Dogs might encounter at least three plants called "plantains." Hosta plataginea is an ornamental perennial, Plantago major is a common weed and Musa paradisiacal is a vegetable that babies can eat. The first two are found in yards and gardens, and the third at the grocery store.
Plantain lily is another name for the hosta, a large, low-growing, shade-loving plant commonly found in flower beds. It has broad mostly green leaves, sometimes with a blue or yellow tint or white markings, that grow thickly from the center; the blooms are lavender and grow on tall stems rising above the leaves. The ASPCA's Poison Control Center says the leaves and flowers are toxic to cats, dogs and horses. The saponins found in these parts form a frothy gas in the stomach and cause bloating and possibly gastric torsion. If you suspect that your dog has eaten this plant, take him and some of the plant to the veterinarian immediately, as this can cause a life-threatening emergency.
Plantago major is as common in yards, gardens and wild areas as dandelions, and people eat both. Plantago has many uses as an herbal remedy, and the young leaves are an interesting addition to a salad. If you see your dog nibbling on Plantago in your yard or on walks, it may mean that he is craving some of the nutrients it contains; try increasing the vegetables in his diet. If it continues, you might want to consult your veterinarian to see if there is still something missing or your dog has an underlying illness that needs attention.
This is the old-time name for the cooking or vegetable banana to distinguish it from the sweet, pulpy yellow fruit we call the dessert banana. They come from the exact same plant -- the plantain is just the green, unripened fruit. These plantains are a staple starch all around the tropics from Asia through Africa to Central America. They can be boiled, steamed, fried and mashed like potatoes but don't taste good raw. Mashed boiled plantain, lightly seasoned with salt, is good baby food, and there is no reason dogs shouldn't eat it.
Homemade Dog Food
If you live where plantains grow and are plentiful and cheap, try including some in your dog's diet. You can substitute it for rice or another starch in any recipe for homemade dog food. If you can't get plantains in quantity, mashed sweet potato or pureed pumpkin work just as well.
- plantain image by TA Craft Photography from Fotolia.com