There’s one plant that grows almost everywhere that you definitely should know about for your herbal medicine cabinet. It’s one of the first plants most people consider weeds that I learned to identify. I became interested in it because it was literally growing right outside my door in the lawn, right next to my sidewalk.

There’s an herb shop in my town where I go to get dried and fresh herbs to make my own preparations, and the shopkeeper called plantain “white man’s footprint.” It was called this by the Native Americans because it grows so well in disturbed soil, so wherever settlers traveled this plant followed them. I’ve heard other herbs called this name or variations of this name before, but this herb definitely fits the profile: plantain

This is a superb herb for your medicine cabinet. The scientific name of plantain is Plantago major. It’s a species of flowering plant in the plantain family Plantaginaceae and not to be confused with the banana-like fruits that are sometimes found in the grocery store. There are two common varieties of plantain, both very easy to identify:

Look for either or both variety of plantain growing along roads, fencelines and probably right in your own yard if it’s not a manicured lawn.

And if you’re ever not sure, an easy way to find plantain this time of year is by its distinctive flowers:

Uses of Plantain

Plantain is excellent to put on minor scrapes, burns, stings and bug bites. Simple tear off a leaf, chew it up and put the wad on your skin. It works very fast. My own son knows that when he gets a bug bite or a scrape he can find plantain and either ask me to put it on him or he can do it himself. Leave the wad on your skin for 15 to 20 minutes and you’ll see a noticeable improvement. Once when we were at the beach, I happened to notice plantain growing near where we were picnicking. I didn’t think much about it except to note that it was there. A half hour later my son had a bug bite on his knee so I asked him if he wanted plantain. He didn’t want me to chew it up this time (he is getting older after all!) so I used a rock and a little bit of sea water in a bowl and crushed it up to release the plant juices. If you don’t want to chew the leaves, crushing it works just fine too.

I also like to gather fresh plantain leaves and fill a jar with them. Then pour olive oil over the leaves and allow them to infuse the oil for 6 weeks. After that, you may use the plantain-infused olive oil as it is or use the oil in your own skin lotion or balm recipe. You can then put that on irritated skin to get the same benefits.

Eating Plantain Leaves
You can eat the small plantain leaves, but after they get bigger they don’t taste too good. And to be honest, in my opinion they don’t taste that good even when they’re young! But they are edible. So that makes plantain a very desirable plant to know. If you have a natural area in your yard and you find plantain growing, leave it alone. I predict it will become one of your favorite plants just as it is mine.

Here’s plantain growing in a median strip near a road in a bed with dandelions and other weeds. The plantain is the pointy weeds in the corner by the yellow. I’ve even seen it growing out of a bed of gravel. If you’re harvesting it to eat or to put on your skin, you might want to avoid these high-traffic areas and try to find a source of it where it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or road dust. But the point is, these plants grow literally everywhere.

What? Eating that grub doesn’t sound appealing? Well it might keep you alive. I ate a hazelnut grub when I was learning how to prepare acorns (article link on using acorns as a survival food here) and it wasn’t bad! Of course it was small. I’d have a much harder time eating a grub the size of my thumb. I know it’s just a cultural thing though.

I’ve also eaten crickets at a Mexican restaurant and it wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want to look too closely at the eyes, legs and antenna before popping them in my mouth! The people who know that I ate a grub (actually, I ate more than one!) tell me that they would do it only in a life or death situation. They weren’t interested in eating one “just to try it.” So what do you think? Would you actually eat grubs or other insects if you really needed to? If so, here are 4 insects you can eat all year-round. There are nearly 2,000 edible species of insects around the world, and many of them people already eat. It’s not a weird thing.

1. Ants and Termites

There are a wide variety of ants available in all corners of the globe. There are even ants in India that are used to make a lemony sauce! Most ant species are edible. I would avoid fire ants. According to National Geographic, 100 grams of red ants provides some 14 grams of protein (more than eggs), nearly 48 grams of calcium, and  iron, among other nutrients. It’s hard to find a credible source online of what specific ants you can eat in the US (plenty of info about the Australian honeypot ant and the Amazonian lemon ant — helpful to know if you’re ever lost in the jungle or on a walkabout. If anyone knows a credible list of ant species that are edible and identification let me know.

2. Earthworms 

These are abundant and easy to both harvest and grow. The squiggly creatures can be eaten both raw or cooked–although cooked sounds a lot more pleasant to me. Plus, insects including worms can carry parasites so cooking them lessens your chances of catching something. Suggested preparation is to boil them first to remove the slime, and change the water a few times until it remains clear as you continue to boil them. Then, roast then, fry them, freeze them or dehydrate them. Grind the dried ones into flour. That could be the most appetizing way to consume them. If you can, let them eat something clean like potato or corn meal for a few days before you consume them.

3. Maggots

Not super appealing, but if there’s a dead thing there’s going to be maggots. Many insects that are edible (snails, crickets, grasshoppers etc) are only available in the warm months for most people in the US, so a bug like a maggot is one that you can find all year round. Harvest them from meat that’s been left hanging too long, and spread them on toast.

4. Roly Polys (Sowbugs, Pillbugs)

These critters that roll themselves into a ball are ubiquitous under rocks or rotten pieces of wood. Once you collect a handful of them, boil them. If you can, let them eat something clean like potato or corn meal for a few days before you consume them.