For hundreds of years, plantain has been used as one of the nature’s most powerful medicines, and for a very good reason.
It has a long history of being used as food plants and healing herbs in many diverse cultures around the world. The Native Americans used plantain to heal wounds, cure fever, and to draw out toxins from stings and bites, including snake bites.
You might have come across mainly two types of plantains; the ones with broad leaves (Plantago major) and the narrow-leaved type (Plantago lanceolata). You can use either one for healing purposes, depending on the availability in your locality, yet most herbalists seem to prefer the broadleaf plantain with larger, but softer, edible leaves.
Health benefits of plantain
Plantain has wide-ranging antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. It can soothe insect bites and superficial wounds and can prevent infections and accelerate healing. Responsible for the antimicrobial action of the plantain is the biochemical aucubin. It also contains allantoin, which helps with skin tissue regeneration.
Plantains also have an astringent property that has a cleansing effect on the body. It helps dry up excess secretions in the respiratory tract and the digestive system, thus being useful in treating colds and diarrhea.
The leaves of broadleaf plantain are rich in calcium and other minerals and vitamins, including Vitamin K, which helps stem bleeding from cuts and wounds.
How to collect plantain herb
Make sure that the area where plantain herb is growing is clean, and not chemically treated. Most importantly, you should be able to positively identify the correct plant. Yet, if you are in doubt, get the help of a knowledgeable person.
Plantain leaves are mainly used for herbal preparations, so it is best to pick just the leaves, rather than dig out the entire plant. Pinch off unblemished leaves, selecting slightly mature ones over the very tender leaves, unless you’re planning to use them in salads. Mature leaves have a higher concentration of potent phytochemicals.
How to use plantain for healing
Plantain is used to treat a variety of everyday problems, from mosquito bites and skin rashes to kidney problems and gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases. Let’s see how you can use this herb for healing.
1. Burns: Apply a poultice immediately and apply a bandage with leaves. Follow it up with a plantain salve.
2. Cuts and open sores: Stop bleeding from fresh cuts by applying crushed plantain leaves. Wash with plantain tea or diluted tincture (1 tablespoon to a glass of water) to prevent infections and promote healing.
3. Boils and acne: Touch with a drop of tincture or apply salve.
4. For mouth ulcers: Swish 2-3 tablespoons plantain tea in the mouth 3-4 times a day. You can use 1 tablespoon of tincture diluted with a cup of water too.
5. For throat pain/infection: Gargle with plantain tea or diluted tincture. Take 5-10 drops of tincture under the tongue and ingest it slowly.
6. Dandruff and other scalp problems: Apply plantain tea or oil infusion to the scalp and wash off after an hour.
7. For poison ivy/sumac/oak: Apply a poultice immediately, and then wash the area with plantain tea. Apply plantain sludge until the stinging pain is gone.
8. For sunburn: Apply fresh poultice or plantain sludge liberally. Wash the area with the tea and then apply the salve.
9. To improve liver and kidney function: Drink 1-2 glasses of plantain tea every day.
10. For relief from gastrointestinal inflammation: Take the tincture under the tongue or drink plantain tea.
11. For cold, flu, and respiratory infections: Take the tincture under the tongue or drink freshly brewed warm tea with raw honey.
How to make plantain poultice
This is the quickest, and reportedly the most effective, way to use this healing herb. In case of an insect bite, bee sting, or poison ivy exposure, grab a few leaves, crush them between the palms and apply directly on the skin. If you are using it on yourself, just chew the leaves and use it as a poultice.
The mucilage from the bruised leaves will immediately soothe the pain while the anti-inflammatory effect of the herb reduces swelling and redness. The poultice will also draw the toxins from the sting, so it works best when applied immediately.
How to make plantain tea
- 1 cup fresh plantain leaves
- 2 cups water
- Heat-proof bowl with fitting lid
- Wash the plantain leaves thoroughly and keep it in a bowl with lid.
- Boil the water and pour over the leaves in the bowl, cover with the lid and let them steep until the bowl is cold to touch.
- Strain out the tea and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Drink 1-2 cups of this plantain tea a day to control diarrhea or to get relief from the symptoms of cold and fever. You can drink it plain or add raw honey for taste. It can bring relief to people who have stomach ulcers, IBS or other inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Plantain tea can be used as a general tonic too.
Use plantain tea topically to wash wounds, boils, and skin damaged by sunburn, rashes, eczema etc.
How to make plantain salve
- A handful of plantain leaves (washed and dried)
- 4 oz coconut oil
- 1/2 oz Beeswax
- 8 oz Heatproof jar
- Tear the plantain leaves into smaller pieces and fill the jar half full. Pack the leaves in there tightly.
- Add the coconut oil on top of the leaves. Put the jar in a saucepan and fill the pan about halfway up the jar with water. Set the heat on a low simmer and let the oil infuse for about two hours.
- After the oil infuses for a couple of hours, strain out the plantain leaves. The oil will be a pretty light green.
- Add the beeswax to the infused oil and put in back into the saucepan until the beeswax melts. The beeswax will help keep the salve firm at room temperature.
- Pour the oil mixture into tins or jars. Let the salve cool. It will become opaque as it cools.
Use the salve on minor cuts and burns. The coconut oil and beeswax will help keep the skin moist and the plantain will promote healing. The salve is also great for healing chapped hands and sunburned skin.
Plantain is also great for bee and wasp stings, mosquito bites, poison ivy, eczema, psoriasis and diaper rash.
How to make plantain tincture
- 1 cup plantain leaves washed and dried of excess moisture
- 1 pint 100 proof vodka or brandy
- Glass jar with tight-fitting lid
- Put the leaves into a jar and pour the alcohol over it so that it completely covers the leaves and fills the jar. Use a glass rod to stir the mixture well.
- Put the lid on and place the jar in a dark place, giving it a good shake every few days.
- After 6-8 weeks, decant into clean bottles and store in a dark place.
It is a very potent remedy for cold, respiratory infections and ailments of the stomach. Use 10 drops under the tongue and hold for 30 seconds before swallowing. You can add 10 drops of the tincture into a glass of water and drink slowly. For external use, put a drop on boils and sores.
Plantain leaf sludge
The sludge obtained from draining the tea can be applied as a cooling and healing poultice on your face, shoulders and back red and raw from sunburn. Similarly, the residue left over from the oil infusion can be used to ease burns, eczema, and psoriasis. Grind it to get a more uniform paste.