Improvement Status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~80
Life cycle: Perennial
Plantain is a wonderful perennial vegetable that is dramatically underutilized considering how ubiquitous it has become. Native to Eurasia, it is widely naturalized around the world, especially in North America. Many people have taken to using it for mosquito bites and other basic first aid (a chewed-up leaf almost instantly stops itches and reduces pain), and it can be found in various salves and tonics. But as a vegetable it is still not fully appreciated. The young leaves are the tastiest, with a mild bitterness that practically disappears amidst a salad, soup or stir-fry. Even the tougher mature leaves — which in this population can grow to six inches long — can be boiled and eaten. Plantain leaves can also be dried for future use (as in the photo) and the seeds are edible.
The medicinal power of plantain comes from multiple compounds present in its leaves: allantoin (which promotes cell growth), aucubin (a mild anti-biotic also known as a liver tonic), ursolic acid (believed to be an anti-cancer compound), flavonoids (multiple uses), and mucilage (responsible for some of its topical and internal soothing ability). And as a food it's also a powerful source of nutrition: plantain has high concentrations of Vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium. This is diverse population of mainly red-leaved plants (sometimes referred to as 'Rubrifolia') grown for us by Andy Hahn in Colorado.
GROWING TIPS: Direct seed after danger of last frost or transplant healthy plant starts after danger of last frost. Can be surface sown of soil is kept moist. Plants should be 8 to 12 inches apart. Plantain is a perennial, and it will likely self-seed in your garden, so be prepared to have it around for a long time (if you don't have it already).