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!

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