Notes from the Apothecary

May 1st, 2017

Notes from the Apothecary: Plantain

 

Plantain1

 

No, not the banana type fruit; I’m talking about the weed that we all walk past every day, that has a surprising wealth of health benefits. My friend calls it a ‘Magic Bandage’, and indeed, a cut or a graze can be safely wrapped in a clean, bruised leaf which soothes and heals at no expense. There are several types of plantain, and for the most part I’m referring to the broadleaf plantain, but I will also mention the ribwort, which has long, slender leaves. There are other variants too, so do look up which are native to your own area.

The Kitchen Garden

There’s generally no need to try to cultivate this amazing plant. It grows prolifically in environments ranging from your own garden to utter wasteland. The plant can survive in almost arid conditions, yet copes well with very moist conditions too. In lawns, it can be a bit of a pest, if you’re bothered about your lawn being immaculately groomed. I quite like the odd bit of clover and plantain in my back lawn; it’s a nice bit of variety!

The young leaves can be eaten as a ‘green’ in salads, in much the same way young dandelion leaves can. As the leaves age, they become tougher, and stringy, yet if stewed, can still be enjoyed as a healthy addition to casseroles or similar. The leaves are high in vitamin A and calcium, so make a healthy addition to your diet.

The seeds are also edible, and a good source of fibre, but some have a husk which is indigestible. The seeds are very tedious to gather as they are tiny!

The Apothecary

 

Plaintain2

 

Culpeper recommended grass and ribwort plantain ‘against spitting of the blood, immoderate flow of the menses’ and piles’, which he attributed to the plant’s astringent properties. He also recommended the juice of the ribwort for lessening agues (fever and shivering).

Mrs Grieves had plenty to say about the broadleaf plantain, including an interesting note that it was one of the nine sacred herbs mentioned in the Lacnunga, a collection of Anglo-Saxon texts and prayers. She also refers to William Salmon’s herbal, the 1710 text which tells us the plantain is good for the lungs, against epilepsy, dropsy, jaundice, and even helps restore lost hearing.

James A. Duke’s book The Green Pharmacy tells us that the plant is good for treating burns, dandruff, haemorrhoids (which backs up Culpeper’s much earlier assertion); also insect bites, stings, laryngitis, sore throats and sun burn. He even mentions it as a potential weight loss aid.

In 2007 in fact, a study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine reported that the broadleaf plantain had the capacity to inhibit tumour growth, when tested on rats. Other scientific studies give evidence that the plant is genuinely effective at wound healing, and has an anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and even a very weak anti-biotic effect.

Other Uses

Plantains, like comfrey, contain a substance called allantoin, which has moisturising properties and promotes cell growth, and is one of the key components in the plant’s ability to help heal wounds and soothe burns. This makes the plant useful in some cosmetic applications, such as hair rinses, and skin tonics.

Apparently, the tough fibres in the older leaves can be used to craft fishing line, cords, and even sutures.

The Witch’s Kitchen

Culpeper stated that the broad leaf plantain was governed by Venus, and as such some of its healing power came through its ‘antipathy to Mars’. Cunningham concurs the connection to Venus, which as always, we can link to either the planet, or the goddess, and the usual associations implied. So love, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and triumph. If you plan your spells astrologically, plantain could be used when under the influence of the planet Venus. You could use the leaves, flowers or seeds on your altar or in your sacred space, or in a spell pouch with other items, to accentuate the influence of the planet, which often represents harmony, happiness and the arts.

Plantain is also used for a very specific protection: against snakebites. Cunningham tells us is it the root of the plant which provides this protection. Judika Illes doesn’t specify which part of the plant to use, but she does say to ‘Charge plantain with its mission of protection. Carry it in your pocket to guard against snakebite.’ The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells.

The immense healing power of the plant means it can be seen as a kind of cure-all, and you can implement the plants naute into your magical workings. Something which heals physically, can also heal mentally or metaphysically, and you could use the plant to help heal rifts, ease anxiety, and even alleviate insomnia.

Home and Hearth

I was taught to make a salve of plantain by using a good amount of the leaves, finely chopped, steeped in petroleum jelly and strained whilst the solution is still warm. When it sets, you have a thick, plantain salve which is good for burns, stings, cuts, grazes; any minor wound or inflammation of the skin really. Petroleum jelly is not ideal for everyone’s skin however, and two different friends recently recommended either using almond oil, or coconut oil as a base.

I think I am going to try coconut oil next, as this will also set which makes it a little easier to travel with. Also, I personally know I don’t react to negatively to coconut oil, and neither does my little boy, in fact his eczema prone skin practically sucks the stuff up. I’ll let you know how it goes. Before trying any oils or salves on wounds, it’s a great idea to ‘patch test’ with the base first. Rub a bit into the inside of your elbow or on your wrist, and see how your skin reacts. If your skin becomes irritated or inflamed, you know you need a different base.

A small pot of the salve travels with us whenever we are out and about. The great thing about plantain is that it is available so readily, if a small cut or graze occurs, we can nearly always find a leaf, bruise it, and apply it directly.

I Never Knew…

Plantago Major, the broadleaf plantain, was called ‘White Man’s Footprint’ or ‘White Man’s Foot’ by Native Americans, as the plant had a tendency to spring up where ever the European settlers had been.

Many thanks to fellow magical person Fee Edden for her help with the research for this article.

Picture credits: Wikipedia.

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author and musician, as well as a freelance journalist. She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft. Follow Mabh on Twitter, Facebook and her blog.


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