I won't lie. You aren't gonna win any favor serving these at your stuffy cocktail party.This is something you share with your best friends - the ones who won't lie to your face and tell you that your dirt-like decoction is to die for. They're the ones who would as likely say, "Ew, this is gross... let's go get some beers." Don't get me wrong... it's not unpalatable. It's not even gross if you're accustomed to earthy herbal tea. I love a plantini, but it ain't a mint julep. What gives it gravity is plantain's potent liver and kidney medicine. And the name. Who wouldn't smile saying, "Plantinis, anyone?"
Plantain is one of the most overlooked wild edible/medicinal plants, in my opinion. I'm not talking about bananas, fried Cuban-style. I'm talking about the "weed" that grows feral in your yard and garden and in fields and vacant lots everywhere - plantain of the Plantago genus. White Man's Foot, Snakeweed, Healing Blade: a few common names.
Both Chaucer and Shakespeare wrote of plantain's healing prowess. Pliny the Elder thought so much of it, he believed that "put in a pot where many pieces of flesh are boiling, it will sodden them together." Nicholas Culpeper maintained, "All plantains are good wound herbs to heal fresh or old wounds, or sores, either inward or outward." Early Europeans called plantain "the mother of herbs."
Most folks who are familiar with herbal medicine are familiar with plantain. They know it makes an outstanding poultice for stings, cuts, bug bites and poison ivy, among other skin-related maladies. What's not so well known these days is how plantain really shines when taken internally.
Traditionally, plantain was used as a powerful blood cleaner. It was prescribed to protect the liver from the damaging effects of foreign toxins as well as to reduce swelling from kidney disease. Plantain has also been used to treat kidney stones by dissolving calcium and magnesium. It's the perfect mixer for gettin' yo likka drank on - that's Southernese for "cocktail."
I like to keep a supply of plantain around the house for making medicinal tea, so I cut as much as I can in season and dry some for the cold months. My last batch came from our community garden where plantain grows like the weed it is. It gets enormous in the amended soil and takes about a tenth of the time to harvest compared with foraging a field. In five minutes, I had a sackful of plantain on my shoulder that would make Santa Claus wince - enough to start an herb shop. I've found that most gardeners love how I'm so enthusiastic about weeding their plots.
The key component in a plantini is plantain tea. I make it by filling a mason jar or tea pot with fresh plantain. You can use leaves, seeds and roots, although I've never taken the time to dig roots since the leaves are so prolific. I use scissors to cut it all up. Then I pour enough boiling water to cover and let it steep until it's room temperature. Once it's cool enough, you can strain and drink right away, refrigerate for a few days or freeze for a few months. If you're using dried plantain, fill your jar about 1/4 full and top off with boiling water. Fresh plantain makes a green tea while dried plantain makes a brown tea. Either way, I'm a firm believer that fresh is better, so I use it fresh when I can. I may try growing some in a cold frame next winter.
I usually make plantinis with one part vodka to two parts plantain tea, but if you like a stronger drink, by all means, up the vodka. Then garnish with an olive or two, or, if you're really daring, a pickled ramp bulb. A word of caution, though. We once had some good foraging friends over for plantinis. I thought it would be cool to garnish them with fresh ramp bulbs. Don't do that. That sent us all running for the nearest bar, carefully avoiding close conversation, full plantinis forsaken.
Plantain is peaking now with its spiky seed heads poking up all around the garden. It's the perfect time of year to host a plantini party. Do yourself a favor and weed your garden. Then celebrate its weedlessness with a plantini. And don't forget to toast the mighty plantain!