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Botanical name: Plantago asiatica
Common name: Plantago seed
Literal name translation: before the cart seeds
Family: Plantaginaceae, plantain family
Part used in Chinese medicine: seed
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Promotes urination, guides damp-heat out through urine, clears eyes
Blooming in summer with spikes of tubular flowers, Plantago is easily grown to the point that it can become somewhat invasive. The seeds are used in Chinese medicine, but the leaf is edible as well, called Che Qian Cao. The translation of the Chinese name Che Qian Cao is “cart trail herb”, reflecting the growing habit of the plant as it self seeds easily, springing up like a weed at the edges of gardens and along paths. In northeastern China young plantago leaves are picked for food, often chopped with pork and used as filling for jiaozi, or dumplings.
Plantago plants prefer full sun, and moderately fertile, very well drained soil. Propagation is by seed or plant division. Seeds should be sown in containers in a cold frame in fall, or plants can be divided in the spring. Plantago is hardy in USDA zones 6 and 7.
The top photo is of plantago asiatica and the middle and lower photos are of plantago major. Both are species used in Chinese medicine for Che Qian Zi. The best quality Che Qian Zi consists of hard brownish black seeds.
Che Qian Zi is commonly used in its unprepared form, but it may be dry-fried or salt processed. The entire plant is sometimes used, called Che Qian Cao. It has the same major function as the seeds but more mildly promotes urination. The fresh harvested plant is preferable.