Greater or broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is a species of Plantago, family Plantaginaceae. It is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia, but has widely naturalised elsewhere in the world. In north America, the habit of the seeds to lodge in the soles of boots gave its name ‘white man’s footsteps’ by Native Americans because it seemed to sprout up wherever ‘white man’ went.
Greater Plantain is one of the most abundant medicinal crops in the world. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to encourage healing and prevent infection. The active constituents are a anti-microbial agent, a chemical that stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration and mucilage (which reduces pain and discomfort). Plantain has astringent properties, and a tea made from the leaves can be drunk to treat diarrhea and soothe internal membranes. It is its anti-histamine qualities that makes it great for nettle and wasp/bee stings.
Broadleaf plantain is also a very nutritious wild edible, that is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young leaves can be eaten raw and as they get tougher and stringier when they are older then can be added to a potage.
It is however the seed that it of interest to me today. One of the qualities of the seed is that is develops a mucilage around the outside and looks a bit like dark tapioca pearls when cooked. You can grind the seed (very hard) to make a flour to add as a bulking agent, you can use it as a thickener in soups or stews or you can make it into a nutrious porridge.
It is a very easy process.
Here is a step by step guide.
- Pick and dry plantain seed heads
- When they are dry they are easy to de-husk. You can use the husk as a fibre addition to your diet but it is pretty insoluable.
- After winnowing and separating the seed from the chaff – either by tossing in the air, putting through a sieve or swirling in a bowl to separate the heavier grains from the husks
- You can lightly grind the seeds which helps release the mucilage when whater is added – but they are tough to do – or just proceed onto the next step.
- Add boiling water and/or heat with water in a pot. If you are making a savoury ‘gruel’ then you can use some flavoured, salted stock instead of water.
- You will see that the water is absorbed and the mucilage forms on the outside of the grains.
- You are left with a dark or ‘black’ porridge.
- Add some flavour – sugar/syrup, salt, butter/cream.
- The flavour is immediately a little (very, very slightly) ummmm…seaweedy….but this soon dissappears (or you get used to it!) and what you have is an interesting and nutrious porridge not unlike a flax porridge or something made from polenta but with the texture of slightly crunchy tapioca pearls.
Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.