Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
Happy Thursday everyone! It’s been wonderful being back in Western NC these past few days. I spent last week in the woods of Western TN and although the terrain and biodiversity were exceptional, the chiggers and seeds ticks I encountered were not. How do you people live with those buggers anyway?:)) Regardless of the chigger welts and tiny tick removal rituals (involving a mirror and/or a close friend), I actually had a great time. I collected lots of chert for stone tools and various wild plants like mullein, wormwood and lots of yellow dock (Rumex crispus) seeds.
Speaking of our plant brothers and sisters an important yet largely ignored plant is the focus of my Blog this week. Plantain (Plantago major) is an abundant yard weed that has many powerful uses indeed. No, I’m not speaking of the small tropical banana here:) Plantain is something that we’ve all seen, but haven’t really been taught much about. It flourishes in waste places like gravel driveways and is quite at home in our front yards and local parks as well. And while it is quite edible, we tend to either ignore it or go to great lengths to eradicate it from our landscape.
Easily recognizable by its large parallel veined leaves and tall green flower/seed spikes, plantain is truly a plant worthy of attention. It is indeed quite edible though its astringent nature qualifies it as a marginal raw edible to most as it literally sucks the moisture from your mouth. Personally, I eat it raw as a quick source of energy when hiking and such. It’s amazing how just a mouthful or two of wild edibles can change your fatigued tired legs into strong pistons in such short order. Most trail-mixes that folks pack for hikes contain too many carbs that ultimately just wear you down.
Plantain is an alterative (blood purifier), a diuretic, an immune system stimulant and an invaluable styptic vulnerary (stops bleeding and hastens healing). It contains numerous B vitamins and boasts significant amounts of beta carotene and calcium among its many other healthful constituents. But, in my opinion, where plantain really shines is its ability to draw out toxins from insect stings and bites. In fact…it can literally save your life! SERIOUSLY…this plant can not only save you a trip to the Hospital, but can save your life in the event of a bee sting or perhaps even a venomous snake bite. Its astringent qualities, in most people, will neutralize the stings (foreign proteins) of bees and wasps in a matter of 10-15 minutes.
When I was about 10 years old I almost died from a single yellow jacket sting. I was stung along the right side of my nose, about an inch from my eye. Within minutes, my face swelled up and red splotches appeared on various parts of my body. I was experiencing the early onset of anaphylactic shock. If not for a quick trip to the Hospital and a cortisone shot, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article now. Had my father known about plantain, which was surely within certain reach, my ordeal would most likely have become less life threatening. In fact, a few years ago, I witnessed one of my students stumble upon a yellow jacket nest and after receiving at least 8 stings, suffer no ill effects or reaction because of the immediate application of this amazing plant.
This is a plant that all parents and children should know well. Summer activities often include encounters with bees, hornets and wasps. Plantain is something we should all look for whenever we are outside. Should the need arise, we’ll know right where to go. For stings, I chew the leaves for a few seconds and place the moist glob directly on the sting. I also chew and swallow several leaves so I’m fighting the invader both externally and internally. Lastly, I sit in the shade and simply relax. This is very important! When we have a bad reaction to such stings, it’s because our body over-reacts and creates histamines. Hence, we naturally reach for anti-histamines such as Benadryl (not a bad thing to have on hand too) to calm the storm. The astringent qualities of plantain provide the same welcomed relief.
As I stated earlier, plantain is not my favorite edible. I usually chop and add the leaves to stir-fry’s or I’ll add a few fresh ones to smoothies. The seeds are quite good raw and provide wonderful nutritional benefits. I often will add them to soups and stews as well as any grains I might be cooking up. The Native Americans called it ‘white man’s foot,” because it was brought here from Europe and dispersed widely. Of all the many things the Europeans brought to this country, plantain is one of the very few that has found a welcomed new home.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and input. Please consider joining a group I started called “Traditional / Primitive Living Skills” and I do encourage you to ask questions and contribute.
Richard Cleveland lives in Asheville, NC. He is the founder and director of Earth School. A self-trained Naturalist, fishing and nature guide, he has taught traditional native skills to thousands of people, of all ages. For info about his programs visit www.LoveTheEarth.com
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