I love getting out the binoculars to watch birds at the feeder. I love seeing deer, porcupines, mice, and other animals. I love watching the moon and the stars in their phases and seasons, but of all God’s creation, the one that excites me and gets me outside most often is plants.
Plants can be studied in every season, on every continent, and under the water. Not only are they everywhere, but they can be studied in so many ways. We can study their shape and structure, nutritional value, how they help or harm crops, how they smell, what they taste like (being careful, of course), and on and on it goes. A person could spend a lifetime and more and still not learn all there is to know about plants.
One plant that I’m especially fond of is the simple little “weed” called plantain. This isn’t the banana-like plantain of the tropics. The one I’m talking about is a low, common green leafy plant that grows in driveways, lawns, and pastures. Its Latin name is Plantago major. It is common in Zones 3 through 10, so you probably have it growing near you! Sometimes plantain will have narrower leaves; then it is known as Plantago lanceolata.
When I look at plantain, the first thing I notice is its rounded leaves set in a circular rosette pattern low to the ground. If it is summertime or autumn, you will also see a few taller stalks coming out of the middle of the rosette with the plantain’s flower heads on the top.
If we look even closer, we will notice the ribs running the length of each leaf. These ribs are especially interesting. Take one of the leaves and try to rip it in half against those ribs. They are tough! The reason is that inside those ribs there is a string. I used to play at collecting them for sewing thread when I was a lot younger than I am now. I never could get it to work properly even though some other people have had success.
I mentioned the flower stalks of the plantain. The flowers are not showy and colorful like the flowers of a lot of other plants. But what they lack in “beauty” they make up for in usefulness. In the autumn, I cut the flower stalks off when the tops get dark brown instead of green. I then rub the tops in my hands over a clean bowl to collect the seeds. The seeds are very small and have a light husk around them. I dry them out and then use these seeds and their husks to add nutrition and fiber to my breads and cereals. Sometimes I’ll take the seeds and sow them around where I want more plantain to grow.
The best thing about plantain, though, is what it can do for a bee or hornet sting. If you or someone you know gets stung, you can usually look around and find plantain growing. Pick a couple of leaves and crumble them until they are a wet mush. Splat the soggy leaves onto the sting. I’ve treated many stings with plantain. You can hold them there with your hand, a sock, a tissue, or whatever you have handy. It doesn’t take too long for the hurt and the swelling to go down. The longest I had to wait was about 15 minutes, but it usually takes less time. You can also use plantain leaves this way to stop bleeding from scrapes or small cuts. That’s why some people call it the “band-aid plant.”
I highly encourage you to take a notebook and pencil with you when you go outside to study plantain. Draw it; pull it apart and describe what you find; watch one particular plant over time and take notes on how it changes throughout the seasons. Do some of the activities that I suggested here and write about how it tasted or how it helped a hurt. Then you will always be able to recognize this useful little plant that God made.
Speaking of nutrition, plantain is full of good things for us. The leaves are a good source of vitamins A, C, and K plus the minerals calcium and iron. If you eat them in the spring, they aren’t too tough, but you should still pull the strings from the ribs. They make a nice addition to a salad, I think. They can also be boiled and eaten like spinach. Just make sure that when you pick plantain to use for food, you don’t take it from places that have been sprayed with chemicals of any kind, including exhaust from idling vehicles.