First Aid in Your Backyard
by Corinna Wood
first published in New Life Journal, June/July 2003
Twelve years ago, I was walking barefoot with a friend in the Catskill Mountains. I was enjoying the flowers and conversation when I suddenly felt an excruciating pain. I quickly realized I had stepped on a bee. Immediately, I was flooded with memories of the last time I was stung on my foot: restless nights and over a week of pain and itching. My friend, who was studying herbs with me at the time, suggested plantain, an herb that was growing right at our feet. I said, "Sure, plantain may be good for mosquito bites, but this is a BEE STING! I don't think so!"
After a few minutes, as the throbbing pain increased, I decided to give the plantain a try after all. I picked a leaf, chewed it up, and put it on the bite. A minute later (to my astonishment), the throbbing and burning had almost completely disappeared! In ten minutes, when the pain began to return, I put on a fresh poultice and again experienced immediate relief. Same thing half an hour later, then several hours later, and a few more times over the next day. In less than 24 hours, the sting was completely healed.
I no longer dread bee stings. Over the last twelve years, I have turned to plantain many times - whenever I, my child, or any of our friends have been stung. I have learned that the sooner we use it, the better. So when someone cries out that they've been stung, one of us goes straight for the plantain. And it's always just a few steps away!
Plantain, one of the most widespread "weeds" in the world, is a first-choice remedy for many skin ailments. It is safe and effective, for not only bee stings, but also for bleeding, cuts, bruises, bug bites, hemorrhoids, and itchy skin. Its ability to draw out infection - as well as splinters and even glass shards - is especially remarkable.
The easiest way to make a plantain poultice is to chew up the leaf, put it on the wound, and cover it with a bandaid to hold it in place. Saliva actually contains many antibacterial properties (which may be why animals lick their wounds). If a "spit poultice" is not for you, you can chop plantain with a knife or in the blender with a little water.
So how do you find plantain? Luckily, it is one of the top three plants in lawns, along with dandelion and grass. There are actually two species of plantain that grow in our area: lance-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and broad-leaved plantain (Plantago major). They can be used interchangeably.
The easiest way to identify plantain (of either type) is that it has leaves with parallel veins. Most plants have leaves with veins that fork outward from a central midrib. Plantain, on the other hand, has side veins and a midrib which all run parallel to one another down to the base of the plant. Plantain doesn't have showy flowers, but it does have a distinctive, compact seed head that turns from green to brown as the seeds mature. All parts of the plant, including the seeds, are edible.
To enjoy plantain's healing properties year 'round, it's easy to make your own plantain oil (see below). This oil will last you through the winter when plantain dies back. It also comes in handy when mosquitoes make a meal of your arms and legs. A dozen spit poultices is probably more than anyone wants to make!
Plantain is what my family uses instead of an over-the-counter antibiotic cream. When my two-year-old hurts himself, he knows where to find plantain. A day later, as he takes off his poultice, my heart warms as he delights, "Mommy, it's healed! Plantain made it better!"
Making Plantain Oil:
- Choose a dry, sunny day and harvest the plantain in the afternoon (once the dew has dried).
- Tightly pack a clean, dry jar full of plantain leaves.
- Cover with olive oil to the top.
- Place the jar out of direct sunlight and let it sit at room temperature for six weeks.
- Every day for the first week, top off the oil so that it completely covers the leaves.
- After six weeks, strain out the plant material.
You now have your own green, medicinal plantain oil!
Corinna Wood is founder and director of Southeast Wise Women. Her early initiation into the herbal world included an extensive apprenticeship with Susun Weed. For the last 25 years, Corinna has been practicing and sharing the Wise Woman Tradition, based in honoring of women and the Earth. Through two decades of teaching, as well as founding Red Moon Herbs in her home community, Earthaven Ecovillage, Corinna has opened countless hearts to the wisdom of the plants and their own bodies.