Saturday, July 18, 2009

Plantain on the menu

Ok, we've learned a bit about Plantain's medicinal value, maybe put it to use as a fairy bandaid, or even put it in a jar of oil for future use in a healing salve. (Incidentally, that quart of plantain oil is worth $126 on one site I checked out!)

It always surprises people that this lowly "weed" is so helpful and healing. They are even more surprised to find out they can eat it as a veggie!

The best odds of enjoying Plantain as an edible is to harvest young tender leaves. In the spring that's not too difficult. But as summer moves along, the plant matures, and the larger leaves become rather tough, and somewhat bitter in taste. So just use the younger leaves, emerging from the center.

These leaves can be cooked, or used raw in salads. Heat does destroy some of the antibacterial properties of the plant, but many nutrients remain active. Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C), and vitamin K.

I usually recommend a first encounter with eating herbs be as a tea. You can make it weak or strong, sweeten or not, mix with another tea you already enjoy - just play with it.

Leaf infusion: Place 2-4 tbsp of fresh plantain leaf, half if dried, in a warmed glass container. Bring 2 1/2 c of fresh, non-chlorinated water to the boiling point, add it to the herbs. Cover. Steep five to seven minutes. Drink warm or cold throughout the day, up to three cups per day. The prepared tea will store for about two days in the refrigerator in a sealed jar.

If you are feeling braver, try fresh tender leaves in a salad. Here's a suggestion:

Pretty Plantain salad

Toss about 5 cups of washed young plantain leaves (rough chopped) with one sliced tomato and one large cubed avocado. If you like basil, throw in a couple leaves chiffonade. Make a simple vinegrette of 4 T. red wine vinegar, 2 T. oil (avocado oil is nice!), 1 tsp. honey. Pour over salad, dust with a couple grinds of fresh black pepper.

Pretty tasty, eh? Now you are ready for a simple side dish:

Cheddar Cheese Plantain

Boil about 5 cups of young plantain leaves (if using older leaves, may have to be boiled through several changes of water) Test for tenderness and flavor as they cook, they shouldn't be bitter. Young leaves should only need one change of water.
Make a cheese sauce: In small saucepan, melt 1 T. butter. Whisk in 1 T. flour, over low heat, until smooth. Still whisking, stir in 1 c. chicken broth, turning the heat to medium high. When the mixture is smooth and bubbling, stir in 1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese (you can use less cheese if you use a good sharp cheddar... )
Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked plantain leaves, dust with fresh ground pepper.

Plantain can be used in place of spinach, in most recipes. Just make sure the leaves are young!

This lowly but powerful plant should have a few square feet of it's own in every yard or garden. It has been speculated that it could be the first "weed" to come under cultivation in a survival situation.

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