Herbal Adventures with Susun S Weed
by Susun S. Weed
read other Herbal Adventures part 1, part 2 , part 3 , part 4
I take my herbal first-aid kit with me on airplanes and on horse-back trips. I keep it right at hand at home and have one in the car, too. My kit is filled with fast-acting, effective remedies gleaned from my forty years of practice as an herbalist.
In these columns, over the past few years, I've discussed each of the herbs in my first-aid kit, except for one. Unless you count the twenty dollar bill I keep folded at the bottom of my kit along with a few Band-Aids, we have emptied my first-aid bag right down to the final remedy: plantain ointment.
Plantain leaf ointment is my favorite way to counter stings, stop itches, heal wounds, and relieve pain. This humble, ubiquitous plant told me to call her "Plain Plantain" but I call her "Plain Amazing." When my daughter Justine was small, she called plantain "Oowie Weed" or the "Band- Aid plant."
Plantain ointment is easy to carry. But, to tell the truth, fresh plantain is so easy to find that I often leave my ointment at home and trust the Goddess to lead me to plantain should I need some.
My friends like to remind me of the year that I decided that plantain was too common, too dull, and too boring to talk about on my Weed Walks. My beloved "guardian angel" Keyawis recalls our Weed Walk in June in Toronto: "We had only seen a few plants when Susun's foot struck a rock and we watched in horror as the wasps swarmed out of the ground and stung her dozens of times. We thought for sure the workshop was over. But she found plantain, had us all chew up as much as we could and spit it on her now puffy foot and leg. The swelling and redness abated before my eyes. I've never seen anything like it."
After one more incident—a bee stung me right on the nose and I had to do my talk with a green clown nose of plantain leaves—I got the message. Now I make certain to include plain plantain in every Weed Walk I do. And I haven't been stung since.
Students who are allergic to wasp and bee stings carry some dried plantain leaves with them—along with their more orthodox first-aid kit. They tell me that a spit poultice of the dried leaves usually acts quickly enough to prevent shock reactions. The ointment is not as effective in this situation.
Plantain leaf ointment can stop itching faster than anything I've ever used, and it eases even the most intense itches. From diaper rash to flea bites, eczema to dry skin, plantain turns tears of pain to smiles of relief. New mothers swear by plantain ointment as a diaper cream, both to prevent and to treat diaper rash. It relieves the itch of heat rash and poison ivy/oak rash, too.
A good dab of plantain ointment relieves hot spots on dogs. I use it to quell the pain and itch from all bug bites: mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, black flies, too. If I don't have the ointment, I use fresh plantain leaf poultices or the oil (see box).
Plantain is one of the world's great "wound herbs." I've used it to heal scrapes and scratches from playing sports, cuts and bruises from heavy work, and even sprains. When Sue arrived to apprentice, she came with a crutch, explaining that she had re-sprained her ankle a few days earlier—after spraining it for the first time several months ago. She was willing to use the plantain oil I offered her.
She reported almost instantaneous relief from the throbbing pain, and claimed that using plantain oil daily for several months not only completely healed her ankle, it made it stronger than it had been.
Cuts treated with plantain, especially spit poultices, heal amazingly fast and virtually scar- free. One morning, while teaching away from home, I cut my finger very badly. My hostess (an MD) wanted to take me to the emergency room for stitches. I insisted on finding some plantain, which I chewed and spit it on the cut. I asked her for a band-aid, and off we went to class.
At lunch, when she asked me to take the band-aid off, the cut was already beginning to knit. And I experienced no pain at all after applying the plantain, I'm glad to say. I replaced the plantain poultice, holding it on with a fresh bandage each time, every two or three days for about two weeks to insure scar-free healing.
Looking for relief from stings, itching, wounds, pain? Look down. One form or another of plantain is under your feet. Plantain gets around. She grows throughout the world, wherever people walk. Yes, look down the next time you're outside. You're sure to see plain plantain's flat leaves growing in your lawn, by the driveway, along the path, between the cracks in the sidewalk, beside the road, as a weed in your garden, in planter boxes, and even in your house plants.
Each plantain leaf, whether broad or narrow, has five parallel veins radiating out from a smooth purple stem that arises directly from the earth.
Every plantain is useful. Some herbals claim that Plantago lanceolata, narrow or lance-leaved plantain, is the most effective. Nonetheless, I prefer, and mainly use, Plantago majus, the broad-leaved plantain. Whichever variety is common to your home is the one you'll use.
A famous variety grows in South America: Plantago psyllium. Instead of using its leaves, we use the seeds, and especially the seed husks. Psyllium seed husks are sold under the brand name Metamucil. I collect the seeds from broad-leaved plantain and use them in the same ways: cooked in cereals, muffins, and breads to ease constipation, reduce blood levels of cholesterol, and possibly lower cancer risk.
All wild seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Instead of adding flax seed to my diet to boost essential fatty acids, I use plantain seeds! (And nettle seeds, yellow dock seeds, grass seeds, amaranth seeds, and lamb’s quarter seed.)
Plain plantain offers us so many green blessings. Just look down, and there she is.
This is the end of the first aid kit, but it's not the end of my column. Join me in the next issue for herbal adventures in Costa Rica.
Preparing plantain leaf
Spit poultice: Pluck a fresh plantain leaf and chew it well; then spit it on the wound.
Pounded poultice: Pound a large fresh plantain leaf between two stones; apply to wound.
Infused oil: Fill any dry glass jar, large or small, with chopped fresh plantain leaves. Then fill jar to the very top with olive oil. Cover well. Label. Place in a bowl or on a plate. After six weeks, decant and use.
Ointment: Warm infused oil. Add a large spoonful of beeswax to the warm (not hot) oil and stir with your finger until it melts. Then pour your liquid ointment into small jars. The more beeswax you use the harder the ointment will be.
2008 © Susun S Weed
with Susun Weed
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You are awesome. . thanks so much for coming to SB and imparting us with your wisdom, grace, joi de vive and especially your wild spirit :) I have been a fan of yours.
Thanks to your wise woman wisdom and herbs, I am sailing through perimenopause while women around me are determined to tread the slippery slope of mid-life clutching their addictions with their well manicured hands.. .gotta have those Du Pont hormones, martinis, starbucks, bad drama and plastic fantastic surgery. blah, blah, blah. What can you say, this is Hollywood land.
I learned so much from you, particularly about supplements. . yikes! I look forward to participating in one of your events when you are back in this neck of the woods, or maybe I might get to Woodstock some day.