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:
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.
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:
- 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.
- Cut the plantain into small pieces and place them into a jar.
- 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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