Common Names: Plantain, English Plantain, Ribgrass
Botanical Name: Plantago major, P. lanceolata
Plant Family: Plantaginaceae
Parts Used: Seed, root, and leaf
Key Constituents: Mucilage, fatty acids, protein, starch, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, allantoin, bitters
Taste: Bland, slightly bitter
Energetics: Cool, moist
Actions: Antibacterial, demulcent, astringent, vulnerary, expectorant, drawing agent, poultice, laxative
- Plantain is a rosette-forming perennial herb
- Basal leaves are lanceolate, scarcely toothed/mainly smooth edged and have 3-5 strong parallel veins
- The easiest way of identifying plantain, is by it’s venation. If you end up picking the leaf, you’ll notice that the stringy white cores of the vein will snap longer than the leaf base.
- There is one flower head per stalk and the stalks grow far longer than the leaves.
- I compare the flower heads to cone heads with strange halos around the top :)
Here are two types of plantain that you'll see most often...
Broad-leaf plantain, Plantago major: Narrow-leaf plantain, Plantago lanceolata:
· Plantain draws toxicity from the body. It is a supremely healing herb for almost any injury to the skin and mucosa, it is most well known for its efficiency at treating external wounds and bug bites.
· Plantain is also very useful in the treatment of any number of internal ailments as well, including IBS, gastric ulcers, bronchitis, food poisoning and any other hot, inflamed condition that needs some moistening and cooling.
· The plant is a cell proliferent (inducing rapid creation of new cells in order to more quickly heal some kind of wound or abrasion) and so quite effective for local or systemic irritation as well as slow healing breaks in the integrity of the skin or mucosa. (Source unknown)
· It’s soothing capabilities are helpful for bronchitis and pneumonia.
· Its seeds are comparable to psyllium husk and are known to help aid the digestive system.
· Eat plantain leaves and boost your Vitamin C and B.
· Did I mention it “Draws” out infection and toxic injury to the skin?
My healing experience with plantain:
Three words: “Hot tub folliculitis.” Yes, after a lovely soak in a hot tub (or shall I say “warm” tub), I got a bacterial skin infection. It first looked like an in-grown hair on one of my legs, but quickly turned into a chicken pox outbreak all over my body.
Like chicken pox, I was itchy and uncomfortable. So, I soaked in a bath and started to put a plantain salve on as many “dots” as I possibly could. It was uncomfortable, but most of the rash was beginning to fade, aside from a few blemishes on my leg.
It turns out my bacterial skin infection went deeper into some of my leg hair follicles. Ouch. This infection did not itch, but instead became incredibly inflamed and filled with puss. I thought my salve would do the trick, but it felt as it the oil and wax was trapping the infection deeper in my pores. It was then that I walked out of my house and looked at the field in front of me just to find plantain leaves.
I immediately made a spit poultice and applied it to the inflamed (harden, at this point) pores. I felt immediate relief. The plantain cooled my skin down and actively drew out puss from the infection. In fact, the leaf itself became warm from the heat it was extracting. I ended up changing out the poultice every 10 minutes or so for as long as I could (admittedly, I bandaged the spit poultice with a plastic bag and an elastic bandage when I couldn’t tend to the infection for a couple of hours). After three days and many plantain leaves, the infection and inflammation were gone. Thank you FRESH PLANTAIN!
Preparing Plantain Leaf:
· Spit poultice: Pluck a fresh plantain leaf and chew it well; then spit it on the wound. (Make sure it’s your spit, or perhaps a parent-child exchange)
· Pounded poultice: Pound a large fresh plantain leaf between two stones; apply to wound. Wrap with cloth to hold poultice in place. Leave on for 30-45 minutes, changing wrap when necessary. The herbs may turn black and become very hot, which is a sign that toxins are being drawn out. Discard herbs and reapply new poultice if necessary.
· Infused oil: Fill any dry glass jar, large or small, with chopped fresh-slightly dried (wilted) plantain leaves. Then fill jar to the very top with olive oil. Cover well. Label. Place in a bowl or on a plate. After six weeks, decant and use.
· Salve: Warm infused oil. For each cup of finished infused oil, add ¼ cup beeswax. Heat the oil and beeswax together over very low heat (I use a double boiler or crock pot), stirring occasionally, until the beeswax had melted. Then do a quick consistency test…(don’t skip this step, it’s simple and ensures the desired thickness) place 1 tablespoon of mixture on plate, then let it sit in freezer for minute or two. Check the firmness of the slave. The more beeswax you use the harder the salve will be. For soft salve, add more oil. Once the mixture is at the right consistency, remove the blend from heat and pour immediately into small glass jars or tins. Store salve in a cool, dark place, where it will keep for months or even years!
Other Preparation: Fresh plant tincture, fresh plant or dried leaf for tea, depending on what you need. The dried plant is actually a very effective gut and skin healer, though it is much less effective than the fresh plant for venomous stings or bites.
Dosage: Tea/infusion by the cup, tincture by the dropperful, salve by the dollop and fresh plant by the leaf.
Cautions and Contradictions: None, except be sure not to overcool an already cool constitution with too much used internally over a long period of time.
Inflammation and dryness in the lungs: Marshmallow and Slippery Elm.
Chronic inflammation of the gut: Marshmallow, Slippery Elm and a bit of Rose plus a nice gentle aromatic like Chamomile or Fennel.
Plantain is the basis for a great many salves, but I especially like it combined with Cottonwood bud/bark, and Yarrow for an aromatic, stimulating yet very healing balm for all kinds of scrapes, cuts, abrasions, splinters and other first aid type needs.