Plantago is a super common lawn and garden ‘weed’, commonly known as Plantain. But not like the banana! It comes in 2 types around here, P. major or the Broad Leaf variety, and P. lanceolata or Narrow Leaf. Believe me, you’ve seen this plant.
P. lanceolata has an annoying little stalk with a cone-shaped head on it, which produces tiny flowers. This stalk is very tough and very flexible- it bends double when the lawnmower pushes on it, and springs back up once the blades are past. Hence, it is a bane for ‘perfect lawn’ people.
P. major also has a stalk, but this one produces flowers along the length of it. Last year I cultivated this wild plant in my garden, weeding around certain plants and encouraging them to grow big and lush. This year the flower stalks were huge- some grew 6 inches long or more.
After they flowered, they started producing seeds. The seed pods started out small and green, and as they matured turned a dusky purple. Once most of the stalk was purple, I harvested it near the ground. Many of the stalks were beginning to turn brown where they joined the leaves at the basal rosette when I harvested.
The stalks were left to dry on a sheet of paper to catch seeds, then I stripped them into a jar. I just stuck the stalk upside down in a jar, pinched the end of it with my fingers and pulled to ‘strip’ off the seeds and their husks.
This is where the project sat for the last few months. There was a lot of husks and chaff in the jar, and I don’t have seed screens. How was I going to separate them?
Finally today, I sat down with some tools. In the end, this is what worked the best- and it was easy too!
First, a spoonful of seeds and husks went into a wire strainer with a large-ish mesh. That was over a metal bowl, and I shook it to separate the loose seeds. Then that spoonful went into a mortar. I used a clay one with grooves and a wooden pestle. A few turns and lots of seeds had been broken out of their pods, so it all went back into the strainer. Another grind or two and the strainer was full of empty seed husks, which I threw out.
A spoonful at a time, the seeds were sifted into the metal bowl, along with a considerable amount of chaff. Then came the fun part.
I took the bowl outside, shook it to settle the seeds and bring the chaff to the top, and very gently blew on the bowl. The chaff puffed up and blew away. I took a deep breath and blew in a steady stream, turning the bowl and disturbing the seeds, which curved up the sides of the bowl and fell back in. I got lots of chaff on my glasses and in my hair but it wasn’t in the bowl anymore!
I got a little carried away and ended up blowing too hard and losing some of the seeds. Next time, I’ll remember to stay very gentle and let it take a little longer, and maybe use a deeper bowl.
But now I have a half pint jar of Plantain seeds ready for eating! I’m going to sprinkle them on things like poppy seeds, and make a gomaiso-like blend with toasted Milk Thistle and Nettle and something else, maybe Thyme. Dulse would be good but I’m out… I read somewhere that these seeds are very high in B vitamins so I want to do some more research, but I’m pleased with my harvest.