Thursday, July 28, 2011

meet your neighborhood weed, plantain

Wandering through the forest in North America and get a cut that gets infected, or feeling kind of constipated? If you know where to look, relief may be just under your feet.

Plantain is a plant that has naturalized in North America and can be found in fields, on roadsides, or even in the lawn. It is characterized by its broad oval leaves and a few spikes that feature greenish white or brown flowers from April to October. It is also known as a weed as it can quickly take over a lawn, but is highly valued as an herbal remedy since ancient times. I know that I have seen this plant in lawns that look uncared for, but until now have not realized the treasure chest that these lawns contain.

If you recognize the picture above, then you too have seen this little wonder-herb as well!

Plantain is known as the "green bandage" as it is a fantastic remedy for treating an infected area and soothing irritation externally. According to,

"The chemical analysis of Plantgo Major reveals the remarkable glycoside Aucubin. Acubin has been reported in the Journal Of  Toxicology as a powerful anti-toxin. There are many more highly effective constituents in this plant including Ascorbic-acid, Apigenin, Baicalein, Benzoic-acid, Chlorogenic-acid, Citric-acid, Ferulic-acid, Oleanolic-acid, Salicylic-acid, and Ursolic-acid."

That is a lot of acids, but our ancestors must have sensed something magical about this herb, because Native Americans called this plant "life medicine" in their language.

 (CAUTION: graphic images of brown recluse spider bite if you click on image, but great usage of plantain!)

As seen in the picture above, Plantain can be used as a poultice by taking fresh leaves and clay (optional) and warm water and mixing it in a bowl. Place the mixture into clean gauze or muslin fabric and cover the infected area twice a day for 20 minutes or longer, depending on the infection. Other herbs can be mixed into the poultice to maximize results as well.

Plantain seeds, also known as psyillium seeds, are from a particular species of plantain and are an effective laxative when blended with other herbs such as licorice, fennel seed, yellow dock root, and senna. Make sure you do your research or get advice from a practiced herbalist before making your own blends, as herbs like senna can create dependencies if used too often. Plantain seed is rich in mucilage and helps to bulk stool, and it is an active ingredient in Metamucil.

Here are some links to other resources about plantain, if I have your interest peaked-
Dick Contino on Plantain
Dr. Christophers's Herbal Legacy on Plantain 

But that's not all. You know me, I love to share recipes. As I have already shared the wonderful effects of violets, I think that it would be appropriate to share this recipe for an infused oil from Sarah Powell who has a wonderful blog and has also created Lilith's Apothecary, an herbal body product shop on Etsy. She seems to know her herbal products and has many creams that are difficult to make for a new herbalists getting their feet wet (aka, me!).

She suggests using this oil for diaper rash or other irritations of the skin, or on wounds to help them heal.

NOTE: This recipe is a bit more intensive than others that I have posted. It would be best done on a cool day as you have to dry the herbs in an open oven. But I still think it's a great recipe.Check out the link below for the salve recipe that uses the infused oil as well!


Step 1: Gather approximately 2 cups violet leaves and flowers and plantain leaves (either the narrow or wide leafed varieties).

Step 2: Try to clean off the leaves as much as possible without washing them. If they must be washed, do so, but be sure that the leaves are thoroughly wilted and absent of all moisture before adding the oil. Putting the oven on the lowest possible heat, arrange the herbs on a tray, preferably with the oven door open, and allow the leaves to wilt until you are sure no moisture remains. You are not diminishing the healing power of the herbs but rather, just removing more of the water content.

Step 3: Put the wilted leaves into a clean, very dry glass mason jar, or similar container, and fill to the top if possible. Then add the oil of choice (olive, grape seed, sweet almond, sunflower and safflower all work well) until you have filled the jar. Stir with a long spoon or chopstick until all bubbles have risen to the surface. Add a bit of Rosemary Oil Extract to prevent oil rancidity and further protect the oils. Just remember that water causes mold, so the drier your herbs and containers are, the more protected your oil is. Place some wax paper over the top of the container and then cap with a canning lid. Be aware that the oils may ‘weep’ while it steeps, so you may want to put a cup saucer under the jar.

Step 4: Place jar in a cool, dark place. Occasionally turn the jar upside down and then right side up to move the oil through the herbs and to try to keep all parts of the herbs covered with oil. Feel free to open it up and check on the herbs. If you see leaves poking through where there is some mold growth, remove the leaves and discard. If mold grows throughout the oil, you’ll have to toss the whole batch, as there is no saving the oil, even if it is heated. Steep 2-6 weeks.

Step 5: After 2-6 weeks, strain out the herbs using a cheesecloth and pour the infused oil into a clean, dry jar for storage. A dark glass container is best. You can keep this in the refrigerator for better storage or just store in a cool, dark place.


 Keep your eye out for that plantain, folks. It might be right under your feet!

Friday, July 22, 2011

taking oats beyond oatmeal

While eating my granola and yogurt this morning, I recalled to myself that I needed to update my blog with a new post. As I munched on my chewy granola, inspiration hit.

Folks, oats aren't just for breakfast. Oats are actually an herbal plant, full of vitamins and minerals, and useful for many different illnesses and imbalances.

Feeling stressed and overworked? Are you anxious? Do you have burns or hemorrhoids in need of tender loving care? If so, oats should become a regular part of your diet. According to Rosemary Gladstar in her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, they are among one of the best nerve and cardiac tonic herbs.

Here is a quick list of ailments that oats can assist with:
decreased energy
nervous disorders
depression, anxiety
low sexual vitality
urinary incontinence
nicotine and other chemical withdrawals
those healing from a long illness without an appetite
and last but not least, itchy skin (as many of us know!)

The important thing to realize about oats are that along with the grain, the green milky tops and stalks are used in herbal medicine. For calming nerves, a tea can be made from the grains and stalks and can be mixed with other herbs such as lemon balm and passion-flower, or with valerian to help one sleep.

The website Global Herbal Supplies gives great suggestions on how one might use oats as an emollient (external agent used to soften or smooth) or demulcent (demulcent=substance than soothes inflamed mucous membranes and protects from irritation). How about as a foot bath for tired feet or as a facial scrub for those suffering from acne?

I myself utilize a wonderful recipe called Miracle Grains for a facial scrub. It was recommended by Rosemary Gladstar in the book mentioned earlier. I've even convinced my man to use it, and he requests it when we run out. It's powerful stuff.


2 parts white clay (although I use a stronger version!)
1 cup finely ground oats
1/4 cup finely ground almonds
1/8 cup finely ground lavender
1/8 cup poppy seeds or finely ground blue corn
1/8 cup finely ground rose petals
I also add lavender essential oil or other oils 

1. Combine all the ingredients. Store the grains next to the sink in a glass container or in spice jars with shaker tops.
2. To use, mix 1-2 teaspoons of grains with water. Stir into a paste and gently massage on the face. Rinse with warm water.

Easy-peasy. Try it yourself! I keep mine in a recycled jar and use a little shell to scoop it out. It's great on your face, or all over your body.

Enjoy your oats, folks!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

finding references

Ok, I admit I just really liked this picture, so I included it into this post. If only I had a kitchen like that!

I'm searching for good references on the web for herbal medicine. So far, I've discovered a few that I might consider using, but I'll take any suggestions!

Herb Research Foundation News- gives information on new herbal research and offers opinions on them.

University of Michigan Native American Ethnobotany- this website is a search engine that allows you to search for natural remedies and plants native to North America and used by Native Americans. I find this to be very interesting and will use this site to help me search for certain remedies in order to broaden my education.

artist unknown

*A Modern Herbal*- This is already my favorite site of referencing herbal medicine. It was published by Mrs. M. Grieve in 1931 and contains references to over 800 plants.

Green Pharmacy- Create by Dr. Jim Duke, this site includes many up-to-date studies on commonly used herbs and remedies. I may just use it to begin learning the Latin names of all of these plants, as they are listed by their Latin names and not their common ones.... I am imagining many hours of random clicking on this website, but it is so comprehensive I can't not recommend it.

Hope you enjoyed the artwork! Sorry I couldn't find artists for all of them, I tried but there weren't many good links. And let me know if you find any other great references, or books!

Monday, July 11, 2011

favorite things

 Back to spring, when my window box was full of flowers

violet syrup was abundant

worm bin condo #1 (we are now on #3, pictures to come)

a new blog is born!

I love the smell of a new blog. So fresh, so clean, ready to take your ideas and make them public!

I've been blogging about my life and clothing design for a few years, but lately, I have taken an interest in blogging about herbalism. It didn't seem to fit in with my ideas for my first blog and so I've decided to branch off and create a new blog.

Welcome to Urban Herbal Girl.

Kind of a mouthful, I know. I dare you to say it three times fast.

Right now, I'm at a place in my life where I'd love to pursue more formal herbal education. However, money is scarce and time is short. Instead of waiting for the stars to align in favor of my education, I've taken matters into my own hands and will be researching different aspects of herbalism in an urban context, and will be sharing my finds on my blog.

Much of the time, I'll focus on a herb in each post. Sometimes, I may post a tutorial or pictures of herbal projects that I am working on or have finished. MAYBE I'll ever get out there and be able to start doing some photography of herbs at the garden center where I work. I had  better get on that before the growing season ends!

Join me if you'd like to begin an informal learning adventure into the world of herbalism. I welcome comments or critiques, and would love to have you tag along, if you are curious!