Backyard Survival Herbs – Meet the Powerful Plantain
Did you know that there is an edible and almost magical “weed” which grows freely in backyards, meadows and along roadsides that has a history of use as far back as the ancient Persians?
Alexander the Great Used it for Headaches
Pedanius Dioscorides (40 BC-90BC), an Egyptian-trained physician in the Roman army counted on its varied healing properties for battle wounds. It is documented that in ancient India, when a mongoose was bitten by a cobra, it sought this herb to neutralize the venom!
It has been used through the ages to heal everything from dog bites and scorpion stings, black spots, boils, carbuncles, swellings of the lymph gland, epilepsy, excessive bleeding during menstruation, uterine pains, headaches, coughs, fevers, flu, and sore feet and for the improvement of the eyes, gums, and bladder. And that’s just naming a few of the uses!
Shakespeare, Chaucer and Longfellow Hailed it in Their Works
Henry the 8th dabbled in medicine and considered it one of his foundational herbs. It was a very commonly used medicinal throughout the ages. Today we call it a weed…the title given to a plant which really indicates that we just don’t know what amazing properties it has!
So What is this Amazing Plant?
Well, it’s plantain – an herb, not the banana look-alike, and there are nearly 200 varieties of it that are found in many places around the globe.
A Brief American History of Plantain
Its history in America is that it was brought over by English and Europeans, when it was coined “White Man’s Foot” by the Indians because it seemed they scattered it wherever they went…which they did – purposefully.
The American Indians were soon using it for wounds, bruises, boils and to reduce the swelling of rheumatic pains by mixing it with clematis. They would also heat the leaves and place them on wounds.
Plantain was also used with yarrow to stop hemorrhages of the lungs and bowels. Supposedly, the Assembly of South Carolina gave a reward to the Native American who discovered that plantain would cure the bite of a rattlesnake.
So the two most common types we’ll see around the U.S. are ribwort plantain (plantago lanceolata) and greater plantain (plantago major).
Great for Salads
You need to know that you can go right out in your yard and pick off those leaves for salad or steamed greens. Seriously! It’s amazing how many nutritious greens there are all around us.
Before you pick, make sure you find a pure spot to gather them where it’s not a dusty roadside or in an area that may have been sprayed or contaminated. Then prepare to have a boost in beta carotene, calcium, vitamin C and Vitamin K (important for celiacs – I know because I am one).
Nutty Flavored Seeds
You can even harvest the seeds for a nutty flavor to whatever you’re using them in. The older the leaves, the tougher they are, so try to pick the younger ones. The leaves, seeds and roots can all be used to make an herbal tea.
Here’s a partial chemical breakdown of plantain: allantoin (also found in comfrey, a popular herb for wound salves), apigenin, aucubin, baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol and tannin – all mixing together to create one amazing anti-inflammatory, anto-microbial, anti-hemorrhagic, expectorant substance! Oh – and it belongs to the same family as psyllium – the plant that’s sold by vitamin companies to “get you going”.
You can make an herbal oil by crushing some fresh leaves and filling a jar with them, adding a vegetable oil of your choice and letting the mixture sit out in the sun for a few weeks, where it will get a deep green color. Strain out the leaves and you have an oil you can use for any number of skin conditions.
Make a Salve
Go a step further and make a salve by simply adding some beeswax to a couple ounces of the oil in a pan, melting them together and then putting it into a container to cool. Do some research and add some other complementary herbs in too – like comfrey.
Save the Day with a Plantain Poultice
Another way to use plantain is just as a fresh poultice. A poultice is typically a moist mass of plant material that is applied to the body to relieve soreness, inflammation etc.
When your loved ones come to you with stings, bites, scrapes, and rashes, you will be a rock star when you pull out the plantain. An easy way to crush the leaves is to just chew them up in your mouth some might find this distasteful, so we’ll let this be our little secret.
Of course you can simply crush them with a rock or rub between your hands to break them down. The pain and any toxins will be drawn out, bleeding will be stopped and the edges of the wound will start to heal. Replace the poultice as needed.
Finally, another way to use the leaves is in an infusion – or a tea. Just add clean leaves to water and bring to a boil. Let them steep for awhile and then strain and cool.
As a wash, plantain is great for soothing sunburn or other skin chafing and rashes. As a tea, (you can add the aerial parts of the plant, too) it can really help as an expectorant and in healing inflamed throat tissues for coughs and bronchitis.
In future posts we’ll talk about some other herbal “weeds” that you have around you, and teach you a few more things that you can add to such a brew!
Until next time…
Disclaimer: Of course we claim no responsibility for your experience with these herbs. Everything we share is for information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. Do your own research! Always consult a professional. Be wise. Consider always the chance of an allergic reaction. We are all unique in body chemistry. We are NOT a medical professionals by any means, however we have saved our family a boatload of annoyance and money by being resourceful and using what is right at our feet – literally. See full disclaimer here.