Plant of the day: English plantain

English plantain are supposed to be done flowering, but a few are still blooming along the coast. These green grass-like torpedos were one of my favorite childhood plants. You can make a loop out of the stem, and if you slide the flowering stalk through the loop quickly then the head will pop off–a missile to bombard another kid with.

Plantago lanceolata is in the group of low-growing plants known as plantains–and is not at all related to the banana-like plantains. This little herb sprouts a long stalk bearing a single flower, extending up from a low rosette of ground-level leaves. It is not a native to California.

Though technically edible, the leaves are described as fibrous, and removing the fibers is hard work for a somewhat bitter green. The plant is better used medicinally, as it has antibacterial properties. English plantain is used to treat ulcers, rattlesnake bites and myriad other maladies. The seeds are mucilaginous and swell up if eaten–apparently this makes them good as laxatives and treatments for indigestion.

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