When I was a kid, my family would drive from southern California to Washington each summer to visit my grandparents and aunts and uncles. We'd stay at my Gran's house and spend the days playing hide-and-seek in her secret-garden-like yard (it was beautiful) and racing handmade boats down the irrigation ditch that ran through the yard. I'd come inside for supper in the evenings covered in mosquito bites. I have a love-hate relationship with the pesky things - I hate them and they love me. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to their bites, so their dessert plates would turn into giant purple welts on my skin and I'd be promptly slathered in whatever remedy was available to help stop the itching. The only things that have really ever worked to relieve the discomfort and reduce the swelling have been herbal remedies (the store-bought versions never helped much). One of my favorite (and most effective) remedies is a salve made from Plantain, a leafy green weed that often grows in lawns and through cracks in the concrete. It's not the same as the banana-like Plantain that most people think of when they hear its name - it's a powerful little plant ally that many try to eradicate from their yards.
Salves are probably my all time favorite go-to remedies for topical applications. They are so quick and easy to make (they only take as long as it takes to melt your beeswax) and they always turn out perfectly. Lotions and creams can be finicky and time consuming, but salves are trusted friends that are ready to use in just a few minutes. Their longer shelf life further adds to their appeal. Salves are made from herbs, carrier oils, and beeswax.
Every month, our magazine subscribers receive an extra bonus reference sheet with their magazine issue. This month, we focused on learning more about Plantain through our March herbal reference sheet and a featured recipe in the magazine and I'm enjoying working with this herb so much that I thought I'd share more about it with you here on the blog as well.
Plantain is often used in the herbal community as a skin-healing herb that's great for reducing the inflammation, swelling, and discomfort associated with bug bites and stings. If you're out in the yard and notice that you've been bitten, look for Plantain. Pick a fresh leaf and crush it in your mouth or with your fingers, than apply it to the bite and it'll start working almost immediately to stop the itching and pain from the bite. It's quite an amazing little plant!
Plantain is also used for the respiratory and digestive systems, among other things, but today we're going to focus a bit on its use in first aid applications. If you have the fresh plant available, you can use it as described above. You can also use the fresh leaves or a strong infusion of them (brew them like a tea for 15-20 minutes, covered) as a poultice for bruises or injuries or as a soak to help draw out splinters. Fresh leaves of Plantain can be harvested and dried, then powdered to use as a styptic powder in your first aid kit. It works well with Yarrow for this purpose. The leaves can be infused in oil to make a skin healing salve that helps speed healing and reduces irritation of the skin.
TO MAKE PLANTAIN SALVE:
- Infuse Plantain leaves (fresh or dried) into your choice of carrier oil. I used Olive oil for this particular batch. I work with slow oil infusions over a period of 4-12 weeks, depending on whether or not I am doing a single, double, or triple infusion, but you can also use a quick infusion method using a double boiler and low heat if you need to whip up a batch of salve in a pinch.
- Melt 1 part local beeswax in a double boiler over low to medium heat. Once it is melted, stir in 5 parts of your Plantain infused oil. Once everything is incorporated, remove the blend from the heat and add in a few drops of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) essential oils. These particular essential oils are also very nourishing to the skin and are known to help aid the skin in its healing process. You can leave them out of the recipe if you prefer not to work with them - the salve will be effective either way, but they do create a beautiful synergy with the Plantain if you choose to work with them.
- Pour the finished blend into your sterilized tins or jars and let them sit (covered, if you added essential oils) until they are completely solid.
- Label your containers with the name of the product, the ingredients you used, and the date you made it.
WAYS TO USE PLANTAIN SALVE
- Apply it to minor cuts and scrapes to help the skin heal.
- Apply it to bug bites and stings to help relieve itching, swelling, and discomfort.
- Apply it to bruises and eruptive skin issues to help speed healing.
- Use it as a moisturizer after washing your hands or showering to help soothe dry, cracked, or irritated skin and seal in moisture.
- Use it as a base for a sinus rub blend. Because of its affinity for the respiratory system (especially where there is sticky mucous in the lungs, a cough, or irritated mucous membranes), it works well with other respiratory system supportive herbs and is well suited to vapor rub type applications.
How do you use Plantain? Let us know in the comments below. If you decide to make a batch of Plantain Salve, hop over to our Facebook group and share a photo of your finished blend!