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Plantain, ‘a bruiser of a weed'

Blog | By Elisabeth Luard | Mar 14, 2024

Plantago lanceolata spike close up. Photographed by: Javier martin

Plantain is a bruiser of a weed with dark green leaves, visible parallel veins and a flower shoot that looks like a miniature bulrush.

Three members of the plantain family are native to Britain. All are edible, although the tenderest and most pot-worthy is Plantago lanceolata, long-leaf or hare’s-ear plantain. You can tell it from its fellows by – well - narrowness as distinct from roundness of leaf. Once grown to maturity in long grass, plantain leaves are unpalatably tough. But if you choose young leaves from mown grass or a lawn, where the plant forms a neat rosette of leaves under which hide nests of infant slugs, you can keep up a continuous supply all year. When gathering, slice off the whole rosette at the root and it’ll sprout a new bunch of greenery for the pot, and to give shelter to the next generation of slugs.

Young leaves can be added to a salad but full-grown greenery should be cooked. To prepare as a vegetable, nick out the thick central stalk, rinse, shred and cook in a closed pot in the water which still clings to the leaves. The flavour is cabbage-like with that touch of bitterness always present in wild-gathered leaves. Dress as the Greeks like it, with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, or beat into buttery mashed potato, or stir into a cream sauce like spinach, or shred into a bean soup as a finishing green.