Diana Lynn Tibert
We walk on plantain every day as we water the flowers or play with our children in the yard
We walk on plantain every day as we water the flowers or play with our children in the yard. It is a plant that West Coast native people named "white-man-foot-print" because it arrived with the white men and spread everywhere they settled. Considered a weed by many, common plantain (Plantago major) is better described as a healing herb. Its leaves, when bruised, can be placed directly on fresh cuts to slow bleeding and swelling. Its bruised or chewed leaves also reduce the pain from insect bites and stings when applied. A simple homemade ointment made from plantain leaves, olive oil and beeswax heals and takes the red out of minor cuts, scratches, diaper rashes and insect bites. I especially like using it on my children because I know it is safe and does not contain chemicals. As with any new plant material, always check for an allergic reaction by applying a small amount of ointment on the skin and waiting for 24 hours.
The first step in making this versatile ointment is to identify and gather the herb. Luckily, plantain is very common. It grows along driveways and ditches, in lawns and vacant areas. The deep green leaves grow from the base and are broad and oval. They measure from five to 25 centimetres (two to 10 inches) depending on the growing conditions. Near the end of June, rigid flowering stalks appear. The flowers are deep green or white and measure from three to 20 centimetres (one to eight inches). An identifying characteristic of plantain is the thread-like strands that are visible when the leaves are picked. If in doubt, take along a photo to help identify the herb.
Gather the plantain leaves after the morning dew has dried. Choose an area away from the pollution of busy roads and where chemicals have not been sprayed. Pick only healthy green leaves and discard those that look damaged, diseased or eaten by insects.
Now that you've got your plantain, it's time to prepare the ointment. Do not wash the leaves just use a cloth or paper towel to brush away any dust. Coarsely chop leaves with a knife. Loosely pack chopped leaves into a clean dry glass bottle. Fill the bottle with olive oil. Remove air bubbles by slowly poking the mixture with a stick or straw. Top up the bottle with oil and seal with a cap. Place the bottle away from direct sunlight on a saucer. The saucer will catch the oozing oil and save the surface beneath.
After six weeks, pour oil into a measuring cup. Using a fork, squeeze excess oil from the plantain leaves. Discard the leaves. While decanting, you will notice the smell. (The first time I made the ointment, I thought the smell came from my son's diaper.) The ointment will retain an unpleasant odour until it has aged three or four months, and then it will have a more agreeable scent.
Over low heat, slowly melt a chunk of beeswax in a double boiler. Caution: Beeswax is extremely combustible. Never leave melting beeswax unattended. It melts fast and hardens quickly. Once the beeswax is melted, carefully measure one tablespoon (15 ml) of beeswax for every two tablespoons (30 ml/one ounce) of oil. Over low heat, mix the oil and beeswax together. Continue stirring until the wax has re-melted and mixed with the oil.
Pour the mixture into a small wide-mouth glass jar. Allow to cool and thicken. The ointment will be vanilla in colour. Re-melt and add more oil if the ointment is too hard, or add more beeswax if the ointment is too soft.
There is no better feeling than to transform a common herb from the backyard into a beneficial ointment. There are no side-effects and no hazardous ingredients. By taking matters into our own hands, we can make a safe and reliable ointment for our children and ourselves.
(adapted from Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susun S. Weed)
You can purchase natural beeswax from local bee keepers, craft shops, health stores and marine supply stores. Homemade soap makers will know of a supplier and may have extra to sell. The beeswax can be difficult to clean from the pot. Wipe off as much as possible when the wax is still melted. Allow the pot to soak in hot soapy water and then wash with a scrub pad or a handful of horsetail.