Those weeds that grow along the side of the road are not all nuisance plants! If you know what to look for there is great opportunity to wild harvest one of the most all-around useful medicinal herbs – Plantain.
There are several types of plantain, the most common being either wide leaf (Plantago major) or narrow leaf (Plantago lanceolata). There is no medicinal difference and narrow leaf plantain is the type that we find here in South Carolina. It has been used for centuries as a healing agent for wounds and inflammatory concerns. Common uses include the placement of crushed leaves on the skin to calm insect bites, nettle stings and wounds. It can also slow the bleeding of minor cuts and scrapes. Plantain can be used in its fresh, natural state, or it can be infused into carrier oils to create longer-lasting salves and lotions. The use of plantain in these salves and lotions is the more typical form found today at farmers' markets and from home herbalists.
Plantain can be found in many parts of the world from North America to New Zealand, and its roots in medicine appear to have been carried throughout the world by colonists. There is a story in history of an Indian receiving an reward from the Assembly of South Carolina for discovering that plantain was a remedy for the rattlesnake bite. Many recipes are widely available from the present and past centuries for both internal and external uses of plantain. Most herbalists and home remedy specialists use plantain as a base herb, often used in combination with other herbs, for medicinal salves.
Plantain can be purchased dried and cut or it can be harvested fresh. To me there is nothing quite as rewarding as being able to wild harvest the herb. This allows me to have fresh plantain in its purist form and without any kind of fertilizer or pesticides. Around here I can harvest plantain pretty much all summer. We are blessed to have it growing along the road frontage of our homestead. I just have to convince One Ash hubby to hold off on mowing until it gets tall enough to gather! (Fortunately plantain grows faster than the grass!) This past winter I found a few bunches of plantain growing in what was to become a new pig pen. Not wanting to waste that treasure, the only thing to do was to dig it up and plant it in a pot, which is beautiful on the porch this spring!
Once I have gathered my fresh plantain, I can either use it right away to infuse oils for salve, or I can dry it for future use. I never worry about having too much since it can be stored in plastic bags in the freezer and kept for a year or more. To dry it, I have an old screen door that I set up on the porch. In dry, breezy weather it usually takes a few days for the leaves to be dry enough to freeze or place in a jar. Of course, if I am making salve right away, I use the leaves fresh and green.
Whatever you use plantain for, it is fun to learn and teach about wild harvesting this plentiful herb. For me, the best thing of all has been when we are driving down a country road and One Ash hubby slams on the brakes and says, "Wow! Look at all that plantain!" Have fun educating your family to the medicinal powers of Plantago lanceolata!
Want to buy dried plantain? Various websites sell the herb, and check your local farmers' market next weekend.