Wild Herbs


Plantain, (genus Plantago), is a common weed that originated in Europe but has naturalized throughout the U.S. Common plantain (Plantago major) has rounded leaves, while English plantain, or Narrowleaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata) has elongated lance-shaped leaves. Plantain has a vast history of medicinal use and has long been considered an important herb. Emerging in early spring, it may be harvested and used until freezing weather kills it.

Common plantain

Common plantain, Plantago major

Traditional Use: 

Plantain was used traditionally both externally and internally. Used as a "spit poultice" (chewed thouroughly) it's used to treat snake bites, insect bites, cuts and rashes. Naturally antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, plantain makes an excellent component in healing salve.

Plantain has historically been used internally to treat a number of conditions:

  • kidney disease
  • kidney stones
  • gall stones
  • urinary tract infections
  • influenza
  • bronchitis
  • jaundice
  • ulcers
  • liver disorders
Preparation and Storage: 

Plantain leaves and seed heads may be dried for tea or used fresh. To make tea, shred leaves and pour boiling water over. Tea may be frozen for later use. Young plantain leaves may also be eaten in salads before they get big and tough.

Habitat and Harvest: 

Plantain occurs in yards and fields throughout the United States. To harvest, simply cut leaves and seed heads or dig roots.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of our most nutritious wild food plants.  Originally from Europe, stinging nettle has naturalized throughout most of the United States.  The stinging hairs that cover its leaves and stems impart a painful sting and rash that can last hours or days.  Stinging nettle grows 2 to 4 feet tall and has opposite, toothed leaves that can be several inches long.  There are several kinds of nettle including wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), which is native to the U.S. and has fewer stinging hairs.  All nettles are edible.

Stinging nettle in bloom. Nettle shouldn't be consumed while flowering. Photo by J Brew

Preparation and Storage: 

Nettle can be used fresh, dried or steamed and frozen.  Dried nettle makes great tea.  If eating fresh or storing to eat later, make sure not to over-cook.  Lightly steaming is the best way to prepare for eating.

Habitat and Harvest: 

Stinging nettle likes nitrogen, moisture and sun.  It thrives along streams and rivers and on old farms. In the U.S. it's considered invasive.  Make sure to wear gloves and long sleeves to harvest to avoid being stung.  Cooking neutralizes the stinging effect.

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