The English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is an herb that can be found during most part of the year. Its leaves form a basal rosette on the ground, they join in a central point forming a circle, and their length is five times bigger than their width. They have a lanceolate figure, that give name to the species, a flat edge or barely toothed, and they may have many hairs on their surface or be almost hairless, since its hair is very variable. All along the leaf, there are 3 to 5 veins. The petiole of the leaf is as long as the leaf itself.
The flowers form short spikes of less than 3 cm at the end of a kind of stem, the “scape”, which measures approximately twice the length of the leaves of the plant.
The English plantain likes moderate rich soils, such as pastures, it also appears in mown meadows, but it is scarce in highly fertilized soils. It is usually considered as an indicative of moderate dryness of the ground. It doesn’t like late frosts or extreme temperatures. It has a preference for slightly acidic soils.
The English plantain, due to its multiple and effective uses, is very appreciated by Central European popular medicine and therefore already has a monograph in the European Medicines Agency (2014). It is collected as a traditional herbal remedy and is indicated as a demulcent for the symptomatic treatment of oral or pharyngeal irritations and the associated dry cough: it helps to reduce irritation and discomfort caused by the cough. Consequently, they recommended to brew the aerial part of the plants. The amount to use is 2 g of ground English plantain in 150 ml of water and have it as a tea, 2-3 times a day.
Plantain leaves can be used to soothe and protect skin during inflammatory symptoms. Both the English plantain we are explaining and the greater plantain, Plantago major, will work. The mucilages that the leaves have cover the skin and lubricate it so that it does not irritate and besides, iridoids, flavonoids, and phenolic acids act to reduce the inflammation. To use like that, you can use compresses soaked in a 2% brewing, 2 to 3 times a day.
Another use of the English plantains is its antidiarrheal properties. These are due to mucilages, which retain water in the intestine so it is not evacuated. At the same time these mucilages have a protective effect on the intestinal mucosa. Since plantain mucilages are not digested, they are also highly recommended for the treatment of occasional constipation, as they increase the size of the fecal bolus. Their seeds are mainly used for this, as they contain the highest concentration of mucilages (up to 20%). They must be taken always with plenty of water. As it is very difficult to obtain large amounts of wild plantain’s seeds, we can always go to a herbalist's shop and buy the seeds of a cultivated congener that shares this properties: Plantago ovata.
It is important to note that mucilages can make it difficult to absorb medicines, as they hold them in their viscous matrix, and that plantains should be used with caution by diabetics.
Once in the kitchen, you can use the fresh leaves of the plantain, which must be collected before the flowering of the plant. First wash them well and then discard the thick nerves that are annoying to the palate, just like the nerves of green beans. The leaves cut into small pieces can be used for salads or soups. I leave here a "very wild" recipe:
Plantain Green: Ingredients: 50g of plantain, 50g of carrots, 25 g of sorrel, 25g of malvas, 10g of onion, 10g of butter, 10 of flour. Pepper and salt.
After washing and chopping the plantain, the malvas and the carrots, cook everything for 20 minutes. Chop the onions finely, cook them apart until they are transparent and add them to the previous preparation along with the chopped sorrels. Finally heat it all again and when everything is cooked add the flour dissolved in water, salt and pepper.
Watch out, people who are prone to form kidney stones, since the recipe includes sorrel and it contains quite a lot of oxalic acid, which can enlarge the size of the stones that have the same composition.