Austin Permaculture

An Austin area journey in developing an abundant and sustainable landscape.

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Nature’s Resource: Plantain

In my journey for knowledge I happened upon a website that I have learned a lot about Texas edibles.  I knew there was a veritable medicine cabinet in my yard, but I didn’t have a resource to tap it.  Thanks to a podcast by Jack Spirko at,  I learned about

I already knew that Plantain, sometimes called Greater Plantain,  was great for bug bites and stings.  I had a couple of chigger bites on my leg from watering the garden one night.  I took a couple of plantain leaves and rolled them together to get them to “juice up”.  I then rubbed the afflicted areas with the green pulp.  In seconds the swelling from the bites subsided.  The next morning it was hardly noticeable where I was bit.

I took a picture of a plantain plant in my back yard.  We were nearing the end of the season for this plant.  The Texas sun and heat makes them go to seed quick.  If you want to extend your season for plantain I would recommend that you plant it in pots and keep them in a shady, cool area.


The above picture is from the north side of my house.  Its cool and shady on that spot, so it prolonged the life cycle of the plant.  Notice the exposed “cobs” in the foreground of the picture.  They look like spiny corn on the cob.  They are dried out and the cobs in the back are shaded by other growth; they are green.  I saw this plant everywhere when I learned about it.

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a doctor or an herbalist.  Please seek the counsel of your doctor or herbalist before undertaking any self-taught remedies.

About the time I was researching this plant, my girlfriend had the worst chest cough I had ever seen her experience.  She couldn’t shake it.  Worst yet, she had chest congestion that wouldn’t shake loose.  I made some tea with plantain leaves and the next day she started to have productive coughs.  I was really impressed, but not completely convinced.  We also went up to Natural Grocers in Cedar Park and bought her a herbal cough remedy as well.   Cue one of my co-workers the next week.  He was going on his third week of a non-productive dry cough.  I made some tea for him too and the next day  he was remarkably better.  I didn’t give him the herbal cough remedy that we bought since it was for wet, unproductive coughs.  I was really convinced at this point.

To make tea you break the leaves off, about 4 good sized will do.  Wash them up real good.  You will tear them into 1 inch by 1 inch pieces.  Boil some water in a separate container and place the leaves in another pot.   Pour the boiling water over the leaves and steep them over a low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.  You don’t want to boil the water in this steeping process, but you want to have constant waves of steam rising from the pot.  The longer you leave the heat on past 20 minutes the better.  Leaving it on past 30 minutes will have diminishing returns.  I went for 25 due to time.  Remove from heat and strain out the leaves as you pour into your coffee cup.  I used a little honey to sweeten.  Unsweetened, it tastes like green bean water.

So there you go.  A cough remedy in your back yard.  If anyone would like some seeds please contact me on the “about-contact” button and provide me a mailing address.  I would be happy to mail you some seeds.  Plantain makes an excellent companion plant to any group of plantings.  It will perform the role of herbaceous ground cover in a seven layer food forest.  I will post later on food forestry.  Enjoy nature’s resource!

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Online Legume Resource

I found an amazing legume resource, but first some background.

When I was taking my online Permaculture Design Certificate course, Geoff Lawton had suggested a book:  “Legumes of the World”.

Why is this so important?  Legumes are species like peas and beans that are considered pioneer species.  There are also legumes that are trees.  These are very hardy and grow in conditions that are not as favorable to other plants.  Some  legumes are “nitrogen fixers”.  They will add nitrogen into the soil while they are alive.  There are other species that will add the nitrogen when they die.  Legumes will interact with beneficial bacteria in the soil.  They will form nodules, little white or pink balls, on their root system that trade starch produced by the plant through photosynthesis for nitrogen from the bacteria.  You can also encourage nitrogen release by cutting the branches of legumes before the rainy season and laying them down on the ground.  As these branches decompose  they will amend the soil.

Since legumes are pioneer species, they will grow in poor soil conditions and areas affected by adverse weather.  They will help repair the soil over time giving way to other species.  For example, the mesquite tree can have a tap root that will go down up to 190ft.  This allows it to be very drought tolerant by reaching water tables in some areas.  It will then be replaced by a taller tree.  Legume species are also fast growing and can provide a wind break or you can companion plant them with younger plants and trees.   I have some pear trees that I planted earlier this year.  Unfortunately I should have planted a support tree with them.  They were very late bloomers and have suffered for it from the Texas sun.  If I had a Russian olive or an Autumn olive planted with it they would have helped to shade these young trees from the sun.

As promised the website.  I would recommend using the common name index.  Have fun identifying legumes in your local area.

The same people that wrote the book, converted it into a quick access website.  Enjoy!