The members of my family have developed a skill; it might be more accurate to say, they have perfected ‘a look’, reserved for those moments when I rummage around inside my cauldron to find something to fix whatever ails them. It’s where they keep a straight face and look me in the eye with just a glint of amusement – they daren’t laugh or roll their eyes because that would be hurtful, but at the same time, they want to let me know that really, they’re humouring me. Of course I don’t actually have a cauldron as such – I use it as a blanket term for my life long belief in the magic of plants and the power of intention. So it was a joy for me when my daughter recently remarked, “By the way, that stuff actually works.”
‘That stuff’, in this case, was plantain oil. I’ve been trying to force it on them for years, whenever anyone complains of a bite or a sting or even a cut, but they usually reach for something with a brand name. Somehow I managed to get her to use plantain and she was impressed. I was thrilled. I mean, I’m not a fool; I wouldn’t make potions and lotions if they didn’t work. So it was a kind of acknowledgement that I’m not mad.
Some humans find divinity in the great and powerful; I find it in the grass. Roving weeds and garden pests connect me to Mother Earth because almost everything under our feet offers healing and wellbeing. Plantain, so common and so overlooked, was one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons, or the Nine Herb Charm (along with mugwort, nettle, chamomile, lamb’s cress, betony, crab apple, chervil and fennel, since you ask) but it could not be simpler to use it, even in an emergency – just crush a plantain leaf to bring instant relief to an insect bite. I chop the leaves and cram them into a clean jar, top it up with olive oil and let it sit for a month or two on a shelf, then strain it. In her wonderful book Health Through God’s Pharmacy, Maria Treben recommends it for open wounds, blisters, dog bites and disorders of the lungs. It can be drunk as a tea for allergies including hayfever and combines well with mint and elderflower according to my well loved book Hedgerow Medicine (Bruton Seal & Seal) where I also found this adorable 17th century quote from Abbe Kneipp :
“plantain closes the gaping wound with a seam of golden thread;
for, just as gold will not admit of rust,
so the plantain will not admit of rotting and gangreneous flesh.”
My rescue hens will eat the leaves on occasion – they’re picky enough about what greenery they enjoy (they’ll go for dandelion leaves and the leaves of clover too). The seed heads can be eaten raw and it seems they’re quite tasty dipped in oil and fried but I haven’t tried that. Yet!
Anyway, you’ve no excuse – it grows literally everywhere. The Native Americans called it ‘white man’s footprint’, springing up all over the place in the footsteps of the settlers. If you mow it down, it’ll just grow back – folks; Plantain wants to be used!