By MyKyah Vessels, Alliance for Watershed Fellow
Do you ever see people picking plants in parks or on sidewalks? They’re foraging!
Foraging is the practice of exploring an area to pick wild plants, often for food or medicine, but also for craft and other raw materials. It’s an important practice in many cultures, especially in many of the communities which live around Tacony Creek Park. We often see neighbors foraging in the park!
Foraging is also a fun hobby that many people picked up during Covid. It may be intimidating to start foraging if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for. That’s why we are introducing a series of edible plant guides, written by our Alliance for Watershed Education Fellow, MyKyah Vessels. MyKyah will lead two edible plant walks this month: Saturday, August 14 and August 21. You can register here or here!
This Edible Plant Guide series will feature these commonly-seen plants:
Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago Major) | Llenten
Not to be confused with the plantain fruit in the Musa genus, the Broadleaf plantain, also known as the Greater plantain or Common plantain, is a perennial, herbaceous plant that thrives in compacted soil.
It is found most commonly in areas with human activity like lawns, driveways, sidewalks, and near roads. Broadleaf plantain is low growing, making it tolerant to mowing and trampling. It is not a native plant. It has been naturalized throughout the world but is native to Europe, Northern, and Central Asia.
Identification and Look-alikes
Two of Broadleaf plantain’s close relatives are Rugel’s plantain (Plantago Rugelii) and Narrowleaf plantain (Plantago Lanceolata). These plants share the same properties, uses, and environment. Broadleaf plantain has wide, hairless, oval-shaped leaves with parallel veining. Rugel’s plantain is generally taller. Its’ leaves are similar to the Broadleaf plantain except that the petiole has a reddish or purple color where the leaf meets the stem. Narrowleaf plantain has skinnier and longer leaves than Broadleaf and Rugel’s Plantain, which ends in a point.
Is It Edible?
Yes, the entire plant is edible. Broadleaf plantain tastes like spinach or chard and is harvested during spring to late summer. The seeds can be ground into a meal and cooked with grains like quinoa. The young leaves can be eaten raw. As the plant grows, the leaves become fibrous; it’s recommended, though not required, that older leaves be cooked or have the fibers removed. Once dried, the leaves, roots, and seeds make a lovely herbal tea.
Plantain is often used for soothing skin ailments like bug bites, eczema, psoriasis, and poison ivy/sumac/oak. Another use is wound healing. The juice acts as a coagulant by slowing down bleeding and causing the blood to clot. Plantain also encourages cell regeneration. The leaves can be chewed on to make a poultice and placed on the affected area or wound. Many use plantain because it promotes gut health by acting as a laxative, easing indigestion and stomach aches.
Plantain is an excellent source of zinc, calcium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
Eating too many seeds may drop blood pressure. Since Broadleaf plantain is a coagulant, those who use blood thinners should be cautious.
Annual – A plant that completes their life cycle in one year. When the new season comes, an entirely new plant grows from the seed of the previous plant.
Biennial – A plant that lives for two years. They flower during their second year of life and after the third a new plant grows.
Bract – A modified leaf underneath or surrounding the flower.
Cholagogue – Stimulates and increases the flow of bile.
Deciduous – A tree or shrub that sheds its leaves.
Herbaceous – A plant stem with little to no woody tissue.
Mordant – A chemical that binds a natural dye to a natural fiber.
Moxibustion (Mandarin: 艾灸)- Is an external treatment in Chinese Traditional Medicine and other countries in East and Central Asia in which bundles of dried Mugwort or wormwood are burned over the body.
Perennial – A plant that lives more than two years. It survives by its roots when the top portion dies back or is evergreen.
Petiole – The stalk that supports the leaf and connects the blade to the stem.