Broadleaf plantain, scientifically known as Plantago major, is a perennial plant part of the Plantaginacea family. Although the name may suggest differently, this plant has no connection to the plantain fruit!
While many people automatically classify weeds as unwanted pests, this weed has many surprising benefits.
Continue reading to learn about the advantages of broadleaf plantain, its history, why it classifies as a weed, and more!
How to Identify Broadleaf Plantain
Broadleaf plantain is a very common weed that grows throughout North America. The plant thrives in soils disturbed by humans and is often found growing in gardens, footpaths, fields, lawns, orchards, roadsides, and vineyards.
Broadleaf plantain grows in a rosette of spiral leaves that ranges between 6 to 12 inches in diameter. Smooth leaves are formed on long petioles that can grow up to 6 inches.
Individual leaves are oval and egg-shaped, averaging 2 to 8 inches long. Young leaves start as a light green that matures darker with time.
When broken open, the plant’s thick stems display string-like veins, and about five to nine veins are on the leaves. Flowers grow from the rosette’s center from April through September on long leafless stalks. The petals are very small and light green to whitish.
Native to Europe and Central Asia, broadleaf plantain was first brought to the Americas by early Puritan colonizers. Due to the plant’s prominence near European settlements, Native Americans gave this plant the nickname “white man’s footprint”. Other nicknames include common plantain, greater plantain, or just “plantain”.
Although native to Eurasia, greater plantain has naturalized throughout North America. It’s believed that European settlers initially brought this plant to the New World due to its medicinal benefits and versatile uses.
What Makes Broadleaf Plantain a Weed?
Although broadleaf plantain prefers moist, disturbed soil, it’s not a fussy plant – this weed can easily adapt to various growing conditions. Because of the broadleaf plantain’s relaxed nature, it’s easier for this plant to survive (and spread!) throughout many parts of the continent.
Broadleaf plantain leaves can grow upright or flattened, depending on the area in which it grows. The greater plantain is also resistant to repeated trampling – an unusual characteristic that allows it to thrive in harsh conditions.
In cases where the leaves are flattened, broadleaf plantains are resistant to mowing, as the rosette’s ground-level height is not disturbed by the mower blades.
Each plant can contain up to 20,000 seeds, which the wind, deer, birds, and rabbits disperse. Broadleaf plantain is pollinated by the wind, making it much easier for this weed to spread naturally!
Uses for the Plant
While many people automatically categorize weeds as bad, there are quite a few benefits of broadleaf plantain.
Every part of this plant is edible, including the seeds and roots. Younger broadleaf plantain leaves are tender and have similar characteristics to spinach, which makes them a wonderful addition to a fresh salad.
As the leaves age, they toughen and develop a stronger flavor, which makes them better suited for stews or brewed tea!
Although greater plantain seeds may be tricky to harvest, they are delicious when eaten raw, cooked, or ground and mixed into some flour.
In addition to a delicious earthy and nutty flavor, many nutritional benefits come with adding broadleaf plantain. The leaves are high in calcium and beta-carotene and have noteworthy amounts of vitamins A, C, and K.
The plant also contains beneficial components that strengthen the immune system and help the body fight inflammation. Fresh leaves can be broken open and applied to the skin to treat minor wounds, burns, and bug bites.
Compact soil is one of many environments in which broadleaf plantain can thrive. The plant’s roots can break up hardpan soil – a thick soil layer that often restricts root growth and prevents plants from receiving ample water.
Simultaneously, the persistence of broadleaf plantain roots helps hold the soil together – a key component in preventing soil erosion!
Getting Rid of Broadleaf Plantain
Although broadleaf plantain has many benefits, this weed grows quickly and in abundance, which creates its need to be controlled. Due to the plant’s naturally resistant nature, removing broadleaf plantain can be a bit tricky.
The best way to stop the spread of this weed is by taking action before the plant can produce its seeds.
Plantain roots are short and fibrous, allowing easy removal – especially during the early growing stages.
The easiest way to remove greater plantain is by hand weeding or using a weeding tool. Not sure which tool is best for you? Check out our expert guide on weeding tools for all you need to know!
Regardless of which weeding tool you prefer, it’s important to ensure you’ve removed the entire root – any remnants left behind can cause the weed to grow back!
Mulching is another environmentally friendly way to stop the spread of broadleaf plantain. Adding a layer of mulch over the growing area blocks the plant from receiving sunlight, which stunts growth.
If you’re looking for weeding solutions that require less time and physical labor, check out our recommendations on the best organic weed killers and the best overall organic weed killer from that list.
For a cost-effective way to always have an abundant supply on hand, check out our guide on how to make homemade weed killer!
Wrapping Up Broadleaf Plantain
With an interesting history and multiple surprising benefits, there’s no doubt that broadleaf plantain is more than just a common weed.
Want to know more about the mystery plants in and around your garden? Check out our other posts on common weeds to learn about weed identification, potential benefits, removal tips, and more!