Happy Wonder Wednesday! Whether you’ve been out in the streets working for justice, up in the mountains attuning with nature, chopping fresh peaches from your local farmer, or staying home creating art and staying healthy – there’s a chance you’ve gotten a cut, scrape, rash, bug bite, burn, sting, or random skin irritation.
Well, never fear, faithful plantain is near!
Now, I’m not talking about platanos (Musa × paradisiaca), the starchier cooking banana cousin of sweet bananas. I’m talking about the wild herb broadleaf plantain, Plantago major.
This adaptable hardy plant ally is native to Europe and Asia, but is now found in many areas worldwide. It is often found in disturbed areas and along paths and roadsides. It likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade.
This tough herb isn’t bothered by compacted soil or being trampled on. It actually helps rehabilitate compacted and disrupted ecosystems by its roots breaking up hard soils whit simultaneously preventing erosion. So celebrate this “weed” in the lawn rather than eradicate it!
The stringy leaves are very useful for everything from survival food to making braided ropes and cords – or even sutures! The young leaves are tender to eat raw in salad and the older stringier leaves can be boiled. The leaves are high in calcium, minerals, and beta-carotene. The seeds are teeny, but in an emergency situation could be collected and ground into a flour substitute.
As an herbal medicine ally, Plantain leaf is tops. It contains the phytochemicals, allantoin, aucubin, ursolic acid, flavonoids, and asperuloside – all of which aid in decreasing pain and swelling.
Out in the wild, if you get a cut, scrape, sting, bite, simply pick a few plantain leaves, crush them up in your hand or mouth (assuming you can rinse them or know they are clean and free from , debris, dust, and dog pee) and place them on the wound to relieve pain and reduce bleeding and swelling.
At home, keep a plantain salve on hand for wound care. Where do you get it you ask? Well, we’re going to make it in this week’s Wonder Wednesday activity!
Sunday, August 2, is Friendship Day, so maybe make some Plantain First-Aid Salve as gifts to drop on the doorsteps of your friends as a socially distanced special treat!
Did you know Friendship Day was originally begun in 1919, lost popularity by the 1940s :(, but in 1998 Winnie the Pooh was proclaimed World Friendship Ambassador by the UN, and in 2011 the UN declared July 31 World Friendship Day, but most countries celebrate it on August 2 – #nationalfriendshipday
Last week I did a little nature summer camp with my 8 year old nephew. Plantain was our plant ally for the week and he learned to identify it in the wild, how to responsibly wildcraft the leaves, and how to prepare and dry them at home. Then, we made a plantain first aid salve for him to keep on hand at home. He had a great time with the process, as did I – of course!
Wonder Wednesday 96:
Plantain First-Aid Salve
There are many alternates you can add to this base recipe such as additional herbs, beeswax, alternate oil bases, or essential oils. We added harvested wild yarrow and garden mint to our salve, but just straight plantain is great.
30 plantain leaves (+/-) Or the equivalent of a big handful
1 cup organic fair trade coconut oil
A container or several smaller containers
Optional: Other wildcrafted herbs (try yarrow, mint, or self-heal leaves and flowers); fairly harvested and traded beeswax or shea butter; organic essential oil (lavender is a good one for reducing swelling), a cooking thermometer
Learn to positively identify plantain herb, Plantago major:
It grows in lawns, fields, along paths and roadsides in compacted and soils disturbed by human activity and development. It can even grown in sidewalk cracks.
- average 2-8 inches long & 2-4 inches wide, but can be bigger;
- oval shaped with 5-9 obvious parallel veins running the vertical length of the leaf from the petiole to the tip; smooth leaf margins;
- a distinct long petiole (leaf stem) that is sometimes reddish purple at the base
- grow in a tall spike and are tiny and greenish yellow. The base of the spike stem is sometimes reddish purple.
Go for a walk and gather the plant material. Use scissors to cut the leaves at the bases of their petioles.
When wildcrafting, be mindful of the plants and only take a leaf or two from each plant in a group. Try to harvest from a wider area of plants rather then stress or over-harvest a single group.
Bring the leaves home, rinse them clean from dust, pat them dry, then lay them out flat and separated to wilt for 24-48 hours.
Cut the wilted leaves up into smaller pieces – about 1/2 strips and cut the wider parts in half. It’s not an exact science and doesn’t really matter too much what size, just smaller than the full leaf with cut surfaces to release the nutrients.
(Our cut plant material here is a mix of plantain, mint, and yarrow leaves and flowers)
Place 1 cup of organic fair trade coconut oil into a sauce pan with the plantain leaves.
Over low heat, mix the leaves in with the oil as it liquifies. (If using a liquid at room temp oil like olive, intermix the leaves and the oil right away.)
You are aiming to take the oil temperature up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the oil reaches 100˙F, turn off the heat. Stir and let set.
Repeat this process of heating and stirring 3-5 times a day for a minimum of 24 hours and max of 5 days.
Be sure to stir in between heatings too. This assures the all plant material stays steeping in the oil, as well as agitates the plant material to release the nutrients.
The oil will begin to turn green after a couple heating rounds. The depth of the green depends on how long you steep the plant material.
(*If adding beeswax or shea butter to make the salve more solid at room temp, add it now and heat to integrate together. If you want to take the salve out on the trail with you it is a good idea to add one of these suggestions to keep the salve more solid in hot weather.)
Once you are finished steeping and the oil is still liquid (esp. if you are using beeswax or shea additions), using a strainer over your container, pour the oil and plant material into your container. Squeeze the plant material to extract as much steeped oil as possible.
Set the plant material aside to return to nature via compost or tossing out in a wilder area of the yard later.
(* If adding essential oils, add to the container and stir well once the plant material is out and the salve is still liquified. Add oils according to your best judgement – About 25 drops of lavender in 1 cup of oil is a general measurement.)
Set the filled container/s aside to cool completely and solidify. (I pop mine into the fridge and store it there because the coolness is a added soothing bonus when using at home.)
Enjoy! Place this nourishing salve on everything from scrapes to bites to dry skin!
Decorate the container/s or created custom labels for your salve and give as gifts – for Friendship Day perhaps?
Create additional art and nature journal projects using plantain to increase your connection with and understanding of the plant.
Paint a watercolor painting of Plantago major to round out World Watercolor Month.
Where have you seen Plantago major growing in the wild?
Share in the comments below!
Share your plantain and salve pics on Intstagram #wingswormsandwonder
Seeds to Sprout:
Looking for some fun summer activities for yourself or your family? Check out these fun Wonder Wednesday activities!
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Homeschooling next year?
Use my books Wonder & Wander for your preschoolers and Ks and Wings, Worms, and Wonder for your 1-6 graders! I have created full creativity nature integrated curriculums for you within the pages of these books- all kid tested, fun, and ready to go! From writing to science to math to art I’ve got your STEAM learning covered!
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