It’s a bit humbling to discover that the “weed” I’ve grumbled about so often is actually a powerhouse of goodness. In the old days (circa two weeks ago), I would grit my teeth whenever I saw that “weed” in the driveway, walkway and lawn. It was everywhere.
But then I started researching medicinal herbs, and looking in foraging books to see which ones I could find in the wild in the Pacific Northwest. And wouldn’t you know it. My nemesis was actually Plantago, otherwise known as Plantain (not the banana-ish fruit). With over 200 varieties and a crazy ability to grow in hard ground and gravel, it should be no surprise that plantain grows here, there and everywhere.
Among a variety of special powers this herb possesses is its universally acknowledged ability to relieve the pain of bee stings and insect bites, stop allergic rashes and the itching of poison ivy, and hasten healing in sores and bruises.
On one site, a reader commented that she had been on a run when a bee flew up her nose and stung her. She said the pain was overwhelming, and her first thought was to get home quickly and put some ice on the sting. But then she remembered plantain. Spotting some on the side of the road, she grabbed the leaves, chewed them up, and shoved the “paste” up her nose. (As a side note, isn’t it interesting how our vanity vanishes in an emergency? :)) She wrote that the relief was immediate, and by the time she got back home, the pain was completely gone.
Just a day or two after I read that, our friends, Paul and Tiffany, came over with their children. Tiffany and I share a love of all-things-natural-healing, so I told her what I’d just learned about plantain, including the above story. A couple of days later, she texted me with the picture you see at the top of this post. “I got to use the plantain on Ariana for a bee sting!! She was in tears until I found it and got it on her finger. By the time I finished taping it on, she had a smile back on her face.”
I loved hearing that, because I have much more faith in my friends than I do in nameless, jogging, internet strangers. Which is why yesterday, when Dave came in from checking on the bees and said, “Where’s that stuff you’ve been talking about? The stuff for bee stings?” I shot outside and returned chewing a wad of plantain. I had to make four more trips, because he’d been stung five times. All night I kept asking him how it felt. Where I had put the most plantain, the pain was noticeably better, but on his shoulder, where he had smeared his own thin layer, he still had some pain. I think the secret is to really pile it on. This morning he told me he couldn’t believe he hadn’t woken up with a swollen neck from the biggest bite. So he’s calling the plantain a winner too.
If you’re like me, you’ve called this a weed your whole life. But we were wrong:
Common Names: plantain, fleawort, ribwort, waybread, white-man’s footprint, Englishman’s foot
History: Plantain was brought to America by the Puritan settlers and readily took to American soil wherever the newcomers settled. This may be why the Native Americans called plantain the “white man’s footprint.”
Nutrients: Plantain provides calcium and high dosages of vitamins A, C and K.
Benefits: Plantain soothes tissue damage, reduces the affects of bee and insect stings, and has the ability to stem blood flow in minor cuts.
Herbal Actions: decongestant, expectorant, diuretic, antiseptic, antibacterial
Herbal Energetics: Cooling; drying
Parts used: leaf and seeds
Plantain grows easily in packed soil and graveled areas, but try to avoid plants growing alongside well-traveled road, as pesticides and car exhaust may coat the leaves.