One day, many years ago, I found myself wandering a restaurant parking lot in the rain. Head down, scanning the ground, desperate for what I sought, I zigzagged back and forth, intent on my mission, oblivious to the weather and ignoring passersby. I probably looked like I had lost my keys, but that was not the case. I drifted to the small community square, next door, still on the hunt, while my kids sat inside with our friends. What on earth was I looking for, in this seemingly haphazard manner? A plant.
You see, we had been camping and my nine year old daughter was covered in mosquito bites that morning, making it quite impossible to enjoy breakfast, as she squirmed and grumbled her way through our meal. I suppose I could have run down the block and purchased some Calamine lotion to meet our needs, but I knew that the plant I sought would work so much better than any store bought medicine. Plants always seem to know what we need, whereas human made medicines only do what they were made to do. They are symptom relievers but do not actually assist the body in doing what it does best: heal itself.
So what was this amazing plant that I could not live without, on that long ago, rainy, day? The lowly Plantain or Plantago major. Yep, a weed that most people spend time criticizing and eradicating. This plant has saved me from my kids’ ailments and complaints, more often than I can recount.
The magic of Plantain can be found in its active chemical constituents. Plantain leaves contain large amounts of aucubin, an anti-microbial agent, and allantoin, which stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration. They are high in mucilage, which reduces pain and discomfort, and astringent, meaning that they draw things out. The seeds are the active ingredient in Metamucil.
Plantain also happens to be a very nutritious wild edible, that is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads, and the older leaves can be used in stir frys, boiled in stews, or made into chips.
Mountain Rose Herbs says this about Plantain:
Plantain has been used as a panacea in some Native American cultures and with some very good reasons. Many of its active constituents show antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, as well as being anti-inflammatory and antitoxic. The leaves, shredded or chewed, are a traditional treatment for insect and animal bites and the antibacterial action helps prevent infection and the anti-inflammatory helps to relieve pain, burning, and itching. There is some investigation ongoing to study its affects on lowering blood sugar.
And what was I going to do with these Plantain leaves, once I found them? Why, make a spit poultice, of course. My very most favorite way to use Plantain, is to take the newly harvested leaves, rinse them off, and chew them up into a mush to place on the affected area. While this may sound a bit disgusting, Plantain actually just tastes, well, green. Like lettuce, really. Sure it is a bit drying, due to the astringent properties, but, to me, all those nutrients that I am ingesting as I chew, more than make up for the slightly dry mouth that follows.
Found in Nature worldwide, Plantain leaves have been used both internally and externally for documented millennia as a first aid remedy, and their mighty powers have now been proven by modern day science. Besides relieving the itch and sting of mosquito bites, Plantain has been most helpful to me in treating wasp and bee stings, muting the pain of sunburn, and stopping bleeding in all manner of cuts and scrapes. I really could not live without this most marvelous and humble of plants.
Safe harvesting practices recommend that we only take plants from the wild that are 50 feet from a well traveled road, or, at the very least, along a seldom used road or walkway. That is not always the case with Plantain, however, as it seems to prefer to grow, like dandelions, mostly where the people are. The best that I could hope for, in this current scenario, was that the rain had washed off any probable surface traces of heavy metals and dog pee. Being a nurse, I reminded myself that urine is sterile, and moved on.
After about 10 minutes of searching, I found some most magnificent volunteers, hiding under a bush near the back of the square. I remembered to say a very heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for this bounty as I picked leaves and shoved them into my mouth, hoping vaguely that I did not look too crazy to passersby as I crouched down, talking to myself , alone, in the rain, while eating weeds, in a public park.
Triumphantly, I marched back to the restaurant, my mouth brimming with this most valuable medicine. I seated myself at our table and began applying this sanity saving poultice to my daughter’s myriad of bites, much to the relief of her, the rest of the party at our table, and, quite possibly, the entire restaurant, as my daughter had been very vocal about her discomfort, for a good half hour. Within minutes, however, the wonderfully soothing powers of Plantain began to take effect and we were all able to finish our meal in relative comfort and quiet. I have never known Calamine lotion to work that quickly, or that well. All Hail the Plant People!