Once you identify this common backyard herb, you'll begin to notice it everywhere you look: cracks in pavement, gardens, pastures, and all over your backyard. There are two species of plantain commonly found growing in lawns and along roadways, Plantago major (Broad-leaf) and Plantago lanceolata (Narrow-leaf).
Plantain (Plantago lanceolata, P. major)
Medicinal Part used: Leaves and root
Preparation: Dried herb, tea, capsules, tincture
Nutritional Ingredients: Young leaves can be cooked and eaten as greens. They contain vitamin C, K, carotenoids, zinc, and potassium.
Contraindications: None known
Plantain is believed to be one of the first plants to reach America with the settlers. It likes to put down roots near human activity. In fact, Native Americans called the plant “white man’s footprint” because it grows readily wherever people walk. The classic Latin name Plantago was formed from the Latin word ‘Planta‘ meaning the ‘sole of the foot.' In Ireland it is associated with St. Patrick who is associated with ‘averting snakes.' Dutch writer Erasmus included a story in his Colloquies, which were written in the 1500s:
"I have heard it told by those that have seen it, that there is the like Enmity between a Toad and a Spider; but that the Toad cures himself, when he is wounded, by biting of a Plantane Leaf."
The leaves have been used medicinally for millennia to treat urinary problems, sore throats, respiratory
disorders, stomach ailments, skin irritations, heart problems, sore muscles and rheumatism. Native
Americans understood how to put plantain to good use to cure fever, heal wounds and treat nasty dog, snake and insect bites. The leaves are also thought to prevent infection. One simple remedy still in practice today is to chew a leaf to make an impromptu poultice for minor wounds, rashes, stings and other skin irritations. The benefit comes not only from the plantain leaf, but from human saliva, which contains antimicrobial substances that help repair damaged tissue.
Plantain leaves are wonderful as a strong infusion (tea) for healing digestive wounds, for general GI inflammation, or for dry and irritated coughs. (It is possibly the most important ingredient in our Healthy Gut Tea!) Plantain is also useful in the event of a toothache. Fresh leaves can be chewed and placed on an aching tooth. Topically, plantain is used for burns, cuts, wounds, cervical erosion, rectal fissures, hemorrhoids, and episiotomy incisions. It reduces inflammation and pain of insect bites and stings (bee, wasp, spider, scorpion, ant) and poison ivy (Winston and Kuhn, 2000).
When using plantain for bites and stings, fresh leaves are preferred. A simple spit poultice is often the best choice. To make a spit poultice, chew up a fresh leaf or two (or mash in a mortar and pestle) until the
cell walls are broken and you have a gooey, green leaf poultice. Place this on the affected area. A whole leaf can be used to cover the poultice and a band-aid or gauze can further hold the poultice in place.
Harvesting Tips: Be sure the area you're picking has not been treated with pesticides or other chemicals. A tip for identifying plantain: look for celery-like strings when the leaf is snapped in half.
Plantain Infused Oil
Gather a bunch of plantain leaves from an area that was not treated with pesticides or near the roadside.
Rinse and dry the leaves thoroughly to prevent mold in your infusion.
Chop the leaves and pack them into a mason jar until full.
Cover with pure olive oil and stir briefly to remove air bubbles.
Place lid on the jar with a label and date.
Let the infusion sit for 4-6 weeks, stirring occasionally to keep the leaves below the oil.
Strain out the plant material through a mesh strainer or cheese cloth.
Store in a cool, dark place.
Using your infused oil
Plantain infused oil can be used for itchy bug bites and minor surface wounds. To make into a salve, use 1 tablespoon of beeswax for every ounce of plantain infused oil. Stir the oil and wax together over low heat until the beeswax is melted. Pour into a jar or tin and it will harden as it reaches room temperature.
For educational purposes only, not medical advice.