Broad-leaf Plantain, or Plantago major, is a common perennial ‘weed’ found across North America. I’m sure you have seen this unassuming little plant in your yard, along the roadside or at a local park. Plantain grows well in poor soil, and can often be found coming up along sidewalks or in heavily traveled areas. At our farm, this little plant grows happily along our dirt driveway where the soil is compacted and heavily traveled. While it may be deemed an enemy by those who want a pristine lawn- plantain is a truly wonderful medicinal plant that is easy to find and identify and offers a wide range of health benefits.
Plantain leaves are oval shaped and easily identified by their 5-7 veins growing parallel out from the center. If you pick a leaf, you will see stringy fibers- like those in celery. It grows in rosettes, with many leaves growing out from a central shaft and can become a ground cover where allowed.
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The flowers of plantain grow straight up, like little green spears, on leafless stalks. While they are not showy or fragrant- they do provide important food for honeybees and native pollinators.
Plantain is incredibly moisturizing, and can be eaten, taken internally or topically to treat skin and digestive issues. When harvesting for food or medicine, it is important to gather healthy plants from pollution-free areas. While plantain grows happily along the side of the road, these plants should not be used for human consumption.
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Young leaves, before the plant flowers, can be steamed and eaten like spinach with similar nutritional properties. Plantain has been used internally medicinally to support the digestive system, treating persistent diarrhea and chronic digestive issues.
Plantain roots can be dried, powdered and used topically to treat abscessed teeth or infections in the mouth.
Topically, plantain leaves can be used to sooth burns, rashes and sunburn as well as insect bites and stings. Leaves can be crushed or chewed and applied as a poultice directly to the affected area, or can be steeped in your favorite oil to create an infused oil or salve.
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One of the most valuable properties of plantain is its ability to draw out whatever needs to be drawn out- including insect venom.
At Olsen Farm we keep honeybees, and currently have 27 hives. Last year I accidentally knocked part of a hive over during an inspection- a beekeeper’s (and most anyone’s!) worst nightmare. I was stung over one hundred times through my pants, but luckily was wearing a veil to protect my face and torso. AI immediately applied a poultice of crushed plantain leaves directly to each sting, and then applied homemade plantain salve for a week. I made a complete recovery with minimal discomfort and without a dangerous allergic reaction- I own it all to plantain! Plantain has an almost magical ability to remove whatever is afflicting us- It can even be applied to stubborn splinters to help the body safely expel them.
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To make an infused oil using plantain leaves:
- Gather fresh plantain leaves on a sunny day from a clean and pollution free area. Allow the leaves to wilt in the sun, getting rid of any excess moisture.
- Chop or cut winter leaves and fill a pint mason jar 2/3
- Fill the mason jar to the brim with your favorite oil- I use olive oil because it is inexpensive and is gentle on sensitive skin. Lid and label your jar with ingredients and the date.
- Let your plantain leaves in oil steep in a dark place for 4-6 weeks, strain our leaf bits and your oil is ready to use!
- Infused oil can be applied topically or ingested for digestive support. To make a salve, heat your oil in a double burner and add beeswax (at a ratio of 1/4 cup beeswax to 1 cup oil).
I hope you can spot this lovely little plant, and know more about its potential. Plantain may not look like much- but it’s benefits are plentiful!
Kristen Tool is co-owner of Olsen Farm in Lanesborough, Mass., where she works with her husband to revive 28 acres of a four-generation family farm by keeping bees, growing fruit, vegetables and herbs without the use of pesticides, raising poultry, cultivating mushrooms, leading workshops, and preparing plant remedies. She is the Secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association and manages a crew of incredible teens who run the local farmers market through a nonprofit program, Roots Rising. Connect with Kristen at Olsen Farm on Facebook, on Instagram @olsen_farm, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here .
Use coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter) or leftover fat from pasture-raised meats for sautéing. Avoid heating olive oil and other oils – use them to flavor food after cooking. Choose oils high in monounsaturates and low in polyunsaturates. Avoid corn, canola and soy oils.