You’re working outside on a muggy August night. You become dinner for the neighborhood mosquitoes. Or you happen to mow over the top of a yellow jacket nest. Or you scrape your leg on a broken stick poking up through the undergrowth. But no worries; you just bend over and pick a leaf, chew it up and slap it on the sting, then get back to what you were doing… or taking care of that yellow jacket nest with some gasoline and a well-placed match…
What if I told you that you’ve probably spent your whole life unknowingly trampling on this leaf? If you live in the Northern hemisphere, you’d almost certainly recognize it by sight, if not by its common name: plantain. And no, not green bananas.
What Does Plantain Look Like?
Plantain is a very common perennial lawn weed, commonly found in either the broad-leaf or narrow-leaf versions. The plant grows low to the ground in rosette form with tough leaves. The veins are very distinct and stringy, and long before I knew what it was, as a kid I used to pick the leaves and try to pull out all the veins without breaking them. The seed stalk is also very noticeable later in the summer, at least until you cut the grass.
What’s So Great About It?
It’s a leafy green, so you pretty much know it’s good for you one way or another. Plantain is very high in beta carotene and calcium, and provides vitamins B1, C, and K as well. Containing allantoin (promotes wound-healing), aucubin (anti-toxin), apigenin, linoleic acid, and a variety of other compounds, plantain has anti-microbial, antiseptic, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, hemostatic, and demulcent properties. Quite a punch from a little weed.
How To Use It
Like a lot of other leafy weeds, you can pick plantain when it’s young and turn it into a salad, or saute it in some butter. Like spinach, but a little more bitter. And make sure you get it young – as it gets older, the leaves get tough, stringy, and even more bitter. I suppose it may make good floss though.
As I mentioned above, the easiest way to use it is to just pull a leaf, chew it up for a few seconds, and stick it on whatever ails you. I’m notorious for pretty major next-day swelling following bee or wasp stings, but the last time I was stung, I applied some plantain and the next day I could barely tell the sting was there. Cuts, scrapes, rashes, bug bites, poison ivy… these all benefit.
Another option is to chop some and put it in a jar, then cover with olive oil and let it sit for a couple weeks to make an infusion. This oil can then be applied to wounds or turned into a salve. It can also be turned into a gentle herbal tea for help with bronchitis and asthma.
So the next time you’re out in the yard, take a look and see if you can find some – your stings will never be the same!
For more healing plants, check out the rest of the Backyard Medicine Cabinet series:
- Lemon Balm
- St. John’s Wort
- Red Clover
- Stinging Nettles
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one. I don’t think any of my statements have been evaluated by the FDA, which is probably a good thing considering some of the stuff they approve… Do your own research before trusting the word of a random blogger. While I certainly encourage you to try some herbal remedies, I’m not suggesting you ditch all your prescriptions. I think modern medicine is awesome; I also think the natural world is pretty awesome too, and can offer a lot for minor ailments.