Saturday, June 19, 2010

plantago major, first aid in your front yard

Plantain (the weed, not the little banana) is a wonderful first aid plant. This plant is everywhere, hence the name 'white man's foot-steps'. It's an ovate or lance-leaved weed growing in a low rosette. Plantain has five ribs on each leaf coming off a thick channeled footstalk. If there are no broad-leaved plantain around, then I may see the lance-leaved plantain (plantago lancolata). While the broad leaved is deemed better, I have not hesitated to use lance-leaved in a pinch.

Plantain is famous for it's use on insect bites and stings. A chewed leaf applied directly to the bite or sting will relieve itching and help quell inflammation. It is the first thing I reach for when someone has been stung by a bee. Many people refer to plantain as the band-aid plant, it gets this name honestly. I have seen it stop bleeding and relieve pain of many cuts and scrapes, and it's easily accessible!
An infused oil of plantain is pretty amazing as well. I have seen it clear up diaper rashes the doctor's antibiotics failed in. I add it to any salve specific for healing irritated skin. When the kids get into the nettle by accident, we grab the plantain to neutralize the sting. It even aids in what ails my pets: I have seen it work like magic on my dog's skin allergies and his cough.

These are all great abilities for a plant to possess, especially a plant so easily found anywhere. We all get bit, stung, or itchy more often than not. For these reasons alone it's worth it to go identify some today, but even more incredible to me, and less read about by many, is plantain's usefulness in afflictions of the urinary tract and lungs.

It is approved by the German Commission E (a German sort of FDA) for internal use for easing coughs and mucus membrane irritation, but details on it's use in this way seem to be shoved under the rug. I have read that plantain is used for hay fever and asthma, even though it's use in this manner is never expanded upon. Nobody talks about it!

Plantain has become one of my allies, possibly the most important herb in my first aid cabinet. I have seen such dramatic effects that I am surprised it's not one on the top of the list of most well-known herbs of all time: right up there with ginseng and goldenseal.
Having suffered from allergy induced asthma all my life, I have relied on pharmaceuticals to aid in my breathing since age three. I had a terrible run-in with mold a few years back that prompted me to try plantain. I was a sneezing, eye-watering mess. Breathing was difficult and I found I was using the inhaler way to much. Having just read about a succus (juice), I juiced some plantain. What a thick, green juice it was! One dropper full and my eyes stopped itching and watering, the sneezing disappeared, and in ten minutes my breathing was easier. What a relief! What a quick relief! Why isn't this so spoken about as I believe it should be? Are there not millions of Americans suffering allergies every year? How household of a name is Claritin now? I was floored. I ended up using plantain all summer in place of my inhaler. By November, I remember having to take 2 dropperfuls of tincture to get the effects I desired, and they were a bit shorter lasting than earlier in the year. I was worried that the plant would lose it's efficacy with me. I went back to using the inhaler on an as-needed basis, which was much less and back to normal from much earlier that year. The next allergy season rolled around and I tried plantain once again. In ten minutes I felt better. For a few hours I was unaffected. No efficacy problems there. The opening and almost relaxing effects on the lungs is just amazing. I would say it is a bronchodilator. Herbalist Jim Mcdonald once told me he would recommend plantain for carpenters. These guys breathe some nasty dust, and with plantain's expectorant actions it makes total sense. It's soothing to the tissues while aiding in the expulsion of foreign materials. I would also recommend this to folks who keep birds. It has anti fungal activities which could be an aid in protecting the lungs from some forms of fungal diseases common among bird owners.

Another wonderful first aid use for plantain is in the urinary tract. Some people are just prone to these imbalances, and they can be discomforting to say the least. For the burning or the pressure sensation, plantain is a great aid. Plantain is demulcent, which means it produces a sort of soothing coating to the mucus membranes. This diuretic, anti inflammatory, anti bacterial herb is a wonderful choice in treating cystis and urinary tract infections. If there is bleeding, what better than it's astringent actions as well??

I should mention it's use as a laxative as well. I personally have never tried out this aspect of plantain's medicine, but I hear that Metamucil is a psyllium product (you'll have to copy and paste):
made from plantago ovata, a Chinese variant. This is a multi-billion dollar industry. Think about all the resources in production and shipping we could be saving by using what grows right out our back doors!
Psyllium, you ask? Psyllium is the seed from the plantago species. You can read more about it here:

It is an easy one to harvest, just slide the ripe seeds (usually in the fall) from the tall flower stalk into a paper bag. The seeds are placed in water and drank to bulk up the stool. I have heard that while harvesting you do want to be careful not to breathe in any psyllium dust. This has been known to be a cause of asthma and breathing problems, and allergic reactions in a very few.

Some notable constituents found in plantain are allantion, mucilage, apigenin, aucubin, oleanic acid, sorbitol, tannin, and some silica. Together these constituents lend plantain it's anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, diuretic, astringent, and expectorant actions. Acubin has been proven to be a powerful anti-toxin. Allantion promotes wound healing, speeds up cell regeneration, and has skin-softening effects. Plantain is not associated with any common side effects, other than those few that are allergic to it's pollen. It is safe for general use and the leaves lend themselves well to a decoction. Used alone or in combination, plantain is a steadfast friend. It tops the list of my top ten first aid herbs.


  1. This is great information! I saw awhile back you hosted an "herb walk"...will you be doing that again?

  2. beautiful amanda! would sharing of your experiences with you dog and also your allergic reactions. nice advice tip for bird owners! my hubby raises racing homer pigeons. very wonderful monograph dear! thank you for sharing! plantain is the children and I's number one spit poultice remedy for bee stings also!

  3. sure leslie!
    our dog is allergic to fleas. his skin breaks out in hives and it itches and drives him crazy. last year parts of his skin went as far as to turn black... it was disturbing. two days of applying the oil to the parts and feeding him the oil with his food, it cleared up and returned to normal. it is a plant i will notice him choose on his own outside. he loves to be fed the spent leaves when i decant my oil.... he won't touch a tea though, haha.
    for me.. my allergies to summer time grasses and molds and mildew kick start my asthma. plantain saves me from the sneezing, nose running, and tight chests.
    whenever my daughter complains of burny pee we start her on yarrow and plantain... sometimes marshmallow too. i took her to the doc after we knew she had to have had a urinary tract infection.... the doc tested her and said she was fine, he could tell there had been bleeding... but no need for medication. so i knew the herbs had worked for her. i seem to reach for plantain more often than anything else. we love it here :)