Plantain

Mary Anna AndersonNovember Weed - Blackseed Plantain

Mary Anna Anderson of University of Nebraska Extension, supplies us with information on weeds to watch for each month. Here is a weed that may confuse you. Is it a dicot (broadleaf) or a (monocot) grass?

Weed - Plantago fugelli

Common Names: Blackseed plantain, Rugel's plantain, red-stalked plantain. It is sometimes called broadleaf plantain, but most sources refer to Plantago major as broadleaf plantain. Plantain comes from a French word meaning sole of the foot.

blackseed plantain, showing parallel venation.Description: This is a broadleaf plant whose leaves emerge from a basal rosette. The petioles of the leaves are a reddish color, which differentiates it from broadleaf plantain. The leaf shape is reminiscent of spinach leaves. Although plantain is a dicot, the veins are more parallel than netted, making it appear to be a monocot related to grasses.

Type: Perennial. Plantain grows in USDA zones 3 to 9.

Roots: Roots are fibrous with a short taproot. The fibrous roots hold fast in the soil which makes pulling the plant difficult. Other plantains have larger taproots, with fibrous roots emerging from the taproot.

Blackseed plantain flowerFlowers: Flowers are greenish, although sometimes white or purplish on spikes which can get up to 14 inches tall. The flowers are tiny with 4 petals. Plantain can bloom from May through October.

Propagation: Seeds are spread by wind, birds, or human activity. When wet, seeds develop a sticky mucilaginous coating that causes them to stick to animals and adhere to soil particles.

Where: Found in fields, lawns, waste places, roadsides, by railroads, and moist woods. It does especially well in moist places. It adapts to acid, basic, or neutral soils.

Poisoning: None known. However for seasonal allergy sufferers, plantain is considered a moderate allergen. Other plantains contain more pollen and create more allergy problems.

Historical: It is a plant native to the United States. Native Americans are said to have used the blackseed plantain as a food source, and for medicinal uses until its use was replaced by the broadleaf plantain (Platago major) introduced the European settlers.

What: Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) and buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata) are also common weeds. The blackseed plantain is native, while the others were introduced from Europe.

Pros: Blackseed plantain is considered edible. The young leaves are harvested to eat, as the mature leaves get tough. Some butterflies use plantains as a food source. In a program on alternative crops at the 2011 tri-State Stewardship Conference, Richard Straight of the U.S. Forest Service Agroforestery Center lists Plantain fugelli in his list of "Medicinal Products and Dietary Supplements."  Birds eat plantain seeds, which contain a higher percentage of oil than many seeds and are included in some bird seed mixtures.

Cons: It can be a nuisance in yard and garden.

Herbal: According to the Missouri Department of Conservation book "Wild Edibles," the ancient Greeks and Romans used plantain for a wide variety of medicinal uses including as an astringent to heal wounds, and for asthma, fevers, and eye disorders. American Indian groups used a poultice for pain, swelling, wounds, cuts, sores, infections, blisters, insect bites, snakebites, and hemorrhoids. An infusion made from leaves was used for sore eyes. The leaf tea was taken for diarrhea, ulcers, bloody urine, digestive upsets. The root was used for same ailments, as well as for fever, respiratory infections, and constipation. The same writer said the leaves may be steeped in boiling water for 3 or 4 minutes; he said it tastes terrible but is high in some vitamins. However, herbal enthusiasts on a variety of internet websites claim the tea has a subtle flavor. In addition, they claim plantain tea can be used as a soothing wash for rashes, sunburns, windburns, or wounds.