Common and easy to spot, you need Plantain in your natural remedy arsenal
We spend so much time trying to get rid of “weeds” so that we can have the perfect lawn that we miss out on some extremely useful plants. One of those plants, that’s found in virtually every yard (except mine damnit) is the plantain plant. True Story: I dug up some plantain plants from an airBnB we were staying at to bring home and plant in my yard. Yup I carried weeds across state lines… LOL.
I can home with a bag of plantain leaves too, which I promptly infused in some olive oil and used to make an amazing skin soothing beer & oatmeal cold process soap. It just finished curing and I’m excited to try it. It will be perfect for anyone dealing with irritated skin. If you’re not a soaper, you may not realize soaps have to cure for a minimum of 4 weeks before you use them. It’s definitely a craft that requires advance planning a patience. But let’s get back to this lovely not-weed.
You’ve likely seen this helpful plant often without realizing it, and you may have even cursed the fact that if you leave a bit of its taproot in the ground it tends to grow back again. Plantain is a low growing plant that generally has broad medium green leaves that sprout in flat rosettes. Tall thin flower spikes grow from the center of the plant. If you don’t want the plantain to spread, pinch off the flowers when they appear.
How can you be sure you’re identifying the right plant?
I have a handy app for my phone called “Picture This” that helped me learn to identify plantain since I was clueless about how awesome it is until recently. It’s a snazzy tool that takes a photo of just about any plant and identifies it in just a few seconds. I don’t need the app anymore to identify plantain, but it sure was helpful in the beginning.
So let’s talk a bit about why you actually WANT this in your yard. Plantain is a low growing herb, with a tons and tons of uses. It’s known as the bandaid plant because it’s amazing for stings, bites, scrapes, and other boo-boos. If your family likes to be out and about, hiking, camping, being sporty, or whatever, it’s very useful to be able to identify this gem. One caveat – before you harvest, make sure it’s from an area that doesn’t use pesticides or similar chemicals.
If you don’t have the book “Wild Remedies” by Rosalee De La Foret and Emily Han, I highly recommend you grab it. The majority of what I’ve learned about “weeds that aren’t weeds” came from this book. It’s definitely a must have for anyone interested in utilizing more natural remedies. You can take a closer look at it here in our book shop.
Plantain is edible, especially the young leaves. They can be used in salads or even cooked as greens. Older leaves have a stronger, bitter flavor, and can be tough and stringy, but can be still used to make tea. But it’s not known for its culinary delights.
So what’s it really good for?
Plantain cools things down. When you’re dealing with hot conditions like swelling, inflammation, burns (including sunburn), rashes, etc., it’s likely that plantain can help. As I’m writing this I had an idea spark…I think I’ll infuse some witch hazel with plantain leaves and use it in our sunburn relief spray.
It really shines in the first aid department. Bee sting? Chew up the leaves to make a poultice to put on the sting. It will remove the pain almost immediately! Spider bite? It’ll help. If you’re not up to chewing plantain, just crush the leaves until you have a paste. According to Wild Remedies, apply a plantain poultice as quickly as possible after the bite/sting and change out ever 20 minutes or so.
For minor cuts or scrapes, bruise a plantain leaf, place on the wound and bandage. The plantain will aid in drawing impurities out of the area. It also works to draw things such as splinters out of the skin.
Interested in a spot of tea?
A strong plantain tea can offer dramatic help for a variety of inflammatory digestive problems. Teas are a great use for dried plantain leaves. Wild Remedies suggests a Healing Digestive tea with plantain, mallow, calendula, rose petals, and fennel seed. (p135) It’s soothing for people with issues such as acid reflux as well. The authors recommend another tea for soothing dry hacking coughs. Plantain can help moisten the lungs and cool down the irritation causing the cough. (info from Wild Remedies, p. 131)
You can infuse oil with fresh or dried plantain leaves for use in a wide variety of salves and ointments. It’s wonderful to help stop the itching of poison ivy and similar rashes along with mosquito, ant, or horsefly bites. One of my favorite all-purpose salve recipes is listed below. You can use the same process we used to infuse oil with calendula. In fact infusing with a combination of plantain and calendula would be pretty darn amazing.
(I’m going to go ahead and say this even though for many of you it’s obvious: if you’re really sick, talk to your doctor. If you have a spider bite that could be dangerous, get medical care. Once you know for sure what’s going on, you can still circle back to our favorite little plant here)