Before today, I didn’t know what plantain weed was or what it looked like. Did you? Check out the image above to see if you recognize a common variety in Texas.
I know I’ve come across this familiar looking weed in the past, but I never had a name for it, and I certainly didn’t realize its many healing powers.
Plantain happens to be a common weed with a long history of medicinal use – in fact, it is even apparently referenced in works by both Chaucer and Shakespeare!  Plantain weed is one of those gems that almost every yard has, but only the people who learn to recognize and play with it will appreciate it beyond the label of a common weed.
Not to be confused with the plantain (Musa paradisiaca) that produces potassium rich fruit for monkeys and humans alike, plantain weed, Plantago major, has a few varieties and has been used medicinally for at least 2,000 years. It was apparently well known and used in both Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. 
I happened to be adding plantain seeds in my garden that were shared during my Permaculture Design Certification course. I googled how to ID them so that I would recognize them once they surfaced, and lo and behold I found I already had several flowering plantain around me. A friend of mine mentioned she has really enjoyed the plantain salve a practitioner recently gave her, so I decided to make some of my own, which also happens to be the first salve I’ve ever attempted! I’m excited to share the DIY process today, as you likely have plantain growing in your area too.
But first … a little more about my new friend Plantago Major
Plantain weed is a low growing perennial plant with edible leaves that can be used raw in salads. But do make sure you pick the leaves when they are young, as the older the leaves get, the tougher and more bitter they taste. However, the older leaves can still be consumed and can still taste appealing if cooked like other tough greens such as collard. (It’s worth a quick PSA to make sure you are collecting from an area that has not been sprayed with any chemicals or pesticides.)
Plantain leaves contain fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, zinc and copper, as well as vitamins A, C and K, and is a rich source of numerous phytochemicals, which are compounds that help prevent and treat disease. According to the International College of Herbal Medicine, plantain leaves have “anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibiotic and immune-stimulating properties”.  If that weren’t lovely enough on its own, it gets even better: the seeds of plantain weed are also edible and contain Vitamin B1.  Someone recently told me they enjoyed the flower / seeds sautéed in a stir fry with other veggies.
Plantain is native to Asia and Europe, where it was long thought to be a sacred herb. The leaves have been used medicinally for thousands of years “to treat urinary problems, sore throats, respiratory disorders, stomach ailments, skin irritations, heart problems, sore muscles and rheumatism”. Native Americans came to use plantain leaf for fevers, flesh wounds and to treat snake and insect bites, as well as prevent infections. 
“In herbal medicine, plantain is known as a “drawing herb” meaning it has a power to pull out toxins, infections and foriegn substances from the body. This makes a plantain poultice an excellent remedy for insect bites and stings, splinters, boils, cuts and scrapes, burns and even toothaches.” 
Native Americans apparently called this plant “the white man’s footprint” because it seemed to “follow” European settlers as they infiltrated the Americas, readily spreading where people had walked and disturbed the soil. Today it’s easy to find on roadsides, in yards, and even sidewalk cracks. 
Check your own backyard. If you find this treasure growing among the weeds of your yard, here’s a way to turn it into a staple for your first aid kit.
DIY Plantain Salve for Burns, Bites & other Skin Woes
What you’ll need:
- A handful of Plantain leaves
- Coconut Oil (around 4oz)
- Cosmetic Grade organic Beeswax Pellets (1 Tablespoon)
- Salve containers or tins (mine were 1 Oz)
- A heat safe jar
- A saucepan
Harvest a handful of plantain leaves and tear them into pieces or crush them lightly in the heat safe jar.
Pack them tightly into the bottom of the jar.
Add coconut oil on top.
Put around 2-3 inches of water in a sauce pan (enough to go halfway up the jar.) Place the jar in the saucepan on low heat.
After the oil has been infused on low heat for 2 hours, remove the plantain leaves out of the liquid, which should now be a light green color.
Next add the Beeswax pellets and return the jar back to the saucepan until the beeswax melts completely. Last, pour the solution into tins or jars. My recipe filled four 1 oz. containers.
This salve is intended to help with healing minor cuts and burns, including sunburns. I read it also can help with healing from bee and wasp stings, poison ivy, eczema, psoriasis and diaper rash. I’m excited to have it join my medicine cabinet this year.
As always, if you give this recipe a try, let me know how it turns out for you!
Sometimes it’s helpful to pause and ask WHY?
Why make stuff that is often easier and cheaper to buy? I like to do projects like this because, for me, making stuff is just plain fun – at times even meditative. But equally as important to me is the fact that there are often far fewer chemicals in things that are homemade. I also tend to appreciate the things I take time to bring to life by hand more than anything I quickly purchase on impulse.
Humans are wired to create. I find it interesting that when I take time to make things, I am more deeply satisfied with how I have spent my day. Additionally I also love the bonus of community-building that can occur when I share or trade the things I make with others.
Try making something this week, however simple, and see if it doesn’t enrich your life too! If you’re looking for ideas, check out my yardsteading projects list for inspiration.