If you haven’t already picked up on this, I love weeds! Often I’m asked, “What weed is your favorite weed?”
Although a difficult question to answer, it’s hard to pass up the lovely plantain weed (Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata).
Nope – this is not a banana! I’m talking about the green weed that you’ve seen everywhere but may not have recognized. It is quite simply one of the most prolific weeds on the planet. Native Americans actually referred to it as “white man’s footprint” because it seemed to spring up everywhere the white man went.
I first became acquainted with plantain as a beekeeper. It is my favorite “drawing” herb. Since it is found almost anywhere you go on the planet, it’s a fair bet that you will find it at your feet when you need it. Getting stung as often as beekeepers do, we need a reliable plant remedy. It’s easy to create a quick poultice from fresh leaves to pull out the toxins from a bee or wasp sting. For the first couple seconds it hurts a bit more as it precipitates the proteins in our cell walls and causes constriction and tightening. But as the cells tighten, they expel the venom. This even works if we let the sting go untreated for a few days and the area has gotten hot, red, and itchy.
So What is a Poultice anyway?
A poultice is made of fresh or dried plant material. A simple example would be a plantain leaf poultice. Just chew up a bit of a leaf and stick the pulpy mass on the affected area. Be sure to remove the old and add a new one every once in a while. The toxins will pull into your poultice and you don’t want to continue to irritate your skin.
What Are Some Other Ways to Use Plantain?
Once I became friends with this amazing plant I began to find more ways to use it. Here are some of my favorites:
- On the farm I use plantain powder (find it here) as the poultice component of a kit I make to pull the oils of a poison ivy rash or the toxin of a mosquito bite out of the skin.
- Instead of digging around with tweezers when one of my kids gets a splinter, I chew up a plantain leaf and cover it with a bandaid. In no time at all that splinter is sitting on the skin surface ready to pick up.
- When a cut gets out of control and there is deep infection, a poultice of plantain will pull out dirt and germs so the wound can heal.
- Spider and mosquito bites can be nasty. My father was bitten by something particularly nasty last year and was hugely swollen. In the case of venomous bites and stings it is helpful to apply a poultice while also drinking a plantain tea.
Surprisingly, plantain is also nutritious and delicious! Plantain contains beta carotene (the precursor to Vitamin A), calcium, monoterpene alkaloids, glycosides, sugars, triterpenes, fixed oil, linoleic acid and tannins. Its seeds are high in mucilage which, when eaten, makes them effective as an aid to reducing LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides. This mucilage also makes a great bulk laxative. In fact, the plantain we find here in the Midwest is a relative to the European variety that is used in Metamucil. Using the leaves in food or medicine can be helpful for sore throat, gastritis, diarrhea, bronchitis, fevers and general inflammation. It is a mild diuretic so it is helpful in kidney and bladder disorders. It is considered an alternative as it helps the liver to filter our blood and it is also one of my favorite herbs to help clean an overburdened lymphatic system.
This weed is best in salads and casseroles when the leaves are young and small in the spring. Chewing these tender fresh leaves puts one in mind of a delicate mushroom flavor. As we drift into summer the leaves will get more woody and tough and it is appropriate at that time to dry for winter soup and tea use.
If you would like to harvest plantain you’ll find it’s easy! The leaves can be picked just about anytime, though they’ll be the best in early spring or just as the flowers begin to form. Make sure that wherever you harvest is free from chemical spray or contamination.
Can’t find any plantain in your area for harvesting? DIY Natural recommends getting organic plantain leaf here.
Have you ever used plantain for anything?
Share your experience in the comments section below!