Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Benefits of Plantain & Dandelion “Weeds”

a man in a yellow jacket with a white dog on a lawn dotted with dandelions

Hello fellow readers, Have you ever considered plantain, the flat-leaved weed with spikey seed heads that invade your lawn, a beneficial plant? It was news to me to learn that plantain is a valuable herb, though I’ve known for years that dandelions should be considered welcome lawn guests.

How I learned about the benefits of plantain…

How I learned about the benefits of plantain came from a recent herb garden design. My associate installer, who advocates environmentally-friendly practices using native plants, asked me to design the garden tucked away in the corner of a home in Princeton, NJ. In my garden plan, a substantial urn takes center stage to an angled pattern of two by two-foot bluestone to serve as a design element and function to tend to the plants. Espaliered Pear trees are along one wall, and climbing roses adorn the other.

a baby plantain plant with flat broad leaves in dirt near a grey rock

Look what cropped up in my new veggie garden—a bouncing baby plantain.

When a roster of desired plants came, I was surprised plantain (Plantago major) was on the client’s wish list. But what makes a weed, aka a misplaced plant, is a matter of opinion.

Plantain, also called Band-Aid Plant, offers first-aid remedies too. And the trouble-free plant grows in all zones throughout the United States in full sun.

“If it’s green, it’s good.”

You likely know by now, my lawn philosophy is, “if it’s green, it’s good,” as long as it’s free from nasty chemicals. But a pool of dozens of plantains with their large flat leaves overrun our lawn in areas filled with violets, sunny dandelions, and native white clover I adore, as do pollinators.

The spikey thingies on plantain are the flowers, which aren’t beautiful. And they often don’t get cut by the mower, so after a fresh cut, the lawn looks messy. Kind of like the waxy stems of dandelions, though I adore their yellow flower faces decorating the yard. So, I accept the spent stems as a minor inconvenience.

closeup of a yellow dandelion in lawn

Dandelions attract beneficial ladybugs.

All parts of the dandelion are edible.

Dandelions are full of nutrition, more so than kale and spinach, and the greens taste like arugula. Plus, they attract beneficial ladybugs who feed on pests such as aphids, mites, leafhoppers, scales, and mealybugs. (For more about attracting Beneficial Ladybugs, see link below).

We have plenty of standard grass, too, thanks to my dear Curt, who each Spring and sometimes Fall fills in bald spots—most times, without much success due to soil compaction from heavy foot traffic going and coming from our footbridge over the pond to Jolee’s potty spot.

This year, per my suggestions, he bought straw to serve as a mulch cover to keep the seed moist. It’s working well in the bridge spot and not so well around Ellie’s memorial tree. “Maybe the straw is too thick.” I carefully suggest, hardly being an expert on such things. Besides, Jolee loves to run and slide in the straw. Such fun! (It turns out per Rutgers University’s Extension that 25 percent of the soil should remain exposed below the straw).

Plantain serves as first-aid remedies.
two baby racoons in a lawn filled with plantain weeds

While some consider plantain an unsightly weed, these baby raccoons beg to differ :^)

So back to the plantain. Plantain leaves have astringent qualities if you bruise a leaf to bring out the juices and place it on a wound or soothe diaper rashes. Or you can chew or mash leaves between two rocks to make it into a lump to treat a bee sting or cut.

In addition, they say plantain tea aids diarrhea, yeast infections and helps coughs. First, of course, be sure the lawn is free from chemical herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. And, if you can’t find enough in your yard, you can buy plantain seeds online. Imagine that!

At times I take great pleasure in using the nifty screw-driver-like weed removal hand tool to pop the suckers out of the ground; the only effective way to rid yourselves of plantain as they readily grow back if a tidbit of root remains. Plucking them out is kind of like removing blackheads; maybe it’s just me, but I find it rewarding somehow. So now I’ll think of it as a bountiful harvest.

Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com (and your favorite Podcast App.)

Link to more about attracting Beneficial Ladybugs 

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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