Please remember that Forage Friday is only intended to be a conversation starter and all of the information is presented as trivia.
The sachem knelt down in the meadow and studied the strange plant. Many things were changing since he was a boy learning about medicine from his elders. The white men who lived in squares brought with them strange animals and soon after strange plants began to grow. Some of them made war on his people but others were good neighbors and traded well with his family. He carefully dug up the alien lifeforms to learn more about them. He tested one of large leaves and soon learned that it was horribly bitter and astringent. The fibers inside the leaves were strong enough to make cordage but compared with other sources they were weak and short. The strange stock of seeds yielded tiny oily seeds might make good grain. Because the plant was one of the plants his people called White Man’s Footprint he decided to take it down into the valley to his friend Mr. McLaughlin to see if it was useful.
When we think of early American history we have a tendency to think that all of teaching was done by the natives and all of the learning was done by the colonists. And while the establishment tended to clash with the natives history records that there were friendly relationships between some tribes and some colonies even up into the civil war. Broadleaf Plantain is one of those plants that would have brought on a little role reversal in those early days. Not only was it a European native species but it was probably brought here on purpose because of its long history in European herbalism.
You may not think that you’ve ever used this wild plant but if you’ve consumed a product containing psyllium fiber then you’ve consumed the seed husks from a stalk exactly like the one in tonight’s feature image. In fact a quick Google search shows that the seeds and seed husks from Broadleaf Plantain have quite a commercial market. The seeds and seed husks are generally added to a variety of products as the laxative however it also seems to help regulate blood sugar in type 2 diabetes. As a type 2 myself I can say that my numbers are definitely better when I consum psyllium fiber on a regular basis and of course keep an eye on diet and exercise. There’s so many uses for psyllium fiber that I think it’s worth the effort to consider looking over the more than 200 species and farming it on a commercial scale. Because there’s so much information on the internet about psyllium fiber I’m going to move away from seeds and husks and talk about the leaves.
One of first personal experiences I’ve had with Plantago leaves was when I was much younger and working as a janitor. We did a lot of work with concentrated sodium hydroxide (lye) in those days and some still might. During the night one night I managed spill the chemical onto my foot which I didn’t notice at first. By the time I started to feel the discomfort of a chemical burn the skin on the top of my foot had been dissolved a couple of layers deep and a couple of inches across. When I got home I pulled up some of the older leaves and made pultice for the burn. After a a few days my employer forced me to see a doctor and when he saw the wound he said it looked like it had healing for a couple of weeks. The scar from the burn was so light that the only time it can be seen is when I have a dark tan.
In addition to that crushing the leaves between 2 spoons and allowing juice to flow into minor cuts seems to help prevent infection and seal the wound. In an old Apothecary shop one would have found jars full of the dried and powdered leaf. The powder would have been used as a styptic by rubbing it into a wound. The large oval leaves of Broadleaf Plantain.
A pultice of the leaves would have been recommended to fight cellulitis.
A salve made from the leaves is said to draw out splinters and thorns.
Just crushing the leaves and applying them to bee stings and insect bites provides instant relief.
Broadleaf Plantain leaves are rich in vitamin A which is absorbed through the skin and may help wound repair. It’s also rich in vitamins C and K as well as iron.
If I really sat down and thought about it I suppose that I could go on for several pages. But then, that would rob you of the fun of discovery for yourself.
In closing, I have eaten Broadleaf Plantain as part of cream cheese based spread. It’s not bad at all that way but I suspect the cheff would have cooked the leaves in several changes of water to get rid of the extremely astringent tannic acid found in the leaf. I’ve also chewed up raw leaf to put on a bee sting and can say that it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever tasted raw.
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