This humble common weed happens to be one of Courtney's most favourite plants. If you've spent much time with her at all, she has likely introduced you to plantain (Plantago major) at some point. Also referred to as "white man's footprint" - partly due to the fact that European colonists brought plantain to the Americas because of its vital importance both as medicine and food, and partly due to the fact that plantain prefers compacted soil, so you will mostly find it in highly trodden areas - plantain is one of the most abundant edible and medicinal plants in the world.

If you haven't met Plantago before, you may still be imagining a large banana (Musa), however the plantain we are referring to is very different. You’ve probably played with this plant as a child, trying to separate the leaf and stem from the long stringy white veins - similar to the veins of a celery stalk. Plantain grows in a basal rosette formation with one long flower stalk growing up from the middle. The entire plant can be used for consumption and medicine and you will start to see it everywhere once you get to know it, from your backyard, to driveways, to the cracks in the sidewalks.

A wonderful first aid plant, plantain has antiseptic, analgesic, and potent anti-inflammatory properties. The tannins in plantain help to draw tissues together and stop bleeding. Plantain is rich in allantoin, a compound that helps to promote healing of skin cells, making it great for cuts and scrapes and to help skin issues and irritation. Plantain also has a unique ability to “draw out” - should you find yourself with a bee sting, bug bite (including ticks) or in an extreme situation, a snake bite, applying plantain immediately will help to draw out the venom, soothe and disinfect the area.

I recently visited a stunning town in remote Newfoundland called Trepassey for a wedding with my extended family. While there, my sister-in-law had walked through some tall grass and thought she had gotten stung by something. My daughter, who is six, examined her leg and said, “That's not a bug bite! You got stung by stinging nettle! Hang on a second.” And she ran off, momentarily returning with a plantain leaf. She told my sister-in-law to wash it and chew it up (creating a spit poultice) and apply it to the stings. Desperate for some relief, my sister-in-law chewed it up on the spot and applied it to the swelling blisters, she was amazed when it worked immediately. I heard this story hours later and it made me a proud mama!

As I am writing this I am realizing how many times plantain came in handy that day. From using plantain salve (which I carry around with me wherever I go as a first aid item) to apply to the bride’s finger to make sure her ring would fit, to applying it to the groom’s blisters (after he had injured his hand the previous day digging a hole for a 12-foot cross they had erected for the ceremony on the shores of Trepassey), to stuffing a few leaves in my shoe to soothe the beginnings of a blister caused by my beautiful but impractical heels, on and on go the virtues of plantain, they are endless. We will spend another post sharing more about the benefits of plantain used internally, but for now feel free to try making this salve at home - or when in need just chew up a leaf and apply it to what ails you! For burns, bites, bruises, abrasions, and tired sore feet.

To make a plantain salve, we collected the leaves, cleaned and dried them thoroughly, as they tend to be muddy and dusty. It is important that the leaves are very dry before adding them to the oil, because if the water content is too high, the infusion will develop mold. 

Once dry, we chopped the leaves finely.

And packed the chopped leaves into a jar.

After choosing a jar that was the correct size so that there wouldn't be too much air at the top, we poured a mixture of olive oil and coconut oil just until the leaves were covered. We left the oil to infuse for several weeks.

As the plantain infused, the oil transformed into a rich green colour and smelled very potent. We strained the oil through cheesecloth placed in a fine mesh strainer and pressed out every last medicinal drop. 

We heated the oil very gently in a pot and added some beeswax, leaving it on low heat and stirring occasionally until melted. We were careful not to heat the oil too hot as this reduces the medicinal potency.

Finally, we poured the salve into individual containers and let them cool before covering them with lids. 


  • plantain leaves
  • olive oil and/or melted coconut oil
  • beeswax


  • pick plantain leaves from a patch that has not been sprayed by pesticides
  • wash and dry leaves thoroughly
  • chop leaves finely (or use a food processor)
  • pack into a jar and add oil until leaves are just covered
  • seal lid tightly and let the oil infuse for three to four weeks
  • strain the oil through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer
  • gently heat the oil in a double boiler and add the beeswax (about 2 tbsp per cup of oil)
  • once the wax has melted, pour the salve into a sterilized container
  • wait until the salve has cooled and set before closing the lid


Often mistaken for peppermint, catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a skunky, fuzzy, pungent member of the mint family. It is a great ally to know when you are wandering in the woods being swarmed by mosquitoes, when you can't sleep or are having an anxious day, or when you are trying to settle a colicky baby.

I have relied on this plant countless times by rubbing the fragrant leaves onto my skin while in the woods desperate for relief from the bugs feeding off of me. Easy to identify by its smell and unmistakable mint family qualities, once you familiarize yourself with it you won’t forget it. Look for the square stem and opposite leaves on the stalk to indicate this member of the mint family.

Said by many to be significantly more effective than DEET, those who have experimented with natural bug repellents may be doubtful, but I swear by this herb. Today we are taking things one step further and attempting to capture the scent and repellent qualities in oil to be applied for longer lasting action.

We harvested the top two thirds of the herb at the intersection of the leaves (ensuring that it will continue to grow throughout the season), and coarsely chopped the leaves and stem.

We covered the leaves in olive oil and decided to speed up the infusion process by gently heating them in a small pot on our wood stove, stirring constantly, to try to draw out the potent insect repellent properties from the herb.

After heating for a little while on the stove, we poured the mixture into a small mason jar, we added some more fresh leaves and more oil to make it even more potent, and placed the jar to infuse in the sun for a week. 

After a week, we strained the mixture through cheesecloth - squeezing out every last drop - and stored the oil in a dark glass container. We applied the catnip oil to our arms and legs and found that it successfully repelled black flies and mosquitoes - they would come near but wouldn't actually land or bite. We also discovered that the infusion makes an excellent oil for soothing and calming sunburn, achy muscles and bug bites. 


  • catnip, coarsely chopped
  • cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (enough to cover your herbs)


  • place coarsely chopped catnip in a jar
  • pour olive oil just enough to cover the leaves
  • pour the catnip mixture in a jar, seal, and place in a sunny spot. Allow mixture to infuse for six weeks or one week if you intend on speeding up the process by heating the oil on the stove.
  • optional: gently heat the oil/catnip mixture for a little while in a small pot on your stove, stir constantly. You could also use a double boiler or crockpot. Allow the oil to get warm, but never hot.
  • strain the catnip from the oil using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
  • apply to expose skin as an insect repellent next time you are in the woods!


We have been craving this plant. Everything about its deep rich green colour packed full of nutrients as food and as a medicinal ally appeals to us. Consuming this plant always makes us feel healthy, strong, and ready to face the world.

Strangely, over the last few years we have had a difficult time tracking down stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). While we have had access to wood nettle which has similar properties, we’ve only ever been able to find sparse patches of nettle, until now.

We came to the Stone Boat Farm Artist Retreat hoping to find stinging nettle on the property and had been speaking about this plant with our host Amy Nostbakken. Amy asked us about our luck finding any on our first few wanderings, which had been fruitless.
“How do you identify them?” she asked.
“Well,” we said, “Definitely the most obvious way is by the stings."
 “Ohhhhhhhhh!!" said Amy, "I know that plant! I always thought it was poison ivy. My brother and I would get stung by them all over our legs when climbing the apple trees!”

And so, we ventured over to the shady apple trees and sure enough we came across an enormous patch of stinging nettle.

While we weren’t too concerned about the population of stinging nettle, we still aimed to harvest only the tops - pinching them just above the intersection of the fine toothed slightly heart shaped leaves. This ensures that the plant will continue producing and also prevents it from going to flower. This is important if you want to harvest the leaves from the same plant throughout the season as some claim that after flowering, stinging nettle leaves contain cystoliths which could irritate the kidneys. However, this compound is destroyed after drying, so does not pose the same concern for dried tea.

Courtney harvests stinging nettle with her bare hands, making claims to the antihistamine properties of nettle stings and their ability to increase circulation and ease joint pain. Others prefer to use gloves as the hairs on the nettle stalks and leaves contain formic acid which cause quite a bit of irritation that can last for anywhere from a few minutes to several days. We don't worry too much about that, as one of the antidotes to nettle stings is the juice from nettle itself! 

We decided to see if we could transplant a few because we love the idea of having a nettle patch in our home gardens.

One of the other artists at the farm, the talented dancer Nyda, joined us in harvesting this delicious medicinal plant.

“It’s so funny because before we went up to Stone Boat I’d been reading about nettle in terms of kidney cleansing and supporting liver and skin, and I couldn't find any here in Toronto. I work in an organic grocery store part-time and checked the Big Carrot. I went all over the city to different health food stores and wasn't able to find it anywhere.  And then I came out here and there were whole fields of nettle." Nyda laughs at the overwhelming abundance of stinging nettle.

"Because I work with my body I want to feed it everything I can that is going to support it. It's mainly for the health benefits of nettle that I will keep seeking it out, and I want to plant the one that I have.”

We brought our bounty back to the farmhouse and made some delicious mineral-rich medicinal tea by pouring boiling water over the leaves. Nettle loses its stinging properties the moment it is cooked or covered with hot water.

Like most wild-crafted foods, nettle contains substantially more nutrients than many other known "superfoods" including iron and calcium (much more than spinach and kale) magnesium, silica, vitamins, phosphorus, trace minerals, and protein. It is used to treat anemia, rheumatic ailments such as arthritis and gout, and various skin conditions including acne and eczema. Nettle also has antihistamine properties and we've used it to both treat and prevent seasonal allergies. 

In an effort to consume nettle in every possible form, we fried up a bunch of the leaves with dandelion buds and flowers, and wild leeks for lunch.

We cannot begin to sing this plant’s glory enough, and this one article by no means covers its diverse uses and applications. We put some nettle aside to dry for future recipes and will continue to write about it in future posts!