Better living through nature
Narrow-leaved plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is a common garden weed and also, ironically, a gardener’s best friend. It contains anti-inflammatory and soothing compounds such as allantoin that make it a first-rate antidote to insect stings and itchy rashes—simply crush some leaves and rub them on the bite to quickly soothe a sting. It also makes a wonderful balm for fire ant bites and it stops the itchiness of mosquito bites.
Plantain is a European weed that quickly spread to North America with European settlers—it spread so quickly it was called “white man’s footprint” by Native Americans. It’s rosette of lance-shaped leaves, which emerge in spring, and distinctive flower heads make it easily recognizable. While some may scoff at the idea of planting weeds (goodness knows I already have too many) I planted my own plantain plants so I have a ready supply of my herbal helper.
Photo by Jude Bardsley
Registered herbalist Mathew Wood says that this herb is also called “snakeweed,” as it has been used as a poultice to draw out snake venom. In Europe the tea is used for bronchitis and colds. Other uses include topical applications to blisters, sores and ulcers where it is especially useful as a drawing agent.
Now is the perfect time to harvest leaves to make Plantain Anti-Itch Balm. Safe enough for children and pregnant women to use, this is a must-have in any herbal first aid kit.
Plantain Anti-Itch Balm
1. Make an infused oil from fresh or dried leaves:
• When using dried leaves cover them with olive or almond oil in a tightly capped jar and allow them to sit covered for two weeks—while remembering to shake the jar several times daily.
• When using fresh leaves, chopped, add just enough warm oil to cover and keep on a very low heat (approximately 100 degrees) for at least 4 hours. Cool, then strain out the leaves, carefully pouring off the oil and leaving out any water. Return the oil to the stove and stir in enough beeswax to thicken. (Approximately 1 ounce of beeswax per cup of infused oil will thicken the salve).
2. In order to check the consistency of the balm, place a metal spoon in the freezer and after all the beeswax is melted, dip the cool spoon in the mixture. The coating on the spoon will reflect the final consistency of your balm. At this point you may add more oil if the balm is too hard or more beeswax if the balm is not thick enough.
3. Pour into sterilized jars, label and congratulate yourself on preparing a year round supply of this wonderfully soothing and healing salve.
Jude Bardsley is the owner of The Herbal Dispensary in Pensacola, Florida, working with clients to develop individualized programs to meet their health goals. She is a Master Herbalist and Registered Nurse who enjoys creating herbal tinctures, glycerites, lotions, salves and lip balms for family, friends and clients, as well as tending to a large herb, flower and vegetable garden. Her favorite pastime is watching hummingbirds and butterflies in the garden.