The Power of Plantain

Yesterday, my sweet two-year-old tripped into a nettle patch. I knew this was going to happen sooner or later…he is high energy, curious and into everything! He was really surprised and then really angry at the stinging welts that sprang up on his ankles, a perfect opportunity for mommy to introduce him to the power of plantain.

A friend’s kiddo had spider bites on his neck for months, they were large, red, itchy and would swell and shrink, but they never seemed to go away. Five applications of plantain oil in one day relieved the itching immediately and by the next day, the red marks were completely gone.

A young girl attending my Solstice Wildcrafting party got bit by an ant and started to cry. I picked a fresh plantain leaf, chewed it up and applied the bolus directly to the tiny red bump on her foot. Within seconds she stopped crying, smiled up at her mommy, and went back to picking flowers.

I just counted 37 mosquito bites all over my back, legs and arms. This summers’ mosquitoes are especially prolific with the hot, humid mornings followed by soaking wet afternoon storms. They really like my two year old, too! The itching finally got bad enough for me to break out my emergency plantain rescue (my summer salves won’t be ready for another week) and it worked instantly (see recipe below).

What is plantain, you say?

fresh-picked plantain, top of the leaf

fresh-picked plantain, top of the leaf

underside of a plantain leaf, notice the prominent  waxy ribs

underside of a plantain leaf, notice the prominent waxy ribs

Just look under your feet, or next to your doorstep, or growing in your driveway. Broad, dark green leaves growing close to the earth – deeply veined, slick, rubbery texture. A mature plantain will have one or more tall stalks with seeds attached to the tip growing out of the center and straight into the air. Plantago major (common or broad leafed plantain) grows wild all over North America in disturbed soils between cracks in the sidewalk, roadsides and wastelands. Narrow-leafed plantain (plantago lanceolata) is used in exactly the same ways as common plantain. Take a long, slow walk around your neighborhood and chances are you can find some plantain growing right under your feet.

What is plantain used for? 

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAFirst and foremost, it is first-aid for bites, burns, stings, scrapes and owies of all kinds. Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Christopher Hobbs and Stephen Foster (2002), attributes plantains wound healing powers to:

“…flavanoids, caffeic acid derivatives, polysaccharides, and alcohols present in the wax of the leaf surface. The potent but unstable antimicrobial iridoid glycoside aucubin is found in this and [related species of Plantago]…also contain abundant and soothing mucilage, as well as small amounts of the cell-growth stimulant allantoin.” (p. 224) 

How do I use it?

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAFor immediate relief from insect stings and bites, scrapes and burns, pick a fresh, clean looking plantain leaf. Chew it with your back molars and form a bolus in your lip, thoroughly moistening the plantain with saliva until you can taste the bitter juice. Place directly on the affected area and experience immediate relief from itching, burning and chafing.

For long-term storage and year-round usefulness, fill a jar with fresh-picked plantain leaves and cover with oil (olive or safflower). Store in a cool, dark and dry place. You can strain out the plantain after one month or allow the leaves to steep indefinitely (check mold by using dry, sterile jars and completely drying plantain leaves before covering with oil).

Since my “Magic Owie Salve” won’t be ready for another week (timing is everything!) this is how I made my instant relief plantain poultice:

3 large plantain leaves, fresh picked

1 Tablespoon organic, solid Coconut Oil

1 Tablespoon local, raw honey

this quick-fix plantain poultice provides instant relief from itchy insect bites and stings

Cut the plantain leaves into small strips and place in a mortar and pestle or a sturdy bowl. Mash the leaves until the juice releases a green stain. Add Coconut Oil and honey, mixing thoroughly. Apply immediately to effective parts for instant relief (aaaaahhhhh)! This mixture will be grainy and sticky, you might want to cover each spot with a band-aid.

close-up of my homemade plantain poultice: fresh picked, cut and mashed plantain, raw honey and organic coconut oil

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