Hebe Flowers Plantaginaceae   -   Family


The Plantain family is rather obscure, but includes a fair number of weedy plants used locally as salad greens and potherbs. It also provides a commercially important substance widely used as a dietary supplement, and also in food processing and landscape gardening. Beyond that, many family members are important medicinal plants. An herb popular in Vietnam and surrounding regions is also in the family, as well as one very decorative genus that is definitely Do Not Eat!   Photo of Hebe speciosa by Petaholmes distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

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Plantains   -   [Genus Plantago]
These weedy plants are found just about everywhere in the temperate to arctic zones of both north and south hemispheres. European varieties spread so rapidly through North America, it is reported that American Indians called them "White Man's Footprint". While only a few are used as food items, many have extensive medicinal uses. Also, the seed husks of several species, called psyllium, are a major ingredient in laxatives and dietary fiber products.


Broadleaf Plantain   -   [Common Plantain; Plantago major   |   also Hoary Plantain; Plantago media]
Growing Plant

Native to Europe and Central Asia, but naturalized in in much of the world, this plantain is the one most used for food. Young leaves are used in salads, green sauces and the like, older leaves are used in stews. They are very nutritious, high in calcium and vitamins A, C and K. The similar Hoary Plantain, native to Central and Western Europe, is used in the same way.   Photo of P. major by Rasbak distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Buck's Horn Plantain   -   [Minutina, Erba Stella; Plantago coronopus]
Flowering Plant

Native mainly to coastal regions of Europe, Central Asia and parts of North Africa, this plantain is now also found in North America, New Zealand and Australia as an introduced species. This plant is grown commercially on a small scale as a salad herb. In some northern regions it has recently become a popular winter crop, grown in unheated plastic tunnels.   Photo by Patrice78500 contributed to the Public Domain. .

Sea Plantain   -   [Goose Tongue; Plantago maritima]
Flowering Plant

This narrow leaf species is native to coastal regions in arctic to temperate zones of Europe and Central Asia, and also in North and South America. The leaves are up to 8-1/2 inches long, less than 1/2 inch wide and are less fibrous than most plantain leaves. This species is found as far south as Ventura County in Southern California, though it is much more common to the north.

This is one of the best tasting and most edible of the plantains, eaten particularly in the Maritime provinces of Eastern Canada and in Alaska, where it is often canned for use in the winter. I suspect it is also eaten in Finland and Siberia.   Photo by Ghislain118 distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Asian Plantain   -   [Chinese Plantain; Obako (Japan); Chi Qian Zi; (China); Plantago asiatica]
Flowering Plant

This perennial Plantain is native to China, Korea and Japan, preferring disturbed areas. It is a common culinary herb in Japan, often used in soups. The flavor is slightly bitter, and the leaves can be fibrous if not quite young. It also is used medicinally for a broad variety of complaints.   Photo by Shizhao distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Psyllium   -   [Blonde Psyllium, White Man's Footprint; Isabgol (India); Plantago ovata   |   Dark Psyllium, French Psyllium; Plantago psyllium]
Flowering Plants

P. ovata is native to Southern and Western Asia, and is an introduced species in the western United States, now naturalized. It got the name "White Man's Footprint" because it started sprouting up everywhere European settlers went. P. ovata is an annual, producing a basal rosette and sending up flower spikes up to 18 inches high.

These plants are grown commercially in Europe, India and parts of the former Soviet Union, with India by far the largest producer. P. ovata is the dominant commercial species. Psyllium seed husks are very high in mucilage, making them a major source of dietary fiber. This substance is used to promote regularity, control diarrhea, and is an effective treatment against mild high cholesterol. Psyllium must be take with adequate water as it is highly absorbent.

The mucilage has many other usages, including thickening ice cream and other products. It has over 6 times the thickening power of starch. It is also used in newly planted soil to improve water retention. The seed left from milling the husk is used as chicken and cattle feed.   Photo of P. ovata by Stan Shebs distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, Attribution Required.



Veronica   -   [American Brooklime, American Speedwell; Veronica americana]
Flowering Plant

Native to temperate and arctic North America and Asia, this plant grows near streams and in moist bottomlands. It is edible and nutritious, tasting somewhat like watercress. It is also medicinal, used mainly for bronchial congestion. It is sometimes confused with members of the mint family, but its stems are round, while mints have square stems.   Photo by Rob Routledge distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Ngo Om   -   [Ngo Om, Ba Om, Rau Om (Viet); Phak Kayang (Thailand); Tian Xiang Cao, Zi Su Cao (China); Soyop-pul (Korea); Shiso-kusa (Japan); Limnophila aromatica]
Whole plants

This aquatic herb is native throughout Southeast Asia, extending into southern China, Japan and Australia. After the Vietnam war, it was brought to North America by refugees, and is now easily available in the Asian markets here in Southern California. This plant grows well in still water, such as found in rice paddies. It's particularly popular in Vietnam, but is also used in China and Japan. In Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the name of this herb is the same as for Perilla, a very distantly related herb. It is made specific with a suffix meaning green leafy plant (see names above).   Details and Cooking.

Foxglove   -   [Digitalis purpurea]
Flower Stalks

DON'T EAT THIS! - It'll stop your heart - dead - and meanwhile the other symptoms aren't particularly pleasant. It is one of the most powerful medicinal herbs in the world - all parts of the plant contain cardiac glycoside digitoxin.   Photo by Jensflorian distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

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©Andrew Grygus - agryg@clovegaden.com - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted