Most people (in North America, where I live, anyway) think of the plantains as a kind of banana, only bigger and not as tasty of a fruit. However, while plantains are a relative of the banana, they are, in fact, not a fruit at all. These incredible edible Plantains are actually herbs … and therefore definitely not bananas.
What? You say? These giant “trees” (they grow to heights of over 30 feet) are really overgrown herb plants?
In doing my study for this article, I came across quite a number of little-known and interesting facts about plantains, a member of the Plantaginaceae family. Allow me list some things you may not know about:
Those Incredible Edible Plantains!
- The scientific name for Plantain is “Plantago Major” and its Latin generic name translates into English as “sole of the foot”.
- Native to Central Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, the Plantain has been known in those areas of the world for millennia not only for its nutritional value, but also for its multitude of healing properties.
- The Anglo-Saxons considered the plant to be sacred, and referred to them as the “Mother of Herbs” in poems.
- When the first European settlers came to North America, they brought their favored herb with them, where is has since flourished, especially in southern regions.
- Native Americans soon came to admire plantains, and named it “white man’s foot” because it is such a hardy and persistent plant it would often be found springing up along well-traversed pathways. These were not the species of giant “trees” you most often think of (at least I do) that produce plantains, but a much smaller, shrub size species.
- There are over 200 species of Plantain, and the recorded uses for this beneficial herb are a list about that long, too. Here’s just a few I’d never known, that the Native Americans discovered:
- Used to draw poison out of a rattlesnake bite
- Excellent poultice to apply to insect bites and bee and wasp stings
- Soothes rheumatic pain
- Makes a good poultice for wounds
- Juice squeezed from a Plantain makes a good eyewash
- Plantains contain a much lower sugar content and much higher starch content than bananas, hence, they are still green when ripe, and when they ripen even further, they will turn black—not yellow—and a black Plantain is the only kind you might find enjoyable to eat as is, raw, but most often they are used as a baked or fried staple with meals.
- Africans enjoy Plantain chips much like Americans like their potato chips. Plantain chips are sometimes sweetened, by frying them with coconut milk and/or sugar.
- Dried Plantain can be ground and used as a healthy flour or meal in baked dishes.
- The leaves and seeds can be, and are, used for a plethora of medicinal purposes, not the least odd of which is as an anti-diarrheal and a laxative.
- The only possible ill effect of Plantain I came across is that it can cause an allergic reaction in a very small percentage of allergy-prone individuals.
So as you can see, those big green bananas you see in the supermarket are the “fruit” of a pretty darn handy plant to have on the planet.
Try making some sweetened Plantain chips with this following recipe. I love them, developed a taste for them when in Ghana, Africa, while courting the gorgeous young lady who is now my wife.
Sweet Plantains Chips Recipe
- 2 large plantains (not overly ripe)
- 1-1/2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
- With a sharp knife, peel the plantain (they don’t peel as easily as a banana), and then slice them as thinly as you possibly can.
- Combine the slices, olive oil, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar in a mixing bowl, and stir carefully, but thoroughly, ensuring all the chips get coated on both sides.
- Line a cookie sheet or baking tray with parchment paper, and lay the slices out in one single layer.
- Bake in the oven for 9 minutes on one side, flip the slices over, then bake for another 9 or 10 minutes, or until they are turning brown around the edges—which is your signal they are done.
- Remove from the oven and serve. I like them best fresh out of the oven and still warm, but you can also enjoy them at room temperature for the next day or two.
And hey—not someone with a flair for the kitchen, and don’t feel like going through all the trouble? You can buy some already made and very delicious if you just click here or on the image below.