It’s a banana, it’s a weed, it’s magic, no. It’s the plantain plant, and it may just be one of the most valuable “weeds” in your backyard. Once referred to as the “Band-aid Plant,” plantain has a long history of medicinal use. At our house, we use it on everything from bites and stings to minor cuts, scrapes, and burns, and today I’m going to walk you through how to make this humble plant into a powerhouse first-aid salve for your family.
A Quick Disclaimer
Harvesting, ingesting, or using unidentified wild plants can be dangerous or even deadly. Some plants have parts that are safe and toxic parts. Others have close cousins or look a likes who are toxic. The information here is intended to be fun and educational, and is in no way intended as medical advice. Remember that just because something is natural doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe. Certain herbs can be harmful to pregnant or nursing mothers. Others can have adverse interactions with existing medications. Always do your research, and speak to a professional regarding any significant concerns.
Plantain Leaf, the “Band-aid Plant”
If you only know one plant in the wild, it should really be plantain – the herb, not the banana. Plantain can be found growing wild in just about every part of North America. It prefers hard-packed earth and is common along driveways and forest trails.
Plantain, as we’ve said, is commonly referred to as the “band-aid” plant because it has tremendous properties as a wound healer. The presence of iridoids, aucubigenin, allantoin, and aglycone offers a powerhouse of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, skin soothing, and healing properties.
The Plantain plant is considered helpful for:
Mosquito bites and other bug bites
Poison ivy/poison oak/sumac
All-purpose moisturizer/lip balm
What Type of Plantain do I Need?
Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find out that there are over 200 different species of plantain! However, the two most commonly discussed varieties in herbal circles are Broadleaf, or Greater Plantain (Plantago Major), and Narrowleaf, or Ribwort Plantain (Plantago Lanceolata).
Both have interchangeable healing benefits and will work well in this salve recipe. Ribwort Plantain is the variety that grows abundant on our property, so that is what we use on our homestead.
Identifying and Harvesting Wild Plantain
Plantain is one of the easiest wild plants to find. Its natural habitat is anywhere the land has been disturbed by human hands! Ribwort plantain is characterized by almost ribbon-like leaves with parallel veins that grow in a basal rosette with leafless, hairy flower stems. Broadleaf Plantain has exactly the same leaf texture but a broader, more rounded leaf.
As with any foraged plant, it is imperative that you use ethical harvesting practices. To sustainably wild harvest plantain, select leaves from near the bottom of the plant and leave the flowers intact. Remember never to decimate a single plant, and always leave the roots in place so the plant can return next season.
Making Plantain Salve: A Quick Overview
There are complete instructions at the bottom of the post, but this is a quick overview of the process. It’s important to note that although the recipe is simple, it can be time-consuming depending on which method you use.
Pick and dry your fresh Plantain leaves until they reach a crunchy consistency. If Plantain doesn’t grow in your area, you can also purchase dried Plantain. After your Plantain is dry, the next step is to create a Plantain infused oil. There is a three-hour version or a four-week version of this step. Both will result in an excellent end product, so it’s up to you to decide which works best for you. When I have time, I place my herbs to infuse and let them sit for as long as they like. But I’ll use the faster heat method when I need a quick batch. Once you have your plantain oil, combine it with beeswax to create the salve. Then you’ll bottle, cool, and store it.
Making Plantain Salve: Step by Step
Again, the process is simple, and each step takes only a few moments, but there are drying, curing, and infusing times to factor in.
1 cup of Plantain infused carrier oil (use - olive, coconut, or avocado oil)
1 ounce or 3 tablespoons beeswax (vegan - use carnauba, paraffin, or soy wax)
Drying Your Plantain
If using fresh Plantain, the first step is to clean and then dry it. If you have time to spare, you can hang your plantain in small bundles and let them dry naturally for several weeks. If you are short on time, the leaves can be placed in a dehydrator until crisp. Or, you can skip this step altogether by purchasing dried Plantain.
Making the Oil Infusion
There are two different ways to make the oil infusion, a quick version that takes 3 hours and a slow version that takes 4 or more weeks.
They both start the same way:
Crumble your dried plantain leaves into a clean glass jar. Ideally, the dried plant material will fill the jar somewhere between the 1/3rd and 1/2 levels.
Fill the jar up with olive oil to about 1″ from the top. Use a clean chopstick or spoon handle to gently stir the plantain and oil, and release any air pockets in the jar.
The Three-Hour Version:
Place your glass jar in a saucepan with 2 or 3 inches of cold water. Gently bring the heat up to a low simmer and set the timer for 3 hours. Make sure that the water doesn’t boil. Don’t allow it to splash into the jar. If the pan gets low, add more water to avoid drying out and roasting your pan. Once the time goes off and the oil cools, strain the plant matter out with a fine sieve or cheesecloth.
The Four (or more) Week Version:
Instead of using heat to extract the plant’s healing properties, all this method requires is time. Place a lid on your jar and set it in a cool dark place to do its thing. Give it a nice shake every few days, and when the four-week mark is up, you can strain the plant solids or leave the whole infusion for up to 6 weeks.
Making the Salve
You’ll need an old pot or pan and a clean old jar or glass measuring cup for this part. It is unlikely you will ever get it fully clean again, so don’t use any of your everyday items.
Add 1 cup of Plantain infused oil and 1 oz (or 3 Tbls) of wax to your jar or measuring cup.
Fill your pot with 1” to 2” of water and carefully lower your jar with the salve mixture into the water. You are essentially creating a double boiler. Heat on low, stirring often until all of the wax has melted.
Once the wax has melted, pour your salve into clean tins, tubs, or bottles for storage and allow it to cool completely before closing them up.
Can I use Fresh Plantain Instead?
It is possible to use fresh plants in salves; however, if you are new to making herbal salves, I urge you not to. Fresh leaves naturally contain water, and salves or ointments that contain water are more likely to spoil. It would be a shame to lose your hard work to mold, so I urge you to go the extra step of drying them first.
Once you are a seasoned herbalist and salve maker, you can learn the proper ways of creating salves and other preparations with fresh plants, but not today, Grasshopper.
What Do You Use Plantain Salve For?
On our homestead, we use it for everything from bites and stings to chapped lips! Here are some of the most common uses around our house:
Horsefly or mosquito bites
Dry, chapped skin
Grazes, scratches, and minor cuts
Rough or cracked skin
Rashes and inflamed skin
On our pets for minor cuts, scrapes, and scabs
On our dog's paws or noses when they are chapped or chaffed
If you’re more of a buy it than DIY it kind of person or just not ready to dive into making your own salve, you can hop over to the Byers Ranch Apothecary and purchase a jar of Plantain Salve from our new Apothecary!
I hope you enjoyed this lesson in making your very own plantain salve for your family! If you decide to whip up a batch, be sure to tell us all about it in the comments below, and tag us in those Insta picks @thisunboundlife.blog. Stay healthy, my friends, and as always, until next time: