In the depth of winter I find it sometimes difficult to think about foraging. So far there are few signs of spring and new growth. But, no doubt, soon the earliest heralds of spring will emerge from the barren looking earth and turn Mother Nature's robe green once again. One of the first herbs to reappear after the winter (in fact it seems almost as though they only hibernate) are the plantains. Yet, one rarely really notices them. They are as inconspicuous as they are ubiquitous - everywhere, yet invisible, unless one purposefully goes out to find them. Luckily finding them is rarely difficult. Most everywhere one only has to look down at one's feet, et voila, a plantain manifests in front of our eyes. Native Americans refer to Plantain as 'White Man's Footsteps' as this plant seemed to be following the white man wherever he went. But that did not stop them from adopting the plant into their own materia medica.
Narrow-leaved, or Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Broad-leaved Plantain (Plantago major) are best known for their medicinal properties. Ribwort Plantain makes an excellent cough syrup and Broad-leaved Plantain in some places is still part of a children's first aid tradition - it is after all, an excellent herb to instantly alleviate the pain of insect bite or a scraped knee.
But plantain species are also edible. I have to admit that it is not my favourite edible and I rarely pick it. It is not that the flavour is particularly unpleasant - it is just mildly bitter, but the parallel veins are really stringy and older leaves are tough. However, I shouldn't get down on this useful herb. While I would never make a salad or greens-spinach solely from this species, a few young leaves here and there are not bad at all. They are extremely versatile: chop them up (the finer the better) and add them to salads, or 'cream of the meadow' type soups or blend them with other more flavourful herbs such as wild garlic, yarrow leaves or ground ivy to make a wild weed-pesto. The flower buds are also edible and can be used raw or stir fried. Given the abundance of these herbs one never has to worry about picking too much and endangering local stands. Plantains are among the most persistent 'weeds' and this unassuming and generous herb deserves a great deal of gratitude, both for its healing properties and as a profusely available edible.
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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.