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
- 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