Plantain—first aid in your backyard

Plantain makes a healing herbal oil which can be melted with beeswax for salve

One day in my twenties, I was walking barefoot with a friend in the Catskill Mountains. I was enjoying the flowers and conversation when I suddenly felt an 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, who was studying herbs with me at the time, 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!"

After a few minutes, 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 have 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!

Remedy 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 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.

Identifying plantain

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 grow in our area: lance-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major). They 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 it does 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

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 plantain's healing properties year 'round, it's easy to make your own plantain oil (see below). This oil 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.

Making plantain healing herbal oil ~ recipe

1. Choose a dry, sunny day and harvest the plantain in the afternoon (once the dew has dried).
2. Tightly pack a clean, dry jar full of plantain leaves.
3. Cover with olive oil to the top.
4. Place the jar out of direct sunlight and let it sit at room temperature for six weeks.
5. Every day for the first week, top off the oil so that it completely covers the leaves.
6. After six weeks, strain out the plant material.

You now have your own rich green, healing and medicinal plantain oil! 

Corinna Woodseasoned teacher and mentor along the wise woman path–from herbs to self love

"I was initiated into the Wise Woman Tradition at the tender age of 22, by Susun Weed and a beloved patch of nettles. Today, I support women with inner growth and healing tools to ground you in your own innate wisdom, needs and desires. My teachings on heart and soul healing draw on earth wisdom of our foremothers––the shoulders on which we stand––to navigate the challenges we face as women in the world today."

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