By Todd Walker
No matter how domesticated we’ve become, at our genetic core, our hunter-gather within longs to be unleashed. In our quest to express our primal genes, we encounter Nature’s revenge from stings, bites, cuts and injury. The fear and misery that follows is enough to keep one indoors and isolated from our natural environment.
If you only learn to identify and use one medicinal herb, I’d like to recommend plantain. Over-the-counter medicines won’t always be available. In North America, this plant is prolific.
Plantain (not the fruit) can be found most any place there’s soil and sunshine. On the trail, in the backyard, and growing in sidewalk cracks, this pesky plant is sprayed, pulled, and hated by millions hellbent on preserving pristine lawns.
I first discovered plantain’s effectiveness on tick bites years ago. It is now my go-to remedy. My skin reacts wildly to stinging/biting insects and poisonous plants. You’d think I would avoid the woods but I can’t. The rewards outweigh the risks many times over!
The good news is that nature provides an antidote – in abundance – which works better than store-bought chemical stuff!
There are over 200 varieties of plantain around the world. The roots, leaves, flowers and seeds can be used both internally and externally. The two commonly found in North America that I use are…
Scientific name: Plantago major
Broad leaf plantain without the stalks and spikes formed. It’s too early for them to grow the spikes I guess. The spots on the leaves are dirt from a recent rain.
Common name: Common plantain, broad -leaf plantain, snakeweed, and White Man’s Foot. The last nickname came about as the english and europeans brought seeds over to North America because of its healing properties. Native American’s are said to have coined this name since everywhere the white settlers stepped, plantain seemed to sprout.
Scientific name: Plantago lanceolata
Common name: Lance leaf, snake plantain, ribwort plantain, black plantain, narrow-leaf plantain, and long plantain.
Narrow leaf with the head and stalk
The long stems on the narrow-leaf plantain have seed heads at the tip. As a kid, we would pick these stems, wrap the end around the head and ‘shot’ them like a sling shot of sorts. I know, we were easily entertained.
Properties of Plantain
I’m not a herbalist or expert feral food forager. After all…
it’s the things that you learn after you know it all that really matter!
I’m not giving medical advice here. This is simply my first-hand experience of Doing the Stuff with this wicked-good weed.
Understanding the properties of this plant broadens its medicinal application. My main use of this plant has been for stings/bites and skin conditions. However, with a little research and digging, I’ve discovered many uses for this common weed.
NOTE: Traditional uses of plantain and other herbal remedies may not have been proven effective through scientific studies or approved by the FDA. But you probably know how I feel about the Food and Drug Administration – use their advice (and herbal remedies) at your own risk after doing your own due diligence.
There’s no money to be made in herbal meds by the FEDs. Commercial pharmaceutical companies can’t monopolize a weed. Just a thought!
#1 Alterative (Cleansing) Uses
An Alterative herb cleans the blood and organs that help eliminate waste products from your body.
- Blood poisoning – I witnessed red lines from an infected tick bite disappear with a plantain poultice.
- Improve liver function
#2 Anti-inflammatory Uses
- Reduces swelling from bites, stings, and sprains. Approved in Germany for topical treatment.
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- Peptic ulcers
- Inflamed digestive tract
#3 Demulcent (Soothing) Uses
- Mucilage (husks of plantain seeds – Psyllium harvesting tutorial) forms a soothing film over irritated and inflamed membranes.
- Cough suppressant
- Bronchitis and other upper respiratory conditions
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Sore muscles – apply warmed, bruised leaves to sore or sprained area
#4 Diuretic (promotes production of urine) Uses
- Kidney problems – taken as a tea throughout the day
- Bladder problems
- Bed wetting
- Water retention
#5 Refrigerant (Cooling) Uses
- Burns – apply a bruised whole leaf to burned area. An excellent substitute when aloe is unavailable!
- Sun burn – make plantain tea and spray on burned area.
- Scalds and mild ulcers
- Abcess on gums and teeth
- Lung infections – even pneumonia
- Hemorrhoids – heals and sooth via plantain tea and salves
- Diaper rash and cradle cap – apply plantain oil or slave infusion to affected area
#6 Styptic (stop bleeding) Uses
- Chew into spit poultice or crush in a mortar and pestle and apply to minor topical wounds.
# 7 Anti-toxic Uses
- Plantain contains Aucubin which is a powerful anti-toxin
- Anti-venomous for snake, insect, and bug bites. Get medical attention where available if you are ever snake bit or allergic to insect stings!
#8 Astringent (drawing) Uses
- Poisonous bites and stings
- Glass shards
- Poison ivy – relieves itching and helps dry the rash
- Stinging nettles
- Relieves constipation
- But also works on diarrhea
#10 Antimicrobial (antibiotic) Uses
Plantain packs high amounts of beneficial chemicals for health and healing. Vitamins A, C, K, and calcium are abundant in this ‘weed’. The chemical mix of tannin, sorbitol, aucubin, acids (eg, benzoic, caffeic, chlorogenic, cinnamic, p-coumaric, fumaric, salicylic, ursolic, vanillic, ascorbic), alkaloids (boschniakine) and amino acids (eg, alanine, asparagine, histidine, lysine).
- Athlete’s Foot
- Bacterial infections
- Anti-cancer effects – no human studies have been performed but has been shown to reduce tumors in rats.
Note: This information should be verified by YOU before using plantain medicinally. In no way is this information intended to overlook the advice of medical personnel. If you are taking other medications, please consult your physician before using plantain for self-healing. While plantain has no known toxicity, be aware that there are documented adverse effects in pregnant women.
Further scientific studies on plantain’s usefulness can be found here.
Plantain decoctions, salves, teas, tinctures, poultices and infusions can be made with simple recipes. Here are few you can check out:
Plantain is a prolific ‘weed’ that tops the list in my herbal medicine chest! What’s your top healing herb?
Keep Doing the Stuff,