Llanten de Brujo Plantain
Origin: San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico
Improvement status: Landrace
Seeds per packet: ~35
Germination tested 12/2020: 20% (below standard)
Life cycle: Perennial
EFN INTRODUCTION. NEW. In 2017, EFN co-founder Nate Kleinman received a single plantain plant from a self-described brujo selling medicinal plants at an outdoor market in the hills outside San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. Brujo, in this case, is probably best translated as "medicine man," but it carries connotations of "witch doctor" or "sorcerer" as well. The town is located in the mountainous eastern part of the island near El Yunque National Forest and the city of Caguas. The man only had one potted plantain, so it immediately piqued Nate's interest. He was told it was a very potent strain of llanten (Spanish for plantain), and it certainly looked different from the common weedy plantain that grows most everywhere in Nate's native Philadelphia (and many other places around the world — indeed, the common European species became known to indigenous people in North America as "white man's footprint"). This plant had slightly fleshier leaves, a paler color, and a slight waxy bloom on the surface of the leaves (like the waxy bloom found on grapeskins).
Before flying home, Nate carefully cleaned off all of the soil from the roots of the plantain, along with many other plants — as is required to transport live plants from Puerto Rico to the continental US — and brought it back to New Jersey. Once back in soil, the plant thrived and made a profusion of seeds. In 2020 we grew quite a few plants, and the seed we're selling comes from those plants. Because plantain is wind-pollinated, it's likely there has been some crossing with the weedy plantains that grow in South Jersey, but we know the original genetics are still in there. We're unsure why it has such a low germination rate, but we decided to sell it anyway because it is so unique. To preserve its character, save seeds only from the plants with the palest, fleshiest leaves, and any waxy bloom.
Plantain is most widely known as an almost-always-at-hand remedy for insect-bites, rashes, and minor wounds, but it has a long history of use for a wide range of ailments, including cough, bleeding, infections, and fever. It is said to be astringent, diuretic, laxative, and anti-inflammatory. It's also edible and rich in vitamins and minerals (particularly calcium). One hundred grams of plantain contain as much beta carotene as a large carrot. Plantain fibers can be used to make rough cordage as well (it is often discussed as a useful source of fiber for making rudimentary ropes in survival situations).
We believe this is likely a strain of Plantago major, or it has at least been hybridized with that species, but there are over 200 species in the Plantago genus, so we are unwilling to say for certain what the species name is for this variety.
GROWING TIPS: Surface sow and keep moist. Seedlings start very small (the seeds are also very small), before quickly reaching full size. We recommend growing in containers unless plants can be kept away from vegetable eating animal pests. When we tried to grow this in the field in 2019, every single plant was eaten by rabbits.