The Great Plantain Conspiracy

The following article appeared in the May, 2014  issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.

The Great Plantain Conspiracy

Nina Katz

If I had to choose one herb to teach to every child on the planet about, that herb would be plantain.

The prominent, near-parallel veins on the underside of the leaves and the basal rosette growth pattern make it an easy plant to recognize, and many of the children whom I have taught to recognize plantain have gone on to teach it to other kids.

It was among the first plants I taught my daughter to recognize. When she had boo-boos, we talked about turning to “Doctor Plantain” for help. We also did a lot of high-fiving whenever she recognized plantain or other wild plants.

When I started taking my daughter to park play groups many years ago, we started showing it to the other kids in the play group. Upon learning that plantain can take out splinters without any need for needles or tweezers, most children started paying close attention. Some months ago, I was giving a weed walk to a group of kids that included one whom I had known for several years, and I was fairly confident that either I or my daughter had shown plantain to her way back when. I asked her whether she remembered plantain, and she shook her head.

“No. There’s only one plant that I know.”

“And which is that?”

“I don’t remember its name.” She looked down on the ground, located a plantain plant, and turned over a leaf. “It’s this one.”

I was delighted, of course, and even more so when she remembered some of its uses.

I have used plantain to remove splinters of all sizes, sorts, and shapes, including one of wood that was actually in tiny smithereens. In that case, plantain took about three days to get all of them out, with some coming out each day. There was no infection.

It works for cuts, bee stings, mosquito bites, and nettle stings as well. I find it more effective than yellow dock for nettle stings. For stings and bites, I chew it and then rub it in, then chew another leaf or two and rub them in, and so on until the stinging stops. For cuts and splinters, I make a “spit poultice” by chewing a leaf, putting it over the splinter or cut, and then wrapping the other leaf over and around it. I bind that in place with vet tape if I have it available, medical tape if vet tape isn’t on hand, or a Band-Aid if that’s all that I have at the time. If there’s nothing available, then I simply hold it in place or have the injured person hold it. When it dries out, it should be replaced with a fresh leaf.

Simply taping a plantain leaf over an injury works as well. I know of one case of a severe puncture wound being treated by nothing more than single, whole-leaf plantain poultices, changed regularly, over a period of several days, accompanied by bed rest. “Doctor Plantain” secured a complete recovery.

On plant walks with kids, talking about splinters is enough to get their interest. They are also generally happy to know that it’s edible, if not delectable. Then, I mention its use in treating cuts, bites, and stings. Kids usually remember this herb because of the obvious advantages of a non-invasive treatment for splinters and a treatment that’s out there where the mosquitos are. At that point I urge them to teach their friends about plantain, and also to gather enough during the summer to dry for use throughout the winter. You can chew a dried plantain leaf and use it the same way you would a fresh one. One can also reactivate dried plantain leaves by soaking briefly in hot water. Imagine a world in which plantain was the only treatment ever used for splinters! If you teach plantain to every child you know, and encourage all your students to do the same, we can make that happen.

There are parts of the world in which the use of plantain for cuts is still common knowledge. Archeology teaches us that plant medicine was once common knowledge of our species, as it is for elephants. If you teach plantain to every child you know, and encourage all of those children to teach everyone they know, perhaps together we will succeed in making this knowledge universal once more.


This article is reprinted from the May, 2014 issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.