Ribwort is the number one field remedy for insect stings and bites.
Hoary plantain (Plantago media) (right) is the most beautiful plantain, with pale lilac flowers
A crushed leaf rubbed onto the painful area will bring relief at once -it's almost miraculous.
Greater plantain also works for pain relief, but the leaves are tougher and not as juicy, so choose ribwort first if it is available. We find that any plantain, applied immediately, is effective for nettle stings and prefer it to dock leaf.
Plantain's antihistamine effect is also beneficial for hayfever and other allergies, and combines well as a tea with elderflower and mint. Plantain has long been a trusted plant for healing wounds (a vulnerary), and Shakespeare mentions it twice as a healer of broken shins. We haven't tried it on broken bones, but have found it to be very efficient at clearing heat and inflammation.
Pliny records in the first century AD that 'Themison, a famous physician, sets forthe a whole booke of the hearbe waibred or plantaine, wherein he highly praiseth it; and challengeth it to himself the honour of first finding it out, notwithstanding it be a triviall and common hearbe trodden undereverie man's foot.'
- quoted in Gordon (1980)
Running sore in ye Legge
Plantine water & oatmeal flour made into a plaster on the sore, wetting again with Plantine water and use plantine water to wash it.
- Archdale Palmer's recipes 1659-72
- a Cherokee elder's viewof plantain
A patient of Julie's had deep red and painful shins from a radiation burn, and came every few days for several weeks for a dressing of fresh plantain juice mixed with slippery elm powder. Other fresh herbs such as chickweed and yarrow were added to the juice at times, but ribwort was the mainstay. The patient's legs healed and have not needed further treatment.
Plantains are great purifiers, with an ability to draw dirt, pus and venom out of wounds. They have even been used to treat blood poisoning and gangrene. A poultice of crushed plantain leaves is the perfect remedy for the skinned knees of childhood, drawing out dirt while soothing and healing.
Abbé Kneipp (1821-97) characterized plantain's healing action thus: plantain closes the gaping wound with a seam of gold thread; for, just as gold wll not admit of rust, so the plantain wll not admit of rotting and gangrenous flesh.
These same qualities make plantain useful for treating infections of the teeth and gums. Simply place a wad of plantain leaf against the affected area and back it up by plantain tea or tincture as a mouthwash. Plantain can be used to help relieve toothache until you can get to the dentist.
Plantain has a soothing effect on the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, and has been used successfully for stomach ulcers and irritable bowel complaints. The leaves stop the bleeding too, so are good for ulcerative colitis. The seeds are even more soothing than the leaf, but probably do not stop the bleeding as well.
The seeds can be eaten raw or cooked, and are very rich in vitamin B1. Ground into a meal and mixed with flour they can make a form of bread. The whole seeds can be boiled like sago, and have a pleasant mild flavor, but this is a bit fiddly and time-consuming.
The seed husks swell up and are very absorbent, providing a source of dietary fiber for constipation and other digestive disorders. It is not surprising that the mucilaginous and binding herb psyllium (or isaphagula) is from Plantago ovata, a close relative of our plantains and native to the Middle East and India. As well as being antidiarrheal the mucilage in plantain is good for starching clothes.
Ribwort is the best of the plantains for treating coughs, and is recommended for chronic bronchitis as well as other persistent irritable coughs. It helps to bring up old stuck phlegm, and is particularly good for hot, dry coughs.
Greater or hoary plantain, having broader leaves, is better for hot, tired feet or plantar fasciitis. Do as the Native Amerticans did and put the leaves in your shoes; keep there until the leaves dry out and then replace with fresh ones.
Plantain's long history has been benign. One exception came in a case of witchcraft in Scotland. In 1623 Bessie Smith confessed to treating "heart fevers" by giving "wayburn leaves" to take for nine mornings, with a charm. But was this worse than using plantain on St John's eve, as everyone did?
It is the best herb for blood poisoning: reducing the swelling and completely healing a limb where poisoning has made amputation imminent.
- Dr Christopher (1976)
Plantago major by Maria Merian (1717)
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