Common names: Broadleaf plantain, greater plantain, white man's foot, ribwort
Latin name: Plantago major
Parts used: Leaves and seeds
We'll be focusing only on using the leaves in this piece. Keeping it simple. But the seeds do have such wonderful properties that you may be interested in exploring at a later time.
This powerhouse herb belongs in your kit or kitchen for many reasons. In most cases and most places there is easy access to this herb. "Plantain has followed in mankind's footsteps throughout the world." It's properties and actions are just what you would look for in an herb for a first aid kit. It can be used fresh very quickly as a poultice or it can be harvested and turned into a tea, tincture or salve. I'll share with you it's properties and you can refer to our vocabulary list to dig a little deeper into what each property or action means. We'll focus on just a few of the ways plantain can help you but it will be a stepping stone to dig even deeper.
What it looks like
There are many types of plantain but we'll focus on long leaf and broadleaf plantain. These both have the same medicinal properties. Long leaf has long, slim dark green leaves, it can grow up to 16 inches tall in the wild and in backyards it can grow up to four inches. This plant hugs the ground. Broadleaf also hugs the ground, it's leaves are dark green and oblong to round. Both plants have shoots out of the center reaching far above the leaves as the season goes on.
Where and when to find it
Plantain can be found on nearly every continent and anywhere in the US. Plantain shows up in the spring and hangs out till the fall. It can be found on little patches of grass around light poles and scattered in backyards, along side roads and out in pastures. It is literally everywhere. Remember good harvesting practices when you first find plantain.
The tools you'll need for harvesting plantain are simple. You can use just your hands or a pair of garden snippers. You can use a basket, colander, bowl or anything else to carry your bounty. Plantain leaves are very delicate so if you are planning to dry the leaves you'll want to be very gentle with them. If you handle them to harshly they will be bruised and turn brown as the dry. (Side note: many other fresh green plants will react this way if they are bruised to much in the harvest process) The discoloration can signify a loss of effectiveness so be gentle when harvesting for drying. I have hung plantain to dry before and it works ok. I usually don't dry my plantain, but when I do I've found that placing them flat, on a screen, to air dry helps them to retain the best color.
You can gather them for food in the spring when the leaves are young and tender. Later in the season when they have begun to flower is the best time to harvest them for medicinal purposes.
Prior to harvesting you're plantain you'll want to know what you are going to do with it. Will you dry it for teas, use it fresh in food or infuse it in oil and turn it into a salve? You can make a tea with plantain, dried or fresh. With the tea or infusion, you can also make a fomentation.
Tips for plantain oil: When making an oil from fresh plantain, lay it out for an hour or so to let it wilt a bit, this will reduce the moisture you put into your oil, reducing the chance of spoilage.
Why it belongs in a first aid kit
The properties of plantain allow it to tackle many common ailments that can easily be dealt with at home or soothed until you can get to proper care. And it can be found everywhere so if you are without your kit you can still easily use this as a remedy.
Poultice of plantain: Placed on a sore tooth, a sting, a bite, a boil, splinter (drawing) cuts, bruises, hemorrhoid, (Antiseptic, astringent, styptic, vulnerary) and pretty much anything listed under uses of the salve.
Plantain poultices work best from fresh plantain but you can do it with dried plantain and a bit of water.
"Wherever and whenever Poison Ivy is actively growing there will always be one of Nature's poison Ivy erasers- Plantain, Jewelweed or hounds tongue.”
To soothe poison ivy with plantain, make a poultice, place on the the affected area allow to dry. Rinse with cool water and replace as often as needed. Avoid hot water, this will lift the oil that has settled into the body and spread it to other places on the body. Sorry no hot showers.
What exactly is a boil? It is a skin irritation at the site of a hair follicle. Bacteria invades and redness and pain result. When dealing with a boil watch it closely, draw a line around the redness and if it spreads or sprouts little red lines from the initial site of infection, if a fever develops or it begins to fester, go see a doctor.
When soothing a boil use a plantain poultice on the site to draw out the pus and infection, change the plantain dressing often. This process and warning can be applied to bites, stings and splinters as well. May cover splinters with a dressing and leave on changing only daily until the splinter has been removed.
Bites and stings
Remember folks spiders and snakes can be poisonous, don't wait to go to the emergency room if you don't know with 100% certainty that this bite was not poisonous, but on the way there covering the bite with some plantain you grabbed on the way to the car and squished up a little won't hurt a bit.
Tea: Plantain tea is helpful for "drawing sticky phlegm out of the lungs (mucilage)" Plantain is good for coughs and mild bronchitis because of its actions that include expectorant, demulcent. Plantain also soothes inflamed, sore membranes. Taking plantain internally can help treat bites of snakes, spiders and insects. A cool tea of plantain can be used for conjunctivitis. The tea of plantain can be used as a mouthwash for tooth pain.
Oil-I usually turn all of my plantain infused oil into a salve, it tends to keep longer this way and it is less messy to use. In a pinch if you only have the oil on hand you can use it to sooth a sting, bite, boil, cut, bruise or hemorrhoid.
Salve- Plantain salve is good for irritated skin eruptions, boils, stings, bites, wounds, hemorrhoids, bruises, minor burns, sunburns. Eczema and psoriasis require a whole health look at the body but plantain salve has been used successfully to calm these skin conditions.
Tincture: In most cases the tincture (diluted) can be used in place of making a tea when plantain is out of season it is nice to have it processed this way because tinctures last so long. It can also be used topically. I personally don’t use plantain as a tincture, it just does so well dried or as a salve.
What it can do
This is a quick version of what all it's properties mean, refer to the vocab list for deeper knowledge on the terms
It relieves inflammation, has a drawing action that can pull venom, splinters, etc from the skin. It tones through astringency shrinking swollen tissue, it helps break up phlegm to make coughing it out easier.
Actions or Properties
You can reference the vocabulary list for deeper definitions of these properties. If they are not on the list, try this link.
Vulnerary, expectorant, demulcent, mucilage, anti-inflammatory, astringent, alterative, anti-venomous, diuretic, antiseptic, drawing, expectorant, decongestant, anodyne, styptic.
These are suggested doses and we'll be discussing dosages deeper in a different section of this membership.
These dosages refer to remedies made with leaves.
Tincture of leaves 2-30 drops 3-4 times a day, other sources say 2-3 ml three times a day and another 2-5 ml 4 times a day. 30 drops is equal to 1.5 ml, 5 ml equals 1 tsp.
Standard infusion 4-8 oz 1-4 times a day
Infusion amounts: 2 teaspoons of dried herb in 1 cup of boiled water to infuse 10-15 minutes. Drink three times a day.
Fomentation (applied as hot as tolerated unless using for poison ivy) As often as needed for soothing.
Ointment-as often as needed.
Poultice-as often as needed, change as often as needed when using for a pulling/drawing action.
Tincture-May be applied as an antiseptic, alcohol based tinctures will sting.
Standard infusion may be used as a compress as often as needed.
There are no known warnings against use of plantain.
Can you grow it?
Most definitely! If you don't have a yard or a friendly neighbor with a yard, maybe you can find a plant or two that you can transplant into a pot to keep in your container garden. This plant can literally be found anywhere growing wild, so looking to purchase plantain plant or seeds is not necessary. Many people consider it a weed that they desperately try to get rid of year after year. When you decide to go looking for this plant you'll find it everywhere.
Action step for plantain
I want you to look at the picture of plantain, have it available on your phone if your phone is always with you. If you have a book keep it near you or go for a little walk with it. Doodle your own version of the picture above and carry it with you. Whatever you can do to have a reference of the plantain plant with you as you leave the house. If you can't keep it with you but you do have a phone with a camera or a camera that you carry with you, or the ability to grab the plant before you head home you could do that too. Compare your photos or your plant with the picture above. Is what you found plantain? Now that you've found it do you see it everywhere?
Recipes for you to try with plantain
Green drink-Add powdered plantain to a smoothie
Bone Broth-If you make your own add early plantain leaves to your broth.