Plantain is a most noble plant to be sure. The first time we came to our abode when it was for sale twelve years ago, our son Ahmad, four at the time, was stung by a yellow jacket on the palm of his hand. He was running and leaping on all fours and put his hand down where there was a yellow jacket, ouch! His palm turned red and began to swell, and without thinking about it I reached for a plantain leaf, chewed it up and spat the green mush onto the sting. By the time we were driving away, his hand no longer hurt, the swelling and redness had subsided, and the next day it was as though he’d never been stung. That was how I made the acquaintance of plantain, who has since then been applied to numerous stings from wasps to yellow jackets, bees and even hornets.
My children are familiar with plantain and know how to remedy themselves with it, our youngest, who is six right now, can be found nibbling on a mixture of plantain, red clover blossoms, and anise hyssop. More recently, I sliced the tip of my ring finger on broken glass while washing dishes. There was profuse bleeding and pain. I immediately applied chewed yarrow leaves to the spot, and wrapped them with plantain leaves under a cloth bandage tied tightly overnight. The next day the pain was gone, the bleeding had stopped, and I washed it then bandaged it with plantain for two days. It has mended really well and the slash has come together with new skin and no inflammation.
Every year, when I infuse oils to make salves, rubs, and butters with, plantain is a staple that goes into a soothing salve for garden weary hands. After gathering leaves, I let them stay in the basket over night then chop them finely the next day, enough to pack a quart jar with. I pour olive oil over this and allow it to infuse for six weeks then strain, bottle, and store in a dark cupboard with the other oils until they’re brought out for creating with. Sometimes, I’ll pour the mixture into a steel mixing bowl set on a pot of boiling water and stick it in the oven at 180 degrees for six to eight hours keeping an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil or have crispiness happening with the leaves. It cools in the mixing bowl and then I pour it into the jar and leave it to infuse for another four weeks before straining. I find this method stronger and less prone to spoiling, however it’s a bit more involved than in jar infusing for six weeks.
This year I have tinctured it for the first time and will see how often we use it and for what. I intend to add it to thyme tincture for my husband to rinse his mouth with as a periodontitis treatment. Also, for use in oral hygiene I’m using the oven method to infuse plantain with thyme, sage, and myrrh in sesame oil for my husband, and in coconut oil with the same herbs for the rest of us to use while oil pulling after straining.
Botanical Name: Plantago Major
Common Names: Snakeweed, Cuckoo’s Beard, Englishman’s Foot, Ripple Grass, Ribwort, Waybrede
Habitat and Growing Conditions:
This wayside weed, native to Europe and Northern and Central Asia, grows in dirt roads, gravel, grasses, meadows, hedgerows, cracks, and out of concrete too. Plantain grows from rhizomes, its leaves are radial rosettes with long, slender spikes that have conehead flowers. The prominently veined leaves contract at the base and appear to join to the feet in the ground, the stalks near the ground are often a dark purple color. Plantain is wind pollinated and propagates mainly by seed dispersal.
Plantain, from the French for ‘sole of the foot’.
Aboriginal people called it White Man’s Foot, as supposedly it sprang up in the footsteps of colonists as they strode across and disturbed the land.
It was called Waybrede by the Anglo-Saxon’s and was one of their nine sacred herbs, including mugwort, betony, lamb’s cress, nettle, chamomile, thyme, crab apple, and fennel. They believed disease was spread by toxins blowing in the winds, and they trusted to songs, salt, water, and herbs as means of protection.
“And, you, Waybrede, mother of herbs,
open to the east, mighty within;
Over you carts rolled, over you queens rode,
over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
All you withstood then, and were crushed;
So you withstand poison and contagion
and the loathsome one who travels through the land.”
Culpepper attributes it to Venus, ruler of both Taurus and Libra, as curative for martial excess; interesting as Mars is ruler of Scorpio and Aries which are both opposites or polarities to Venus’s signs of rulership.
In addition to Violet, Plantain is Persephone’s plant.
Indigenous American people consider it as Snake and Frog Medicine, in India it is Toad Medicine . . . a bit of Frog and Toad.
Medicinal Actions and Properties:
Cooling, bitter, drying
Plantain is nutritive, alterative, diuretic, mucilaginous, astringent, vulnerary, anti-septic, demulcent, emollient, anti-inflammatory, and tonic.
Irritation, putrefaction, relaxation, atrophy
Urinary, Digestive, Endocrine
Plantain is rich in allantoin, calcium, flavonoids, tannins, vitamin c, and calcium, which makes it a great pot herb and cooling ally in the summer. When pollen and dander are high, plantain as tea helps cleanse and lubricate dry mucus membranes, cools inflamed tissues, dries excess phlegm, and lessens irritation.
In toxic heat conditions, it stimulates the bowels, encourages elimination, soothes the digestive tract, pulls stagnation from the colon, coats and soothes the intenstinal walls, and detoxifies blood. Plantain does for the gut what it does for the skin, and is also first class ally for jaundice and hepatitis.
Plantain is useful for UTI’s as it helps secrete uric acid from the kidneys. It is also useful for ulcers, dysentery, diarrhea, syphilis, though we rarely hear of the latter in current times.
Externally, plantain shines as a wound healer in all skin ailments. For burns, piles, rashes, eczema, swelling, and inflammations, plantain is ‘the’ remedy. It combines well with yarrow, calendula, comfrey, and prunella for cuts and abrasions; truth be told it combines well with many herbs and balances formulas, sometimes supporting them . . . perhaps a reflection of the qualities it has that made Culpepper attribute it to Venus, the great harmonizer.
A poultice of plantain draws out pus and helps pull stubborn splinters. It is also useful on inflamed eyes.
Chewed and spit out onto stings and bites, it is antidote to poisons, due to its superior drawing powers.
A strong tea of the roots, fresh juiced leaves, or fresh leaf poultice when possible is excellent for inflamed and bleeding gums, tooth abscesses and infections, gingivitis, and periodontitis.
Leaves, seeds, and roots.
Tincture of Fresh Leaves, 1 – 10 drops 4 x day.
Fresh or Dried Leaf as Hot or Cold Infusion, 8 ounces as needed.
Fresh Leaf Infused in Extra Virgin Olive Oil for making Wound Healing and Dry Cracked Skin Salves.
A Modern Herbal Volume 1, Maude Grieves p. 640 – 642
The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, Matthew Wood, p. 385 – 389
Common Herbs for Natural Health, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, p. 121 – 122
The Way of Herbs, Michael Tierra, p. 179 – 180
Witchcraft Medicine, Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl, p.89