How to Grow and Care for Plantain Weed

Plantain weed (Plantago major) is a common perennial weed that grows in lawns, gardens, and disturbed areas. While considered a nuisance by many gardeners, plantain actually has many benefits and can be intentionally grown as an edible and medicinal plant. Here is a complete guide to growing and caring for plantain weed.

Introduction to Plantain Weed

Plantain is a low-growing perennial plant with broad, oval leaves and small greenish flowers on stalks. The leaves emerge from the base of the plant and lie close to the ground in a rosette pattern. The leaves are ribbed with parallel veins and smooth margins.

There are over 200 species of plantain, but the common broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is the one that frequently pops up in lawns and gardens. It spreads easily by seeds that stick to shoes, animals, garden tools, and other objects that move the seeds around. Once plantain is established, it also spreads via rhizomes or underground roots.

While considered a weed by those seeking perfect grass lawns, plantain actually has many benefits:

  • Edible – Young plantain leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a mild spinach-like taste. The seeds can also be eaten.
  • Medicinal – Plantain leaves have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and wound healing properties. They can be used to make salves, teas, and tinctures.
  • Supports pollinators – The small greenish flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Ground cover – The broad leaves provide dense ground cover that shades and cools soil. This helps retain moisture and suppress other weeds.
  • Tolerates foot traffic – Plantain tolerates moderate foot traffic and compaction, making it suitable for lawns and play areas.

So while plantain weed can be unwanted when it invades flower beds or vegetable gardens, it also has many uses for those willing to give it a chance!

Growing Conditions for Plantain Weed

Plantain grows throughout most of the United States and Canada as an edible, medicinal, and wild foraged plant. It thrives in the following growing conditions:

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade. At least 4-6 hours of direct sun is optimal.

Soil: Tolerates a wide range of soils but prefers consistently moist, rich soil. Grows best in loam, clay, or sandy soils.

Hardiness Zones: 3-10. Perennial in all zones.

pH: 5.5 to 8.0. Neutral to mildly alkaline soil is best.

Plantain tolerates a variety of soil conditions including poor, compacted, and rocky soils. It can even grow in cracks in sidewalks, driveways, and stone walls! The broad leaves thrive with regular summer watering but the deep roots also help it withstand short droughts.

How to Grow Plantain Weed

If you wish to intentionally grow plantain weed, here are a few options:

From seeds: Plant seeds directly in the garden in spring after the last frost. Place seeds on soil surface and lightly cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Keep moist until germination. Seeds can also be started indoors 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date.

Transplanting: Move young plantain weed seedlings from other areas of your lawn or garden into your designated plantain growing area.

Wild collection: Dig up plantain weed plants from nearby areas and transplant them to your cultivated growing space. Ensure you have permission before foraging on other properties.

Propagating rhizomes: Divide existing plant clumps and plant divisions 8-12 inches apart to propagate more plants.

Plantain grows easily from seeds and transplants. Space plants 8-12 inches apart to form a dense stand. It will self-seed and spread to cover vacant areas.

How to Care for Plantain Weed

Caring for plantain weed is easy since it is resilient, tolerant of poor soil, and rarely bothered by pests or diseases. Follow these simple care guidelines:

Watering: Water plantain weekly during hot, dry periods to keep soil consistently moist. Established plants are drought tolerant.

Weeding: Plantain itself can be considered a weed, but you may need to weed around it occasionally to prevent encroachment from invasive or thorny weeds.

Fertilizing: Apply a balanced organic fertilizer or compost 1-2 times per year to boost growth. But plantain will grow fine in poor, unamended soil.

Pruning: Remove old flower stalks to encourage new leaves. Prune outer leaves as needed for recipes or medicine making.

Mulching: Spread 2-3 inches of organic mulch around plants to conserve moisture and suppress competing weeds. Grass clippings work well.

Protection: No pest or disease issues. Animal browsing can be a problem. Use fencing if needed to protect plants.

Overwintering: Plantain dies back in winter then regrows the following spring. Mulch plants to protect roots from severe cold if needed.

With little care needed, plantain weed is an extremely low maintenance medicinal and edible plant!

How to Use Plantain Weed

All parts of plantain weed can be used:

Leaves: Pick young, tender leaves to eat fresh in salads or cook like spinach. They can also be dried for tea. Crush fresh leaves to apply topically for skin healing.

Seeds: Harvest seeds when they turn brown by cutting off dried seed heads. Eat seeds raw or boiled. Roast and grind into flour.

Roots: Dig roots in autumn to dry and use for tea that soothes digestive issues.

Flowers: Pluck off fresh flowers to eat as a trailside nibble or add to salads.

Whole plant: Make into medicinal oils, salves, tinctures, syrups, and more using the whole plant.

Experiment with using plantain weed in the kitchen and medicine cabinet!

Common Questions About Plantain Weed

Here are some frequently asked questions about growing and caring for plantain weed:

Is plantain weed edible?
Yes, young plantain leaves and seeds are edible with a mild, spinach-like flavor. Both leaves and seeds can be eaten or used to make medicinal preparations.

What are the benefits of plantain weed?
It has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and tissue healing properties. The leaves, seeds, roots and flowers can all be used medicinally as teas, tinctures, salves, syrups, and more.

Does plantain weed spread quickly?
Yes, through seeds and underground rhizomes, plantain can spread rapidly. It may need containment or frequent mowing if you don’t want it throughout your entire lawn or garden.

Is plantain deer resistant?
No, deer often browse on plantain leaves and can decimate a stand. Use fencing to protect your plantain plants from hungry deer.

What is the best way to get rid of plantain weed?
Manual removal, frequent mowing, or using corn gluten herbicide during seed germination can all help control unwanted plantain. But consider allowing some to grow for its benefits!

Does plantain weed have medicinal uses?
Yes! Plantain leaves can be used fresh or dried to make antibacterial and anti-inflammatory teas, tinctures, salves, syrups, and many other herbal medicinal preparations.


Although considered a common weed, the ubiquitous plantain weed is actually an easy-to-grow medicinal plant with edible leaves, seeds, flowers, and roots. Given its hardiness and low maintenance, plantain can be intentionally cultivated in gardens to take advantage of its many benefits. Just be prepared for it to spread rapidly! With minimal care required, plantain weed is a great choice for beginning gardeners interested in herbs and natural healing.

How to Identify Plantain Weed

Plantain (Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata) is a common weed found in lawns, fields, and gardens worldwide. Here are some tips for identifying plantain weed:

Leaf Characteristics

  • Broadleaf plantain has oval or rounded green leaves that form a rosette close to the ground. Leaves have distinctive parallel veins.
  • Narrow leaf or lance leaf plantain has long, slender pointy leaves, also in a basal rosette.
  • Leaves may have faint whitish marbling when young but become solid green as they age.
  • Leaves feel thick and rubbery with a slight fuzz on the surface. Older leaves may lay flat on the ground.
  • Damaged leaves often remain upright due to the fibrous nature of the leaves.

Flowers and Seed Heads

  • Flowers emerge on stalks 3 – 12 inches tall topped with a cylindrical spike.
  • Tiny greenish-brown flowers bloom along the spike in rings. They are inconspicuous and bloom from May to September.
  • After fertilization, small brown seeds develop in capsules along the spike. When ripe, capsules split open releasing dozens of tiny seeds.
  • Each plant produces hundreds of seeds per year which allows plantain to spread prolifically.

Roots and Stems

  • Plants have a short taproot and extensive fibrous roots that form a dense mat in the soil.
  • In spring, leaves emerge from a basal rosette with no upright stem. Flowering stalks emerge later.
  • Winter rosettes feature small green leaves pressed flat against the ground.


  • Plantain weed thrives in compacted, poor soils with low fertility.
  • Commonly found in lawns, gardens, fields, meadows, roadsides, trails, and other disturbed areas.
  • Tolerates mowing, foot traffic, drought, and a wide range of soils. Hard to eradicate once established.

Look for the distinctive leaves and flowers to easily recognize common plantain weed. It spreads readily through seeds so be prepared to frequently see it popping up in disturbed areas.

How to Control and Remove Plantain Weed

For those wanting to remove plantain weed from lawns and gardens, here are some effective control methods:

Manual Removal

Manually digging up plantain weed can be effective for small infestations. Use a shovel or hand trowel to dig down at least 4 inches and remove the entire root system. Dispose of plants in yard waste, not the compost pile, to prevent reseeding. Be thorough and persistent as broken roots left behind will resprout.


Frequent mowing to keep plantain short helps prevent it from going to seed. But mowing alone rarely eliminates plantain weed long term since it sprouts again from the crown. Combine with other methods.


Smother plantain by applying 2-3 inches of mulch such as wood chips, lawn clippings, or shredded leaves over the plants. This blocks light needed for growth. Keep area heavily mulched for 1-2 growing seasons.


Cover area with clear plastic for several months during hot summer weather. The heat kills plants under the plastic. Works best for small areas in full sun.

Corn Gluten Meal

This organic herbicide inhibits seed germination and root development. Apply in spring and fall according to label directions to discourage new plantain seedlings. Takes several applications over multiple seasons. Safe for kids and pets once dry.


Spray full strength, undiluted white or horticultural vinegar directly on plantain leaves to kill the plants. Takes several applications. Avoid spraying desired grass or plants as vinegar is non-selective.

Flame Weeding

Use a propane torch weed flamer to scorch plantain leaves during dry, windless conditions. Direct the flame at the base of the plant. Repeat as needed until the roots die. Don’t flame around flammable areas.

For severe infestations, consider using an herbicide containing 2,4-D or glyphosate. Combining several methods often provides the best long term plantain weed control in lawns and gardens when desired. Be persistent!

How to Use Plantain Weed

While considered a weed, common plantain is actually a nutritious edible and has many medicinal benefits. Here’s how to eat and use plantain weed:

Culinary Uses

Young Leaves – Harvest young, tender leaves in spring to eat raw in salads or cook like spinach. They have a mild, slightly astringent flavor.

Sauteed – Saute plantain leaves in olive oil and garlic until wilted. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice or vinegar.

Stews – Chop leaves and add to soups, stews, and stir fries for green nutrition.

Tea – Blend tender leaves and stems to make a nutritious tea. Sweeten with honey if desired.

Seeds – Harvest mature seeds and dry. Eat raw, roasted, boiled like rice, or ground into flour for baking.

Root Chips – Dig roots in fall, slice thin and roast at low heat until crispy to make mineral-rich root chips.

Medicinal Preparations

Leaf Poultice – Chew fresh leaves into a pulp and apply topically to soothe insect bites, rashes, burns, boils.

Salve – Infuse chopped leaves into oil, beeswax or lanolin. Use medicinal salve for skin healing.

Tea – Pour boiling water over fresh or dried leaves and steep for skin, respiratory, or digestive ailments.

Tincture – Soak leaves in alcohol solution for several weeks then strain. Use drops internally as an anti-inflammatory.

Syrup – Simmer leaves into a sweetened syrup to soothe sore throats and coughs.

Experiment with eating and using versatile plantain weed straight from the garden!

How to Forage for Plantain Weed

Foraging for plantain weed provides free nutrition and medicine from this common edible weed. Here are some tips for properly identifying and harvesting plantain:

Where to Find Plantain

Look for plantain growing in full sun in disturbed soil areas:

  • Lawns and gardens
  • Roadsides and trails
  • Pastures, fields, and meadows
  • Parks, schoolyards, vacant lots
  • Railroad tracks, landscaping edges

Plantain thrives in poor compacted soils with low fertility. Check laws before foraging public areas.

When to Harvest

  • Harvest leaves when young and tender in spring and early summer. Older leaves become bitter.
  • Collect seeds when they turn brown in summer through fall.
  • Dig roots in late fall after foliar dieback for tea.
  • Choose young, healthy looking plants when foraging.

How to Harvest

  • Cut leaves off near the base with scissors or pruners. Don’t uproot the plant.
  • For seeds, bend dried stalks into a bag, then rub to separate. Winnow out chaff.
  • Dig roots carefully with a trowel or shovel. Take only what you need from each plant.
  • Avoid roadside or industrial areas. Forage at least 50 feet from roadways or sources of contamination.
  • Never harvest more than 1/3 of the plants in any patch to ensure future regrowth.

With proper identification and ethical harvesting methods, foraging for mineral-rich plantain weed can be a rewarding activity. Just be sure to positively identify the plant before ingesting it.

How to Use Plantain Weed Medicinally

Plantain weed has been used medicinally for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. Here are some ways to harness its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits:

Soothing Skin Salve

Chop plantain leaves and infuse into olive oil for 4-6 weeks. Strain oil and combine with beeswax to make a healing skin salve. Apply topically to minor cuts, burns, rashes, bug bites, poison ivy, and skin irritations.

Respiratory Relief Tea

Pour boiling water over 1 Tbsp dried plantain leaves and steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten with honey if desired. Drink several cups daily to moisten lungs and soothe coughs, bronchitis, and chest congestion.

Sore Throat Gargle

Simmer 2 Tbsp chopped fresh leaves in 1 cup water for 10 minutes. Strain liquid and use warm as a gargle to ease sore throats thanks to its soothing mucilage.

Digestive Tonic Tincture

Fill jar with chopped plantain leaves, cover with vodka, steep 6 weeks, strain. Take 30 drops internally with water to combat digestive issues like heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion.

Insect Bite Poultice

If bitten by mosquitos or stung by bees, chew up plantain leaves into a green mush. Apply the poultice to bites and stings to relieve itching and swelling. The antimicrobial compounds provide relief.

Draw Out Splinters

Apply a smashed plantain leaf poultice to skin over a splinter site. The natural enzymes help draw splinters to the surface for easier removal.

With antimicrobial and tissue healing benefits, common plantain weed is a versatile wild medicinal found right in the garden.

How to Make Plantain Weed Salve

Making your own plantain salve captures its natural skin healing properties. Follow these simple steps:


  • 1 cup fresh plantain leaves and stems, chopped
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ounce beeswax pellets
  • Essential oil for scent (optional)


  1. Place plantain leaves in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Leave 2 inches at the top.
  2. Infuse for 4-6 weeks in a cool dark place, shaking jar every few days.
  3. Strain oil through a cheesecloth lined sieve to remove all plant matter.
  4. Add beeswax to the plantain infused oil in a double boiler. Melt and stir until combined.
  5. Remove from heat once beeswax melts. Add essential oil if desired.