Parts Used: Root, leaves, flower-spikes.
Plantain is a perennial “weed” that can be found almost anywhere in North America and Europe. You probably have some in your backyard! It will grow in the sun or shade, and in almost any soil. Plantain spreads by seed, and can be transplanted. The shiny, dark green leaves may grow up to about 6” long and 4” wide, but tend to vary greatly in size depending on their soil and light conditions. Plantain sends up a leafless flower stalk in late summer; the stalks can be up to 10” tall.
Other names for Plantain include: Plantago major, Ripple grass, Waybread, Snakeweed and White man’s foot.
Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C), and vitamin K.
Modern medical research upholds many of the historical uses of plantain, especially as a wound healer, and as a treatment for lung conditions such as bronchitis and asthma.
Astringent (tends to shrink or constrict body tissues, drawing out moisture)
Anti-bacterial (a substance that prevents the growth and reproduction of bacteria)
Diuretic (causing sodium and water loss through the urine, cleansing the kidneys)
Expectorant (helps bring up mucous from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea)
Decongestant (shrinks the swollen membranes in the nose making it easier to breath)
Demulcent (soothes the mucous membranes by forming a film)
Vulnerary (Any preparation, plant or drug used in the cure of wounds)
Emollient (soothing and moisturizing effect when applied to the skin)
Neutralizes toxins (helps the liver convert toxins into fat or water-soluble forms to be excreted through the bowels or urine)
The day before my sister Shoshanna got married a bee stung her twice on both the top and bottom lid of her eye. She yelled to her fiance, “I need plantain! Quick, get me some plantain!” He didn’t know what the common weed looked like, so Shoshanna frantically ran around her brother’s yard looking for plantain.
Within a couple minutes she had a hand full of the shiny, dark leaves. To her husband-to-be’s amazement, she shoved the fist full of leaves in her mouth and frantically chewed it into a chunky, slimy mess. Then she spit it into her hand and slapped the green slime on her swelling eyelid.
Fifteen minutes later the blisters were gone, and within an hour most of the swelling was gone. She washed her face clean of the plantain within the hour. By the end of the day you could not tell she had ever been stung. Shoshanna’s fiance got over the trauma of seeing his bride slap green goo on her face and became a fan of that common weed as well.
There are over 200 species in the plantain family. Plantago major is the most common type in North America, but Plantago lanceolata is also quite common. These two types have the same medicinal uses, and are very similar in appearance.
Plantain was brought to the US and to New Zealand by European settlers who valued it as both food and medicine. The settlers seemed to leave the plant wherever they went, and so plantain acquired the name “White Man’s Foot’ or “Englishman’s Foot” by the natives of both countries.
Herbal information dating from the 1500’s and 1600’s are full of recipes and uses for plantain. It was considered to be a cure-all, and has historically been recommended as a treatment for just about everything, including dog bites, ulcers, ringworm, jaundice, epilepsy, liver obstructions, and hemorrhoids!
Roadside plantain will be dirty and dusty, and ditches are often sprayed with weed-killers. Leave a spot in your backyard where you allow Plantain to grow so you can harvest your own all summer. Plantain is not associated with any common side effects and is thought to be safe for children.
Bladder inflammation, skin inflammation and itching, urinary tract bleeding, general bleeding, bruising, broken bones, congestion, respiratory problems, hemorrhoids, ulcers, gastritis, insect bites and stings.
One physician tells of seeing an American Indian woman pound up a large quantity of Plantain leaves, put them into a skillet, and pour on enough lard to cover the leaves. This mixture simmered over a fire for several hours and then was strained through a cloth to remove the leaves. When it had cooled, the product was a smooth, greenish colored ointment. The Indians used this salve to rapidly and permanently cure a chronic skin disease that was similar to a dry form of eczema.
Plantain is edible! Harvest the young, tender leaves for salads, or steam and use as a spinach substitute. The young, immature flower stalks may be eaten raw or cooked. If you’re really adventuresome, you can harvest the seeds. They have a nutty flavor and may be parched and added to a variety of foods or ground into flour. The leaves, seeds and roots can all be made into an herbal tea.
As with all herbal medicines, you are your own best doctor; listen to your body and pay attention to it’s interaction with the herb, and you will figure out your own best uses and dosages.
One of plantain’s most common uses is as a poultice for stings, bites, scrapes and rashes. The simplest way to treat these ailments is to crush a few fresh plantain leaves by smashing them in your hands, or chewing them briefly. Now apply the green poultice to the affected area of your body. Replace with fresh leaves as necessary.
The fresh plantain “juice” takes the pain away and seems to work wonders at staunching blood flow and closing wound edges. It’s also soothing to sunburn.
Plantain tea can be used as a soothing wash for sunburn, windburn, rashes, or wounds. To make a plantain infusion (tea), simply add a small handful of fresh or dried plantain leaves to a cup or two of water, and bring to a gentle boil. Turn off heat, and let steep, then strain out the leaves. The infusion is best when fresh, although it can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. This tea can be taken with a little honey for lung congestion illnesses like bronchitis and asthma.
You can make a plantain oil by filling a glass jar with fresh plantain leaves that have been bruised or crushed. Cover the leaves with olive oil (any oil will do) and screw the lid on your jar. Let your plantain oil sit in the sun for a couple of weeks. The oil will turn dark green. Strain out the leaves with a tea strainer, and use your herbal oil to treat any skin abrasion, rash, wound, or bug bite. This oil can also be used to help heal diaper rash and cradle cap.
Go hunt for some Plantain herb in your neighborhood or yard, and make some Plantain oil to add to your own medicine cabinet!
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