In an old Anglo-Saxon manual of medicinal preparations called the Lacaunga there is a song known as the ‘lay of the nine herbs’. One of the nine magic herbs is given as waybread, the old country name for plantain.
Plantain, plantago major, is a very common perennial wild plant. It can be found flowering everywhere and is considered to be a troublesome weed in the garden, especially in the lawn. The long pointed oval shaped leaves are deeply ribbed and grow in a flat rosette on the ground. The flowers, which bloom from June to August, grow on single stems standing out above the foliage. The flowerheads are short spikes of tiny greeny-white flowers. Plantain is so easily found in the wild it would be unwise to introduce it into the garden.
When gathering the herb for use in the home it is best to pick those plantain growing well away from busy roads and other areas which might be polluted. The leaves and flowerheads are the parts of the herb used and these have a bitterish, rather salty flavour.
The herb can be used both fresh or dried; for drying the leaves are picked before the flowers appear. The flowers can be gathered when fully open. They are both dried and stored in the usual way.
Plantain is astringent and an expectorant helpful for bronchial ailments. It is taken as an infusion.
* To make n infusion: Pour a cupful of boiling water on to a handful of plantain. Leave it in a warm place to infuse for 20 minutes then strain through a piece of fine muslin or cheesecloth. Pour into a screwtop bottle and leave until cold. It can be taken a small glassful at a time 2-3 times a day. Sweeten with honey if the drink is found to be too bitter.
Plantain ointment is a remedy for haemorrhoids (piles).
* To make plantain ointment: Melt 2 heaped tablespoons of pure lard or shortening and add 2 tablespoons of dried plantain. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain into small pots and cover when cold. Smooth on to the affected part when necessary. The ointment will also soothe insect bites and is a remedy for mild burns and scalds.
A poultice can also be made to relieve the pain and discomfort of haemorrhoids (piles).
* To make a poultice: Gather a sufficient quantity of fresh leaves and mash them to a pulp, either by hand or using an electric blender. When dried leaves are being used they should be reconstituted in a little water before being made into a pulp. Spread the pulp on to a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and heat between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. Apply the poultice as hot as possible on the affected part and leave in place for 10-15 minutes until relief is felt.
* A quick and effective remedy for wasp and bee stings is to rub the area with a freshly crushed leaf, which is said to remove the irritation and pain. This treatment will also bring immediate relief to nettle stings, mosquito and other insect bites. It is said to stop bleeding from minor cuts and abrasions, but the leaf should be well washed before being crushed.
A strong infusion of plantain leaves and flowers is a useful remedy for shingles and other skin problems. It can be used as a lotion to bathe itching irritated areas until relief is obtained.
*To make a strong infusion: Pour a cupful of boiling water on to 2 handfuls of plantain and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain through muslin or cheesecloth and when cold pour into a screwtop bottle.
The infusion can be used as a compress. Dip pieces of lint into the lotion and press lightly over the affected areas, leaving in place for 10-15 minutes.
* The decoction can be made with an equal quantity of plantain and comfrey and when cold it can be used to bathe painful haemorrhoids (piles).
A weak infusion can be used as a gargle for a sore throat and mouth.
* To make a gargle: Pour 2 cupfuls of boiling water on to a small handful of plantain leaves and flowers. Leave to infuse for 20-30 minutes before straining. Pour into a stoppered bottle and keep in a cool place. Use within a few days.
When freshly made and while just warm the infusion can be used as a compress for inflamed eyelids. Dip pieces of cotton wool into the infusion and place over closed eyes. Lie down and relax for 10 minutes.
Plantain is a useful cleansing herb and will help towards a clear healthy skin.
* To make a skin lotion: Pour 2 cups of boiling water on to 1 tablespoon of dried leaves and flowers. Leave it for an hour then strain into a screwtop jar. Keep in the refrigerator and use within a few days. The lotion helps to heal and soothe chapped skin and thread veins on the face.
* FreshIy expressed juice extracted from the fresh plant is excellent for closing the pores and refining a coarse skin and the juice can be added to a plain, soft proprietary skin cream. It can also be mixed with milk and dabbed on to the area.
Plantain can be incorporated in a simple face pack to help close the pores of the skin.
* To make a face pack: Cook fresh or dried leaves to a mash in a little water to prevent burning. Mix the herb with a little yoghurt or Fuller’s earth to make a thick paste. Cleanse the face thoroughly and spread the paste directly on to the skin, avoiding the eyes and mouth. Cover the eyes with cold water compresses and relax lying down for 15 minutes. Remove the face pack with warm water and splash the skin with cold water to leave it feeling fresh and clean.