Plantain is one of those abundant herbs that ‘some’ consider a weed and yet it appears all over our yards for incredibly beneficial purposes. I love seeing it (and using it) as it flourished all over our ‘yard’. Here is a wonderful blog entry by Barbara DuTot of Wild Roots Herbal Learning Center.
Summer is in full swing here in the Shuswap and the living is easy. Gardens are offering up a plethora of goodness – plump zucchinis, sweet onions, succulent chard, melt in your mouth strawberries and, as always, a bumper crop of weeds! And a good thing that is, I say. For among those weedy wonders is one that could, just one day, save your life – Plantain! Here’s a little Plantain-to-the-Resuce story….
Last year, a good friend of mine who lives in a remote area, miles and miles from the nearest hospital (no phone) got bit by something while getting dressed. His face immediately began to swell and upon looking in the mirror he discovered his head growing in size, eyes were bulging, face growing redder and redder by the second while his throat began to swell and constrict. With the understanding of the gravity of the situation (made even more serious given the fact he was alone in a remote area) he ran outside and grabbed a handful of plantain, chewing it well to extract the juices and mixing it with his saliva, he swallowed it down. Within a very short time the swelling in his head and throat began to subside and minutes later he was fine and breathing normal. It was a very close call, and, had he not known about plantain as a remedy for anaphylactic shock, he may not have lived to tell his story.
Update to this story…I talked to this same friend last night. He had another encounter and was stung all about his head after disturbing a wasp nest. Again, he had the presence of mind to gather a handful of plantain and managed to get some juice down his throat only this time, due to the number of bites he succumbed to them and passed out! He awoke a couple of minutes later with serious symptoms. Fortunately for him, he had a friend staying with him and his friend drove him to the hospital where he was given medical treatment for anaphaltic shock. He believes that if he hadn’t injested that first bit of plantain he would have died.
While this is a rather extreme situation, it is not an uncommon one. “Anaphylaxis can occur in response to any allergen. Common triggers include insect bites or stings, foods, medication and latex rubber. Anaphylaxis results in approximately 1,500 deaths per year in the U.S.” The most commonly used antidote to anaphylaxis is the antihistamine benedryl. However, I am always amazed by the number of people I meet who are allergic to bee stings or bites of some kind, who don’t carry benedryl with them. Besides, benedryl alone doesn’t always stop an anaphyalxtic reaction. Moreover, one does not always know one is severely allergic to something until one has said allergic reaction. (And, it seems to me, that more and more people are becoming allergic to stings and bites. That’s a whole other topic for another day).
However, if you or someone you know are in such a situation as my friend, it’s nice to know that an antidote is most likely at hand, or in this case I should say “at foot”.
Botanically speaking Plantain is known as Plantago (spp). Plantago comes from the Latin word “Planta” meaning sole or foot. Native people associated the plant with the Europeans, who seemed to leave a trail of the alien weed wherever they went, and called it “white man’s foot”. I suspect that plantain was deliberately brought over by our pioneering ancestors who were well acquainted its healing properties. (It’s nice to know that the white man brought something useful to First Nations people).
The common plantain – Plantain major – has broad, irregularly rounded to oval leaves, 1-6 inches in length that form a basal rosette that is prostrate to the ground. The leaves have smooth, wavy, or toothed edges; 3 – 11 parallel veins run their length and are large and noticeable. A tall spike of inconspicuous flowers, then tiny seeds cover the central flower stalk, which stands erect from the center of the basal rosette and can be 3 – 12 inches tall. This spike of seeds easily identifies common plantain. The round, prominently veined leaves are readily found during all seasons. Plantain is so common in grassy areas that it is likely to be overlooked – that is, unless, you let your three horses graze on your lawn all summer whereby eating up all the grass until there is nothing left but plantain – flower stalks poking up from the ground leaving your lawn looking very much like some experimental site in alien agriculture. Here’s a pic. Yes, you have seen this plant everywhere!
The good news is that you don’t have to actually experience something as serious and life threatening as anaphylaxis to reap the healing benefits of Plantain.
Plantain is to any kind of insect bite of any magnitude – be it simply an annoying itch, a painful sting or even one of a more seriously venomous nature (think brown recluse spider) – what cold water is to a burn. The number one remedy.
Should you get bit by some venoumous insect, or wound yourself, puncture yourself, burn yourself or get an itchy rash here’s what to do with plantain:
Chew it! This works good for bites, stings and puncture wounds. Pick some fresh plantain – 1 large leaf or several small ones – and put it in your mouth and chew well until you can taste the juice. Allow it to trickle down your throat. Apply the chewed up pulpy mass to your bite, sting, cut. It should stick pretty good on its own, or, you can cover it with a bandaid.
Plaster it! This works great for cuts. Take a leaf and apply it to the cut like a bandaid. Believe me, it will stick just like a bandaid. I cut my finger open while filleting fish one summer and applied a Plantain bandaid. Voila! Almost instant pain relief and the cut healed nicely in few days.
Juice it! Run fresh plaintain through your juicer. Freeze in ice cube trays for future use. Apply neat to bites , cuts and burns. Unthaw and use as a poultice. Or unthaw and drink the juice if you are concerned about an anaphylactic reaction.
Make a vinegar. Gather fresh plantain leaves and coarsely chop until you have enough to fill a clean, sterilized four once jar about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Pour apple cider vinegar over the plantain until the plant material is immersed. Poke or stir with a chopstick, wooden spoon or whatever. Top up with more vinegar if necessary.
Put a plastic lid on the jar. (If you don’t have a plastic lid for your jar, insert waxed paper between the liquid and the metal lid). Label the jar with “Plaintain in Vinegar” and the date. Let the preparation sit, prreferably four to six weeks (although if you had to you could use it sooner than that)in a cool place but in sight of where you can check periodically to make sure that it hasn’t spoiled. At this point, you can either strain the plant material from the liquid or leave it in…if you leave it in you must store it in a cool, dark place or even the fridge. You can use this vinegar topically if for all manner of bites, stings, wounds, burns, rashes etc as well as injest it for the same reasons.
Now go outside and find some plantain and say thank you!
NB Please be advised that I am not claiming plantain will save your life if you are unfortuante to experience an anaphylactic reaction. But, it could save your life, like it did for my friend. If you know you are allergic to bees or wasps or anything else, please carry the appropriate remedy with you at all times. My friend now carries and epi pen. I know he will use the epi pen right away if need be and I know he will still reach for the plantain.