It is interesting how Plantain (Plantago major) helps to heal the earth and human beings in astonishingly similar ways. When the Earth is trampled on and scarred, Plantain is one of the first who appears with its renewing, restorative energy. When human beings have a wound, a sting, or a disturbance on their skin, Plantain emanates an identical healing spirit.
The entities it steps up to heal differentiate, but the medicine remains the same. Or is it the earth and human beings that remain the same? Perhaps we aren’t so different in retrospect.
This was again, yet another affirming realization of how the contours of human beings and the Earth are fogged into one. We are truly integrated. Nature is hitting me with the truth yet again. We are one…and yes I’m singing the Lion King soundtrack now.
This plant is an introduced species to North America. Brought over from Europe, it has naturalized within the ecosystem of the landscape where I live. It has come with so much to offer us. And unlike other plants that have been introduced, Plantain doesn’t aggressively compete with other species. I’ve noticed that some plants that are introduced by Europeans into North America behave like the colonialism that brought them into this country; a green mirror into the cultural genocide that many Europeans lived out.
Instead, Plantain takes its place as a restorative in beat up compacted land, and places where many other plants can’t grow. It takes the first step of succession to care for the landscape that has been so badly hurt. It is introduced, but surely not invasive. It’s presence is peaceful.
It’s always around us, even in urban settings you will find it growing. It will grow where humans always step, staying true to its common name “Old Man’s Toes“.
The seeds are also delicious in the Fall, and can be ground up and added to flours, smoothies, and salads. They are a powerhouse of psyllium and are a great demulcent for our digestion. Plus birds also love them!
The leaves are great in salads when they are still young, and even as the season progresses you can usually find leaves that aren’t too tough in texture for eating. The leaves also mirror the seeds and behave as a demulcent in cough syrup formulas and herbal infusions. Their mucilaginous nature aids in issues with the bronchial system such as asthma, dry coughs, inflammation and also helps to soothe the digestive system. The leaves can be cooked as well and added in with other dishes wherever you would use spinach.
Also great in a salve, Plantain is extremely soothing to any skin issues. Abrasions, burns, small cuts, eczema, etc! Used on their own, the leaves are an antiseptic for minor cuts.
Whenever anyone gets a bee sting, I recommend Plantain. The best part is that you can find it usually just by glancing to the ground that surrounds your feet. Make a spit poultice by chewing the Plantain leaves in your mouth and rub it over the sting. It has a soothing effect to the sting and helps to draw out the toxins. Truly, a bee keepers delight.
How to make a healing salve with Plantain
Here’s how to make a skin healing salve with Plantain as a main ingredient!
Cheesecloth, or pillow case (for straining)
Jars for salve + Lids
1/2 cup of flowers (listed below)
1 cup of Olive Oil
1/4 cup of Beeswax
Collect the following wildflowers on a sunny day. Ideally whenit hasn’t rained for a few days.
1 part Plantain leaves
1 part Calendula flowers
1 part St John’s Wort flowers
1 part Yarrow flowers
1 part Heal-All flowers
- Allow the flowers to dry and wilt slightly in a basket in a warm place. This will decrease the possibility of the flowers molding within the olive oil.
- Add flowers in pint jar.
- Fill jar with olive oil. Encourage flowers to stay beneath the surface of the oil.
- Allow the oil and flowers to infuse in a dark place for a month. Check periodically to ensure no mold is forming. If there is mold, remove with a spoon.
- After infusion, sieve out flowers from the oil.
- Heat up a double boiler on medium heat. If you don’t have a double boiler, just heat up a pot of water and put a stainless steel bowl on top of it.
- Add the oil to the bowl.
- As it heats up, shave off small pieces of beeswax. You will need 1/4 cup of beeswax total.
- Add beeswax and continually stir. It will eventually melt together into one.
- Test the consistency of the salve by taking a spoonful of the mixture into the freezer. After 1 minute take it out. If it’s too hard, you can add more oil. If it’s too soft you can add more beeswax.
- Pour the mixture into a measuring cup. Ensure there is no water in the measuring cup. The salve can go rancid if any moisture is added to it.
- Add liquid salve to jars, and allow to cool. Do this rather quickly or salve will harden before you have poured it all. Allowing it to cool is important because if you put the lids on before it has fully cooled, this could created condensation.
- Label! Always label. And make notes on what worked during your process, and any improvements you could make in the future.
There aren’t many plants out there that offer this much to the world, while being so wildly abundant. Enjoy this beautiful plant in the earliest moments of Spring, when no other crop is ready in your garden. Embrace in it’s abundant seeds in the Fall and its always available array of medicine. It truly follows in our footsteps to look out for us…
- Gray, B. & Canadian Circumpolar Institute. (2011). The Boreal Herbal: Wild Food and Medicine Plants of the North. Whitehorse, YT: Aroma Borealis Press
- Peterson, L. (1977). Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants. Boston, New York. Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Mackinnon, Kershaw, Arnason, Owen, Karst, Hamersley, Chambers. (2014). Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada New Edition. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine