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The herb plantain, often considered a weed, holds powerful skin-healing properties in its broad, heavily veined leaves. Varieties included common plantain, Plantago major, and English plantain, Plantago lanceolata. Native Americans called plantain “white man’s footprint” because the herb arrived on this continent with European settlers. The seeds of some plantain species contain bulk fiber and may make useful mild laxatives, but check with your physician before attempting any herbal self-treatment.
Treats Wounds and Damaged Skin
Numerous recipes exist for plantain-based skin salves and ointments. Herbalist Sarah Powell attributes the herb’s popularity to its gentle astringent action, which helps heal minor wounds, blisters and rashes. Powell also recommends plantain salve for diaper rash and hemorrhoids. Users can make their own plantain herb version by adding dehydrated leaves to an oil, such as grapeseed.
Soothes Insect Bites and Poison Ivy
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that plantain boasts a long reputation as an herbal pain reliever for the stings or bites of insects. Plantain salve works well, but you’ll find even faster relief if you can find a plantain plant just after you suffer the indignity of the bug bite. Herbalist Steve Brill notes that simply snatching up a leaf, shredding or mashing it to release its juices and applying to the bite or sting provides astringent, healing action. This action also works well for treating poison ivy, notes the “New York Times” in its “Health” column. Simply rubbing a leaf on affected skin helps ease itching and promotes faster healing, according the newspaper.
Provides Conjunctivitis Relief
Infused fresh plantain leaves provide all-natural relief to conjunctivitis, also known as pink-eye, according to UMMC. The herb’s astringent properties helps ease the redness and itching associated with pink eye. Patients can make a plantain compress by adding fresh, chopped plantain leaves to boiling water.
Opinions vary on the palatability of plantain leaves. Steve Brill, a veteran harvester of wild foods, finds the young leaves “tasty” in salads and good source of calcium, minerals and beta carotene. The alternative crop organization Plants For A Future begs to differ, calling the leaves “rather bitter and tedious to prepare.” Those eager to try the wild food may prefer to glean its nutritional benefits as an infused tea. Brill suggests using the leaves in a vegetarian soup stock.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Insect Bites and Stings
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Conjunctivitis
- New York Times: "Personal Health;" June 24, 1992
- "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants; Steve Brill; 1994
- Drugs.com: Plantain
- Michael Müller/iStock/Getty Images