Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Let Me Introduce You To My Friend Plantain
Today I have the perfect moment to write about a common weed that is an uncommonly great herbal remedy: plantain.
Earlier this morning I was moving a compost pile from the spot where our chicken coop is going to go when all of a sudden a swarm of honey bees flew at me. Fortunately, I was stung only two or three times, and fortunately I'm not allergic, but the whole incident had me almost hyperventilating and the bee stings hurt like he**!
And what remedy came to my rescue? Why, the "lowly" plantain of course! Plantain is THE remedy for bee stings, bug and snake bites. Oh, there are others but plantain is so easy and so readily available everywhere. Its nickname is "white man's walk" because it grows where people walk, or on old trails (horse, deer, or man's). And also because the white man brought plantain over from Europe, along with dandelions and many other of our noxious weeds/invaluable herbal remedies and food. If plantain is growing in your yard as it is ours, it's a sign of compacted earth and it's often advised to aerate your lawn to get rid of it. You might find plantain growing along your sidewalk, as it is along mine in the photo below (next to thyme on the patio).
My favorite way to use plantain in the summer during prime bee sting season is to just take a leaf and make a lot of bite marks in it to get the juices going. Then hold the leaf on the sting like a band-aid and it will provide relief in a short time. I have impressed so many bee-stung kids with my "green medicine" this way! I also have plantain salve which works great if you put a band-aid or compress on top of it--you need something be it leaf, band-aid or piece of cloth, to which the stinger can attach itself. Today in my moment of panic I first grabbed some leaves and started biting, then ran into the house for salve, then had George get some band-aids, then I grabbed some compresses. The combination of it all did manage to calm me down and provide relief. I think in the end the whole leaves with bite marks in them and held on by a compress provided the best relief, but plantain salve is still a great ally for times when you can't find plantain growing.
Other uses for plantain leaves or salve: bites of all kinds, puncture wounds, slivers, dirty cuts and scrapes, or any abrasions. Plantain will draw out pus, dirt, shards of glass, slivers, etc. Then it will promote healing cell growth (class notes, Herbalist Lise Wolff lecture). You can also pack plantain leaves into your mouth for a toothache and it may draw out infectious materials and relieve the pain. It relieves canker sores as well. Plantain leaves or salve could be of great use to you during a dental emergency such as a root canal situation, but obviously see your dentist too!
I gave a client both plantain and white oak bark (quercus alba) tinctures for a series of dental problems she had. She still needed lots of oral surgery, but its possible the herbal remedies helped speed the healing. She didn't need as much antibiotics as usual.
Plantain tincture is an excellent general sore throat remedy. If you eat plantain when it's a little bit too big, you get some of its threads stuck in your throat so this can remind you that plantain tincture can heal sore throats when it feels like there's something stuck in there. (This is based on one herbal medicine/homeopathic principle--that herbs cause what they cure and cure what they cause--called the Law of Similars). For sore throats of any kind, take one drop under the tongue twice a day.
According to my teacher Lise Wolff, RH (AHG), Plantain is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and astringent. The tincture may also work for gastritis and cystitis where it cools inflammation. It may be indicated in cases where the kidneys and liver have been stressed by use of pharmaceutical drugs or heavy metal toxicity. I have less experience with these uses but if given the chance I would try plantain in these types of cases since its such a readily available local herb.
One last "signature" for Plantain is of the sole of the foot. Plantain/Plantago:Plantar have the same latin root word and plantar is the word for foot. Plantain can be used for relief of plantar fascitis and in this case you can use it in any form, tincture, leaf or salve.
One can look for these reminders for the uses of herbal remedies in the latin terms, the nicknames and even sometimes in the way a plant looks. In the case of plantain, the leaves have strings that one can see when you pull the leaf from its stem. Those strings remind me of plantain's ability to draw out toxins and bind up injuries--like a needle and thread.
The seeds of plantain are psyllium seed, the same stuff you can buy for a fiber supplement. Psyllium seeds are not only a good source of fiber for bulk in your diet, but they can pull parasites out of the intestines and pass them through the bowels. All parts of plantain are edible, the leaves and the seed pods. You'll want to eat the plantain leaves very early in the season when they are small and tender. They like all greens are very high in vitamins and minerals.