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Plantains – Edible Greens in Your Lawn

Whether or not you know what they are, most of you with lawns have seen plantains. I am not referring to the banana-like fruit that you find in many grocery stores, but the common low-profile herbs that grow just about anywhere there is soil. Their whorled arrangement of leaves, growing flat across the ground, is hard to miss. From scattered single plants to clusters of many, they can be a common sight once you stop to look.

Besides lawns, these plants are common in the cracks of sidewalks and curbs, adaptable to full sun or shade. They grow all year long, short of hard freezes, but are especially active after rains. Wet and cooler conditions in fall are ideal for new growth, making them stand out. In late spring, their vertical flower stalks appear, with tiny, dainty flowers that make these plants stand out even more.

Plantains, as it turns out, are some of many native and non-native herbs in your lawn that are edible. Actually, most of the weeds in your lawn can be eaten, but some are more palatable than others. Such is the case with plantains that by most accounts taste like arugula – a slightly spicy taste in my opinion. Personally, I have never eaten arugula, but have dined on plantains more than a couple of times, using them in salads, or nibbling on them for a snack. From my perspective, arugula must taste like plantains – but that is just me!

White clover flowers have a sweet taste, eaten raw or used to make a pleasant tea. Goldenrod flowers also make a great tea, as do most any other flowers from your lawn. Grass may not be your first choice for salad fixings, but in a pinch … But I digress, this story is about plantains, that include native and non-native species.

From my review of iNaturalist records from Mississippi, nine species are recorded in the state out of a total of 35 species found across the U.S. (in addition to several subspecies and hybrids). Of the nine found in the state, five are native, the remainder originating largely from Asia. In coastal Mississippi, two native and two non-native species are most common. Native species include American Plantain (Plantago rugelii) and Dwarf Plantain (Plantago virginica). Non-native species include Greater Plantain (Plantago major) and Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata).

Regardless, all are edible, eaten raw or cooked as any green-leaf vegetable, like Collard or Turnip greens. Their flowers are also edible. Besides their nutritional value, plantains have also been used medicinally for centuries. These plants reportedly include compounds that reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and help heal wounds.

So, instead of grumbling about the weeds in your lawn, try and eat some, even if just to satisfy your curiosity or work out a bit of frustration for them being there. Who knows, you may fall in love with some and find ways to grow more. If the latter, make sure you inform your neighbors, so they will not worry too much about you and your “new-look” lawn.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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