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Common Plantain Plants

Widespread Lawn Weed

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A rather innocuous plant, common plantain can simply be mowed whenever you mow the lawn.
Photo of common plantain. This is a weed that puts up with heavy foot traffic.

Photo of common plantain.

David Beaulieu

Of course, this will be unacceptable to the lawn fanatic, who must have a perfectly manicured lawn. But others may find such a policy helpful in their attempts to achieve low-maintenance landscaping.

Now a ubiquitous lawn weed in North America, broadleaf or "common" plantain was brought to the New World by colonists from Europe for its medicinal uses. In his great book to identify weeds, Peter Del Tredici (Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast, p. 252) states that Native Americans called it "'the white man's footprint' because it grew where the Europeans cleared the land." Common plantain's medicinal qualities are too numerous to elaborate here, but one of them is something that the average homeowner might well make use of:

If you have been stung by a bee, try crushing the leaves of common plantain by rolling them roughly between the palms of your hands to release the juice, then applying the pulp to a bee sting. Many report relief from doing so. Note, however, that if you suffer from bee sting allergy, you should follow proper medical advice to treat the bee sting.

But the utility of this herb extends beyond the realm of medicine. Common plantain plants are edible. Harvest the leaves while they are young, preferably. At this stage, they can be used in salads, as you would lettuce. You'll probably want to cook older leaves, which tend to be too tough to eat raw.

For those who say phooey to all that and just wish to learn about common plantain control, Colleen Vanderlinden, About.com's Organic Gardening Guide, writes, "The only surefire way to get rid of plantains is to dig them up, getting all of the root out." But because it is green and stays short, it's rather unobtrusive, as lawn weeds go. In out-of-the-way problem areas where you have trouble establishing grass (due to shade or compacted soil), consider allowing common plantain to stay if it's already present. It will blend in fairly well with whatever grass is present (it is, after all, totally green) and will tolerate heavy foot traffic. Consider it a volunteer ground cover that you don't have to put any time or energy into maintaining.

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