky that her finger was wounded, but intact. Our pediatrician ordered a round of antibiotics, not because parrot bites are particularly likely to become infected, but because any toddler is going to stick the injured finger in her own mouth, making the injury, in effect, a human bite. And a human bite ALWAYS gets infected. That said I would advise against the traditional method of preparing a plantain poultice. Others who have long and deep herbal knowledge may disagree with me. Perhaps its best to follow the always-reliable, historic herbalist Hildegard of Bingen and simply apply the juice of the leaf.

Hildegard also suggests ingesting the leaves, with or without water, as a remedy when one has been given a love potion. Which is, I suppose, something like having been bitten by a venomous creature…. but worse. Of course, she recommends following up with a great quantity of strong drink. That should help.

Plantain is probably growing at the edges of your yard, or between the cracks in the sidewalk. People may spray pesticide to banish plantain from their lawn or garden, but wind-dispersed seeds by the thousands per plant are a solid survival strategy for the plant. If you harvest your own plantain, be aware whether the area has been treated with chemicals or in a pet area. You can buy the dried leaves from Amazon and herbal suppliers.

Start Gardening Season with Baker Creek

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

20180111_131159After cleaning up Christmas decorations, I was ready for armchair gardening season. My first purchase was The Whole Seed Catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. To me it’s the Holy Grail of seed catalogs – 356 pages of unusual, exotic and often extreme vegetables, herbs and flowers from around the world.

I raced through 272 pages of lushly illustrated vegetable porn to get to the herb section. I’ll return later to read about one-pound beets, rainbow corn and celtuce.

In the herb section I savored descriptions from ashwaganda to yarrow. I can’t decide which of the 21 basils I want to grow. I want to try Moldavian balm, a purple-flowered tea herb in the mint family. I could grow dandelion, mullein, nettle and purslane instead of foraging them. But why?

Safflower, toothache plant, white horehound … I want, want, want.

Moldavian balm

Four pages of new herbs for 2018 include three perillas, oyster leaf and self heal, among others.

While the herb section ends at page 290, the herb options continue in a 50-page flower section. Stars include calendula and milkweed. My favorites are the 11 nasturtium and five edible pansy options. Both are impressive in salads.

From the books and gifts section I may order Clyde’s Garden Planner, just $3.

If you don’t want to spend $9.99 on the full-blown catalog, consider ordering the shorter, free version. Then, settle into your armchair and circle your faves. Better yet, order them and get growing.

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

Book Review: Foraging & Feasting – A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

I love a good garage sale. So it only makes sense that I’d like foraging. It’s like garage sale meets farmers market. But it’s organic and free … if you know what you’re doing and stay away from chemically treated or publicly protected lands.

Foraging & Feasting CoverOver the past few years I’ve collected a few foraging books to teach myself what I can and cannot eat. I learn something new from each book. My latest addition/edition is Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender (Botanical Arts Press, 2013)

The book starts with a philosophical celebration leads into practical harvesting tips and continues with lushly detailed illustrations and identification information for 50 plants. Charts in the middle summarize seasonality and culinary uses. And relevant recipes are an inspiring finale. Did I already say it’s delightful to the eye?

Dina with Angelica 6_1_13

Dina’s interest in herbs and, then foraging, was sparked at 11, when she received her first herb book.

“I became conscious of the healing properties of food, clearly grasping the concept that food is my medicine,” she writes. “From that point forward, my commitment to and exploration of finding, preparing and eating healthful foods began.”

In flipping through I recognized my favorite chickweed. And, for the first time I came upon the day flower, a plant that I’ve been fighting (and losing) all summer. In the future it’s going into the salad, not the compost pile.

Dayflower-Commelina erectaI must admit my favorite recipes are herbal spirits and ice creams. The spirit combinations include lemon balm-strawberry vodka and black currant-fennel vodka. Ice cream inspirations include rose petal, lavender, bee balm and lemon verbena.

Therapeutic recipes include digestive bitters which are a scotch-based herbal root infusion.

My biggest problem with this book is that I don’t know if I should keep my copy on my nightstand for studying, in my kitchen for cooking or on the porch for relaxing. It’s that useful.

Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook, by Dina Falconi; illustrated by Wendy Hollender is available from Botanical Arts Press.