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What’s so special about Broadleaf Plantain?
Most agricultural outlets consider Broadleaf Plantain an invasive weed. If you do a quick search for this plant, you’ll find all kinds of remedies (read chemicals) to get rid of them. These hearty plants easily shoot out between the cracks of sidewalks which is a testament to this plant’s overall heartiness. Given its abundance, this is one plant that will likely become a staple in your diet when or if the big event happens.
There are some downsides to eating broadleaf plantain. First, the leaves are downright bitter. You will need to blanch and shock them in order to eat them, unfortunately. Remember, alkaloids and saponins are the main culprits behind making plants taste bitter. In large enough quantities, they can be toxic. That said, the need to blanch and shock these leaves is actually twofold. Second, the seeds need to be winnowed to use. The seeds themselves are incredibly tiny but pack quite a punch. There is no harm to eating the seed’s sheath but on the other hand, there’s no benefit either.
Broadleaf plantain thrives in just about any climate and is a close relative of spinach. In terms of recipes, think of broadleaf plantain as the spinach of the wild edible kingdom.
Nutritional Info: Based on a study conducted in 2010 by J.L. Guil Guerrero, plantago major or broadleaf plantain contains roughly 45mg of vitamin C per 100 grams as well as about 100 mg of calcium per 100 grams. Broadleaf plantain is also loaded with polyunsaturated fats which -- if you remember clear back to health class -- is the “good” fat. Other reports indicate that broadleaf plantain also contains considerable amounts of iron and Vitamin A. Turns out, this ‘invasive weed’ is actually one of the most nutritionally sound vegetables growing freely and abundantly all around the yard.
Warnings: Oxalic acid has been found in a variety of specimens but in miniscule amounts. Regardless, when blanched and shocked, there should be even less of this problematic chemical.
When to harvest: You can harvest broadleaf plantain from early spring to late fall. You’re good until that first frost. The best season to harvest is roughly June through September.
Use this link to see the USAD Department of Natural Resources Map to see if this plant grows in your area! The map depicted above displays Broadleaf Plantain and where it grows -- pretty much everywhere.
Edible Parts: Leaves & Seeds
Broadleaf Plantain Leaves
The leaves can be eaten raw which, as already stated, I do not advise due to the bitterness and oxalic acid content. In a true survival situation, you may not have access to water, much less the ability to boil said water to remove the bitterness and oxalic acid. With that said, it is safe to consume broadleaf plantain without preparation but please be forewarned, you may as well go suck on a lemon. They truly are downright bitter.
How to Harvest Plantain Leaves: Snip the leaves at the base of the floret. Once you have them, you’ll get about 2.5 hours before they start to wilt (at least in my experience). Take the stem of the plant and gently pull upward to remove the fibrous and stringy parts. All you’re after is the meaty part of the leaf. Bear in mind that there are fibers throughout the leaf. All you're trying to do is get rid of the main fiber that holds it all together.
How to Eat Broadleaf Plantain Leaves: When you’re done collecting the leaves and getting rid of the stems and fibers, you have a number of options. Remember, broadleaf plantain is closely related to spinach. After they’ve been blanched and shocked, the plant parts are already halfway cooked. All you’d need to do from there is continue cooking the leaves for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the water, soak in vinegar (preferably organic apple cider vinegar) for 5 to 7 minutes and enjoy. This plant makes for a fantastic side dish.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can always wrap your choice of meat, cheese and or rice in the leaves. This is one time where you worry less about those inner fibers. Really, they're nothing more than an inconvenience to chew through. After they’ve been blanched and shocked, use them as wraps but remember, they’re smaller than a grape or burdock leaf. There isn’t much room to be creative with these leaves but using them as wraps may break the monotony. Bake the wraps for about 10 minutes at about 250 degrees and serve warm.
The leaves can also be dried and brewed into a tea. The good news is that if you’re going to use the leaves for tea, there’s no need to remove the fibrous stems. Tie a group of leaves together, wrap them in cheesecloth, hang in a cool, dark place and give it about 72 hours. When they’re dry and still inside the cheesecloth, smash the leaves with your fingers. Then, proceed to boil water and dip the cheesecloth into the water. Let it set for about 15 minutes. The tea will help with all kinds of ailments to include circulatory and respiratory function. Think of cold season during a crisis and no because of the crisis, there’s no doctor available. This ‘invasive weed’ just might be enough relief to help see you through.
Broadleaf Plantain Seeds
As already mentioned, the seeds are downright tiny. They will need to be winnowed before use but if you catch a sheath or two, it’s not the end of the world. The sheaths remind me of popcorn kernels -- or at least the shells that didn’t quite cook. Again, there’s no harm in eating them but by that same standard, there’s no real benefit either. The good news is that the seeds want to escape their sheaths. When you gather -- let’s say 50 stalks -- tie them together, hang them upside down and wrap the whole thing with a paper bag. From there, the seeds fall to the bottom of the bag.
You can eat the seeds as is without any further preparation. In fact, add them to a potato salad or macaroni salad if you want a hint of crunch. The seeds, when used like this, kind of remind me of celery seed without the obvious, nostril insulting flavor.
How to Harvest Plantain Seeds:
The seeds form from stalks (roughly 3 to 4 inches or 10 to 12 cm) in the center of the leaves. While no one has taken the time to count up how many seeds are on each stalk, a good estimate from Ohio State University states that one plant produces roughly 14,000 seeds per season. They are, as already mentioned, quite small. In order to do anything besides add flavor to your dishes, you’re going to need roughly 20 to 30 stalks for flour (which is another fantastic use of the seeds). Gather your seed stalks, tie them together and hang them upside down inside a paper bag. Give it a week or two and you will have plenty of seeds to work with.
How to Eat Broadleaf Plantain Seeds:
If you have the patience and the time and can somehow manage to gather enough seeds, there are plenty of uses for them. Each of the uses offers a different, unique benefit. Essentially, the standard prep is the same no matter how you intend to use these seeds. Gather your stalks -- hang them upside down in a paper bag -- store the bag in a cool, dry place and wait. Once the seeds free themselves from the sheath, they’re good to go. If you want to expedite this process, pull the seeds from the stalk, toss them on a cookie sheet and bake them for about 10 minutes at 250 degrees. This will dry them out quickly. The sheaths will still be there but again, there’s no harm in eating them.
The easiest way to use Broadleaf Plantain Seeds is to harvest, dry and add to your dishes. When doing this, you’re giving your body fiber which is a natural laxative. The flavor component is debatable and some would argue -- an acquired taste. I like them but keep in mind, they’re similar to celery seed in size and flavor alike. Your opinion may be different.
If you want to try something different -- use the seeds as ‘flour’. Once they’re dry and you have enough to work with, simply grind them into a powder. You can keep the powder for about as long as you’d keep traditional flour and in the same way -- a cool, dry place. It keeps for quite some time.
Broadleaf plantain seeds also contain oils that are incredibly useful. There are a dozen different ways to extract the oil and none of them are labelled as ‘easy’. Perhaps the least problematic way to extract the oil -- considering their size -- is to soak, boil and smash them in the same pot. The oils will float to the surface and you can -- if you’re patient -- simply scoop it out a little at a time. What would you use the oil for in a survival situation? Well, as it turns out, the oils are good for everything from cancer (due to the antioxidant ‘free radical scavenger’ properties) to diarrhea. Add a couple drops to tea or into your foods, for example, for the health benefits. Another solid use for the oil is for cooking though gathering enough will take considerable time.
Broadleaf Plantain Leaves
How to use Broadleaf Plantain Leaves: Raw, Dried, Steamed, Baked
Raw: Remove the fibrous center stem. Wash the leaves. Remember, they are bitter so small doses are recommended. To be eaten raw in extreme survival situations only.
Dried: Harvest 20 leaves, tie them together. Wrap in cheesecloth. Hang upside down in a cool, dry place for approximately 14 days.
Crumple dried leaves, add to salads.
Keep the dried leaves in cheesecloth, make a tea (multiple health benefits).
Steamed: Remove central stem. Blanch and shock (2 to 3 times). Cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes in boiling water.
Serve as is for a side dish (salt and pepper to taste).
Soak in vinegar (think spinach) for 10 minutes, then serve.
Baked: Remove central fiber. Blanch and shock (2-3 times). Pat dry. Use the leaves as a wrap for meat, cheese and or rice. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 250.
Broadleaf Plantain Seeds
How to use Broadleaf Plantain Seeds: Dried, Raw, Extract the Oil
Raw: You can eat the seeds raw while they're still green. You can also add them to salads. Wash thoroughly.
Dried: Allow the seeds to dry naturally by combining several stalks, tie together. Wrap in paper bag, hang upside down in a cool, dry place. Winnow the seeds (not easy but doable).
Crush the seeds into powder. Use as flour substitute.
Add the seeds to potato or macaroni salad
Extract the Oil: Gather dried seeds, soak in pot of water for 10 to 12 hours. Boil the water, let boil for 1-2 minutes. Crush the seeds while in the water. Stir. Let the oil float to the top. Use a spoon to harvest. Store in a cool, dry place.
The oil can be added to tea for multiple health benefits.
Use the collected oil to cook with.
Resources from CREDIBLE sites: