Broad Leaf Plantain
Although plantain is considered a super healer in traditional herbal cultures around the world, few scientific studies have been done to demonstrate its value. I suspect it could be because no one could make a profit by selling it, as it grows like a weed everywhere in North America! You will find it wherever there is a tiny spot of soil. You’ve probably seen it growing in cracks in the sidewalk or your driveway. It doesn’t even seem to mind how poor the soil is or whether it is shady or sunny. Like many of the medicinal herbs I enjoy using, you will find it listed on bottles of weedkillers as a nuisance plant, when in fact it is not only nutritious and delicious in salads (young leaves) and smoothies, but comes with a long list of ailments and maladies it can be used to treat.
Plantain appears in two varieties – broad and narrow leaves. Both types often have a stalk growing up from the center of the clump of leaves. You will know it is plantain by the stringiness of the leaves when you pull them.
Narrow Leaf Plantain
This herb, known by the Navaho Indians as ‘Life Medicine’, is truly amazing. While it is best known for stopping the itch from insect stings and bites because of its ability to draw out the toxins, it also works to draw out infection from sores that have become ulcerated. A woman I once met, who was diabetic and in a wheelchair, told me of the ulcerative sores on her legs that wouldn’t heal and her doctors had thrown up their hands. One day she was in her yard when an elderly neighbor stopped by and told her how to heal her legs by using the plantain growing in her yard. She applied the herb as directed and reported that the healing was nothing short of a miracle.
It has a similar soothing effect on poison ivy, stinging nettle, and any other skin exposure to toxins. Plantain rapidly extracts poisons. and has been used in this manner on bites from venomous snakes and rabid animals, as well as tetanus bacteria. Always seek treatment from a qualified health professional if you encounter these dangerous situations.
How To Use Plantain
If you are out in the wild and need immediate relief, just crush a couple of leaves of plantain with your hands, or even chew it, and put it directly on the itchy spot. Applying bruised fresh leaves or juice directly to the site will begin to draw out the poison and bring relief.
The leaves can also be dried and brewed for tea which has historically been used to treat rheumatic conditions, ulcers, respiratory illness, and jaundice. I use plantain oil in my healing salves, so it’s handy even in the winter months.
A poultice of fresh or dried leaves over wounds, boils, sores, animal bites, scrapes, burns, rashes, eczema, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, etc, will draw out infection, reduce inflammation and pain, help staunch bleeding, and speed tissue healing.
During the growing season, you can gather a few fresh leaves and briefly pour boiling water over them to sterilize and soften the leaf. After only a few seconds the leaves will soften. When they have cooled enough so as not to burn the skin, apply the top of the leaf directly to the affected area. Leave on the area for 10 minutes or so. If the leaves get too dry, add more water as needed to keep moist.
I gather and dry plantain leaves in the summer much the same way I do with comfrey, as it is also a large leaf.
Plantain has been used for many centuries in treating other maladies as well, including sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, tuberculosis, diarrhea, dysentery, intestinal worms, and bleeding mucous membranes. and mouth sores. The roots were also recommended for relieving toothaches and headaches as well as healing poor gums. According to renowned herbalist, John Christopher, plantain is also a diuretic, useful for kidney and bladder problems as well as bed-wetting challenges, and water retention.
A big thank you to this humble superstar!