Benefits plantain has to offer you—first aid in your backyard
Many moons ago, I was out on a lovely summer day conversing with a sister as we walked barefoot through a meadow of wildflowers. Those days, we were passionately learning the edible and medicinal properties of wild plants. I was happily communing with nature when I suddenly felt excruciating pain.
I quickly realized I had stepped on a bee. Immediately, I was flooded with memories of the last time I was stung on my foot: restless nights and over a week of pain and itching. My friend suggested plantain, an herb that was growing right at our feet.
I said, "Sure, plantain may be good for mosquito bites, but this is a BEE STING! I don't think so!"
A few minutes later, as the throbbing pain increased, I decided to give the plantain a try after all. I picked a leaf, chewed it up, and put it on the bite.
A minute later (to my astonishment), the throbbing and burning had almost completely disappeared!
In ten minutes, when the pain began to return, I put on a fresh poultice and again experienced immediate relief.
Same thing half an hour later, then several hours later, and a few more times over the next day. In less than 24 hours, the sting was completely healed.
I no longer dread bee stings.
Over the years, I have turned to plantain many times— whenever I, my child, or any of our friends have been stung. I've learned that the sooner we use it, the better. So when someone cries out that they've been stung, one of us goes straight for the plantain.
And it's always just a few steps away!
Benefits plantain offers for skin ailments
Plantain, one of the most widespread "weeds" in the world, is a first-choice remedy for many skin ailments. It is safe and effective, for not only bee stings, but also for bleeding, cuts, bruises, bug bites, hemorrhoids, and itchy skin. Its ability to draw out infection—as well as splinters and even glass shards—is especially remarkable.
The most potent way to receive the benefits of plantain is a poultice. The easiest way to make a plantain poultice is to chew up the leaf, put it on the wound, and cover it with a bandaid to hold it in place. Saliva actually contains many antibacterial properties (which may be why animals lick their wounds). If a "spit poultice" is not for you, you can chop plantain with a knife or in the blender with a little water. You’ll still receive the medicinal benefits of the plant.
Identifying plantain English and plantain narrow leaf
So how do you find plantain? Luckily, it is one of the top three plants in lawns, along with dandelion and grass. There are actually two species of plantain that are common in North America:
Lance-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata), also known as plantain narrow leaf, is the primary species I found when I was first getting to know plantain—living on the West coast. At first glance, it might pass as grass. With a careful look, you'll see the leaf blade is much wider than grasses and forms distinct seed heads in the mid to late summer.
Broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major), also known as plantain common, or plantain English, is the species i've noticed to be most abundant on the east coast. In addition to its broad leaf, this species is characterized by a very long portion of the stalk packed with seeds.
These two species can be used interchangeably.
The easiest way to identify plantain (of either type) is that it has leaves with parallel veins. Most plants have leaves with veins that fork outward from a central midrib. Plantain, on the other hand, has side veins and a midrib which all run parallel to one another down to the base of the plant.
Plantain doesn't have showy flowers, but both species do have a distinctive, compact seed head that turns from green to brown as the seeds mature. All parts of the plant, including the seeds, are edible.
Using plantain as a home remedy
Plantain is what my family uses instead of an over-the-counter antibiotic cream. When young ones hurt themselves, they know where to find plantain. A day later, as they take off the poultice, my heart warms as I hear, "Mommy, it's healed! Plantain made it better!"
To enjoy the benefits plantain provides year 'round, it's easy to make your own plantain oil (see below). This oil’s healing properties will last you through the winter when plantain dies back. It also comes in handy when mosquitoes make a meal of your arms and legs. A dozen spit poultices is probably more than anyone wants to make!
For a concise reference chart on how to make various herbal preparations, including herbal oils and salves, you may want to check out my Wise Woman Medicine Making Chart.
Recipe for making your own plantain healing herbal oil
- Choose a dry, sunny day and harvest the plantain in the afternoon (once the dew has dried).
- Tightly pack a clean, dry jar full of plantain leaves.
- Cover with olive oil to the top.
- Place the jar out of direct sunlight and let it sit at room temperature for six weeks.
- Every day for the first week, top off the oil so that it completely covers the leaves.
- After six weeks, strain out the plant material.
- You now have your own rich green, healing and medicinal plantain oil!
Summary of the benefits plantain has to offer you
Plantain is one of the most abundant herbs in the world. Easily found in most backyards and with numerous healing benefits, plantain is an important “weed” to know. You can apply this herb as a poultice to remedy bug bites, bee stings, bruises and cuts. Make your own herbal oil and you’ll have access to plantain’s healing benefits all year long. It’s true—Mother Nature is growing this herbal first aid herb right at your doorstep!
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