Plantain is the perfect hobo plant, and the first plant I tell people about if I’m introducing them to wild plants. It grows almost everywhere, you can’t hurt yourself with it, it’s good food, and it’s good medicine.
Plantain is easy to identify. Pluck a leaf and pull it gently apart near the base. If it’s plantain, the “strings” inside will stretch out like dental floss instead of ripping with the leaf.
As a yummy salad green it’s best to pick plantain in the spring, when it’s tender. But even after it gets tough it’s great boiled up like spinach (pull out those dental floss like fibers), and I still eat it. The seeds are also yummy. I put them in salads or just mix them in with whatever I’m eating for a nutty flavor. They’re especially good if you roast them for a couple seconds, but living in a van I don’t always bother to.
Plantain is the best medicine for infections. To make a poultice, dip a leaf in boiling water and apply it to your skin, then wrap with an old sock or something. Or, in a pinch, just chew it up and spit it on your owie. It has even been known to draw out blood poisoning (though if you do have blood poisoning you should probably go to the ER). Not only that, it will draw things out of your skin! Once, I had a big piece of wood really imbedded in my ankle. I dug and dug with a needle and my fingernails and couldn’t get it out. I finally went to sleep with a plantain poultice on it and in the morning I just pulled it out with my fingernails.
Plantain is also very soothing to your skin and helps it heal. If you get stung by a bug of any kind, chewing up a plantain leaf and spitting it on your bite will provide immediate relief. I’ve even heard stories of plantain preventing full blown allergic reactions to yellow jackets (though, of course, if you’re really allergic and you get stung you should probably go to the ER). If you have a cut or something that stings, plantain will work in the same way. I’ve even used it on pimples, to draw them out faster.
Plantain doesn’t really retain its healing magic when dried, so I put it in salves for the winter. Here’s a recipe for a salve I make with plants gathered in Alaska (I try not to blend plants from different bioregions) and then use on every skin related owie I get, to prevent infection, sooth itchiness or stings, and promote healing:
Take 1/2 Plantain (fresh) and 1/2 Laborador Tea (fresh or dried). Add a couple pinches of Alaskan Wormwood (it’s different than any other Wormwood).
Now you’re going to make an infused oil. You can do this by covering it all with olive oil in a glass jar that you leave out in the sun for six weeks, or you can just cover with oil and leave it in your crockpot on low for a few hours (careful you don’t burn it).
When the oil smells really really good, strain out the herbs and shave some beeswax into it (a lot less than you think you need). Take a drop of the mixture and let it cool. If it’s the consistency you want, proceed. If it’s too thin, add more beeswax.
When you get the perfect consistency, pour it into little glass jars (I use old baby food jars that I scavenge from people with kids, but you can buy special jars at herb stores) and let it cool before you put the lids on. Store out of direct sunlight and use as needed.