Learning to Love Weeds – Plantain

You’ve probably seen it growing in lawns, along the sidewalk, and in vacant lots, but have you ever realized how beneficial plantain can be?  (And no, we’re not talking about the banana-like fruit.)

Plantain (Plantago sp.) is both edible and medicinal.

You can add its leaves to a salad or prepare them like kale chips.

Although it’s fun to experiment with plantain as a food, it may be easiest to use medicinally.  One of my favorite ways to use plantain is as a spit poultice.  Get a bug bite? Find a plantain, chew up a leaf, and plop it on the bite – instant relief!  I’ve also heard many stories of this plant working to instantly soothe the pain from bee and other stings.

Plantain, also known as “the band-aid plant”, is a wonderful heal-all herb to become familiar with. Scientific studies have provided evidence that it indeed has the capacity to heal — it is both mildly antibiotic and anti-inflammatory.  Traditionally, tea made from plantain leaves has been used to treat coughs, diarrhea, dysentery, and bloody urine.  Scientific studies have also confirmed its ability to function as a bronchodilator.  However, it is perhaps most commonly known for its ability to soothe skin irritations by slowing bleeding, stopping pain, countering infection, reducing swelling, and relieving itching.

There are two types of plantain that are commonly found in the Eastern/Central part of the United States (and I have noticed plantain in the Western U.S., too, although I’m not sure how widespread it can be found).  There’s the narrow-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata L.) that has lance-shaped leaves with 3-ribs and a grooved stalk:

Narrow-leaved Plantain

and there’s the common plantain (Plantago major L.), also referred to as broad-leaved plantain. It also is deeply ribbed with a grooved stalk, but the leaves are a broad oval and there are usually more than 3 ribs.

Broad-leaved Plantain

Narrow-leaved plantain has been the star of more scientific studies, but as far as I’m concerned, they are both valuable and have served to soothe cuts, bites, and scrapes that I’ve gotten. Plantain is easily picked and used whenever it is needed while outside, but it can also be preserved in oil for use any time a “heal-all” ointment is desired. Plantain oil can be made in three easy steps:

  1. Harvest plantain leaves and bring them indoors. As long as you harvest from a well-known location, there is no need to wash the leaves (and water in your oil steeping jar can be an invitation for mold.)  Both broad-leaved and narrow-leaved plantain can be added to the oil, but it might be a fun experiment to see if one or the other works better for you. 
  2. Cut the plantain into small pieces and place them into a jar.
  3. Fill the jar to the very top with oil (I use olive oil), and wait 6 weeks for the oil to penetrate the cell walls and release the medicine.  Place the steeping oil on some sort of napkin as the jar is likely to weep, and be sure to store the jar in a location out of direct sunlight. After 6 weeks, the mixture can then be strained.

That’s all! The oil can be applied directly to scrapes, bites, cuts, or it can be turned into a salve.  This can be done in the same way I’ve demonstrated making pine oil salve previously.

Enjoy the weeds!

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11 thoughts on “Learning to Love Weeds – Plantain

  1. One of my favorite stories is when my boyfriend ( a huge herbalism-skeptic) got some bee-stings. We applied plantain spit-salve mixed with some self-heal spit-salve to the stings on his elbow. Those stingers slid out like…well..something that easily slides out. The other ones were not as easy to get out. However, one of the things he noticed was that the ones that we applied the salve to seemed to leave more of a scar a few months later, and the ones that stung longer but did not have plantain did not do that. Has this happened to anyone else here, or is it a random thing, do you think?

    • What an interesting story! I’m glad he found some relief (and belief in) the plantain!
      I’ve not heard of it leading to more scarring – usually I’ve heard the opposite, and I’ve never noticed that to be true with my use of the herb. Maybe it was because the stings were on different body parts that are more/less susceptible to scarring? Interesting to think about!

      • yeah! I think it was because it was the literal skin of his elbow, and that that skin is different than some other types, because yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either :)

  2. Pingback: Backyard medicine part one: the benefits of Plantain | Elemental Cheapness

  3. Pingback: Healing Plantain Salve | These Light Footsteps

  4. Hi to all: Yes wild plantain leaves are everything you say of them. Added storey. My mother used to score them with a knife and then place them on cuts ,bruises or bee stings covering the leaf with a small piece of cotten and taping in place. We kids used to pick them from the stem and count the white strings that show up telling us of how many lies we have told in the past year. tee hee.

  5. As a horticulturalist I have been taught to shun the weeds but recently as a permaculturalist (a new one admittedly ;) ) I have been embracing my weeds and suddenly there are a plethora of possibilities rather than problems all over the place! Plaintain is one of our regular visitors and I am really looking forwards to using it in all of your wonderful recipes/remedies. Thank you SO much for sharing your wonderful knowledge and recipes with us :)

    • It’s my pleasure! Thanks for following along with me. I’m glad you’re learning about how useful “weeds” can be! It’s amazing to me how bad of a reputation they’ve gotten when they are so useful. Good luck making use of your plantain — it’s one of my favorites!

      • I recently completed my Diploma of Landscape Design and wanted to use “weeds” as part of my final design. I think my poor long suffering lecturer saw it as a step too far but my idea was to use vertical wall plantings of greens like dandelions that could be repeat harvested and that when mass planted would look very attractice (and would take NO maintenance ;) ). Sustainable Landscape Design is all about using nature and her cycles to retrofit a clients garden and last year I threw myself into learning about ALL of the plants, not just the designers chosen hallowed “few”. I really enjoyed learning about “weeds” and how wrong I had been horticulturally and how many of them are not only extremely useful, but how weeds are actually indicator plants in your garden and how you can tell what soil nutritional deficiencies or surpluses there are present by looking closely at the weeds that have grown there. Nature is amazing. We just need to stop seeing nature as the enemy and start working with it and learning from it :). Thank you for your wonderful blog. I have really been enjoying reading your thought provoking posts and finding amazing ways to use plants in ways that you wouldn’t think to use them. My grandmother was an herbalist WAY before herbs were de rigueur and I learned a lot about plants and their uses at her knee. I was showing Steve (husband) when we were walking our dogs yesterday some plantain (not that he didn’t know what it was, he and I both study together ;) ) and telling him about how many uses for this “weed” there were (thanks to your site) and if we all just stopped seeing things as black and white, the world would be a much more interesting and useful place :)

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