Enter now the days of stings and bites and scratches, hopefully all garnered in the joyful pursuit of summer pleasures…
Plantain has a drawing power that made it traditionally ideal for easing all manner of wee woundings from our insect friends. And it happens to be a plant so ubiquitous that it might even be hiding out in plain sight on your front lawn or city sidewalk.
The perennial Plantain followed European colonists into many corners of the world, earning it the common name of “White Man’s Foot.” You can read more about its unique history here.
A quick way to soothe a bite or sting is to chew up a Plantain leaf and then spit it out onto the irritated area of the skin—this is a spit poultice, which you can leave on until you feel better. This method tends to fascinate children and adults alike. But if you want something more…refined…read on.
Making your own first-aid balm (also known as a salve or an ointment) may help to soothe whatever summer scrapes you get yourself into and will get you acquainted with this useful, neighborly, and quite urban plant.
It is a simple two-step process in which you actually learn how to make two things: an infused oil and the balm itself.
What You’ll Need
- Fresh or dry plantain leaves
- Olive oil (preferably organic)
- 2-4 tablespoons of pure beeswax or carnauba wax
- A large, clean glass jar with lid
- Small glass jars or tin containers
- Optional: Vitamin E oil or essential oils of choice (10-20 drops)
Yield: 8 oz
What to Do
1. Gather your Plantain leaves. There are two types to seek: broad-leaved, or “greater” (plantago major), pictured above and lance-leaved (Plantago lanceolata), which is pictured at the right. You can use either! Broadleaf Plantain seems more common in the States, while Lance-leaf is widely encountered in the Celtic lands.
Both types have characteristic white ribbing on the underside of the leaves.
Remember to gather in places you know were not sprayed, far from any roads with their exhaust fumes. Gather on a dry day.
Can’t find it fresh? While waiting to cross paths with Plantain outdoors, you can also purchase the dried plant.
2. Make an Infused Oil in your clean jar. This just means that you leave your plantain to sit in some oil, which will then carry its herbal properties. Now for a wee bit of math, with my apologies to all other numerically-challenged folks…but if I can do it, so can you! You simply want a ratio of plant material (grams) to oil (ml). The ratio will be 1:3 if using fresh and 1:5 if you are working with dry plant material.
Leave your oil to infuse in a warm place out of direct light for 2 weeks (ideally 110-120 degrees). If you are using fresh herb material, cover with a cheesecloth to let moisture escape.
You can also do this in a crock pot (setting: warm), sitting in your gas oven with the pilot light on, or even covered with a cloth on your car’s dashboard. Shake or stir every day.
3. When the allotted time has passed, strain out the leaves, squeezing the plant material with a cheesecloth, and pour into a sterilized jar (An infused oil will last at least a year in a cool, dark place and, depending on the herb, an can also be used for all kinds of things, from massage oils to salad oils).
4. And now you make your balm. Very gently heat your infused oil and your chosen wax on the stove until the wax melts. If you desire a firmer balm, just add more wax. A softer one? Use less.
5. Remove from heat and swiftly add Vitamin E or essential oils if you so wish. Then just as swiftly (your balm has already begun to harden) pour into your containers.
Once cooled and labeled, carry with you to use in various situations. Although this is a wonderful thing to have with you during summer, be careful to keep your balms away from heat or they will melt. Under ideal conditions, your balm can last 1-3 years.