Monday, June 28, 2010

Plantain

There are a few things I would love to be writing about this evening - blackberries, reading, and our garden for starters - but my camera battery "is exhausted", so while it is recharging, I will write about a plant we love that you should absolutely know about, if you don't already.

If you walked out to your yard right now, there is a very good chance that you would find one of the many varieties of plantain that grow in this country.  The two we see around here are Common Plantain (Plantago major), which has broad, oval leaves...
and the English or long-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata), which true to its name, has long narrow leaves:
Both leaves have fibrous ribs running the length of the leaf, and when you pick one you can see the fibers hanging out the cut end of the leaf.
Common Plantain in the middle and on the left; Long-leaf is on the right

According to my trusty Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so wild) Places, by Steve "Wildman" Brill,  there are many nutritional reasons to know about this plant;  it is high in beta carotene and calcium, and contains mucilage, a "carbohydrate fiber...(that) reduces both the L.D. O. cholesterol and triglycerides, helping to prevent heart disease."  The leaves are best picked for eating in early spring, before the plant flowers (which it is doing now around here, and in the photos above); any later and they become too fibrous to be fun (ooh - that's a good quote, huh?!) and a little bitter.

The reason why we love plantain here is for its soothing affect on the skin, in particular for bug bites and bee stings.  When the mosquitoes made their come-back this summer, the girls would pick several leaves from the yard before bed, and as I read to them or listened to lullabies, I would also be chewing the leaves and handing over little bits for them to place on their itchiest spots.  You can also avoid the chewing and just rub it between your fingernails to break it down a bit, but chewing is faster!  The effect is quick - I was standing with a neighbor outside at dusk the other night and she over the course of 10 minutes had several bites on her legs and was really getting bothered and I showed her the plantain and she picked it and applied it and was amazed at how quickly the itching went down.  This also works for bee stings - once you have removed the stinger (we use a card, like a credit card to scrape it out and away), apply the plantain leaf.  Apparently it will also work for poison ivy, perhaps even preventing an outbreak if applied early enough.  GOOD STUFF!!

I also like plantain because it is the most kid-friendly plant out there.  There are no poisonous look-alikes, and it is helpful for scrapes as well, so when my girls are out playing, they know to grab some plantain and stick it where it hurts.  In fact, Ani got bit by something the other day while they were playing with their friend Esme, and she told me later what a good friend Esme was - "Mama, she chewed the plantain for me!
(As I was writing this post, I realized that, ironically, I was also madly itching my arm where there appears to be a bite (oh please, not poison ivy...). I grabbed the flashlight, got a leaf from the yard, used it, and the itching is now gone...)

1 comment:

mamak said...

How awesome! I did not know that this plant could be so useful. We have gobs of it, and it will be used wisely from now on. Thanks so much for the info.