Posted by kristenjoy on:
Today I am going to write about plantains...not the banana-relative common to Southern Hemisphere cousine, but probably the other most ubiquitous weed, second to the dandelion. It is found on 6 continents, which is why I call it one of the "traveler's best friends."
Out here in California there are a couple versions of plantain that are most prominent, the Buckhorn plantain, whose leaves are longer, ribbed, and more slender, and the Broadleaf plantain, as its name suggests, has rounder and broader leaves.
If you aren't keen on plant identification, no worries. This one is pretty easy to spot since it has leaves in a base rosette pattern and then little clusters of flowers in the middle.
Plantago major is native to Eurasia, and it was believed to have been brought over with the colonists. It was also quickly naturalized and incorporated into Native American medicine. Some of the first Native American names for this plant translate to "white man's foot" or "Englishman's foot." It was believed that the seeds would bury themselves in the colonists socks, and sprouts of plantains would emerge after colonists had visited certain areas.
Since the plant has so many different uses, and is also edible, one Native American tribe granted it the name "life medicine."
Interesting that now people who choose to grow lawns in their front yards usually work to eradicate this "weed." I won't go off on that tangent, but will save my diatribe against lawns for a different post.
Plantain leaves are edible in salad when they are clean, young, and raw. Rich in riboflavin and B1, they can also be cooked or steamed, but their medicinal values are best brought out in either a tea infusion or in a topical poultice. Taken internally they can be used to reduce inflammation, and they contain antiseptic and diuretic properties. Topically, plantains are extremely effective as a natural remedy for bee stings and other insect bites. Folklore also indicates that they have been used to cure snakebites, but I would not advise trying this at home.
It might sound crazy but the best thing you can do when you are in the wilderness and dealing with a bee sting or other mild bug bite is...find a clean plantain (make sure the area hasn't been sprayed with herbicide)...then chew it up, spit out the ground matter, and place it on the affected area. Let it dry for some time - I'd say at least 20 minutes. The mixture will become slightly gelatinous, and the enzymes in your saliva will actually help ward off infections. If you do not want to place it in your mouth, find a rock or pocket knife to gring the material, then add some water or spit to the mixture. The plantain will help reduce swelling and pain, and will aid in your bodies ability to expel the toxins. You will be amazed, and wonder why people are always tearing this highly medicinal plant-friend out of their manicured lawns!
Here are a few photos of the plantain. The last one is of one of my new kittens, Tocho, who intuitively knew to self-medicate with plantains when his tummy was upset.