Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Let Me Introduce You To My Friend Plantain

Plantain (Plantago major) growing robustly on my garden path

Today I have the perfect moment to write about a common weed that is an uncommonly great herbal remedy: plantain.

Earlier this morning I was moving a compost pile from the spot where our chicken coop is going to go when all of a sudden a swarm of honey bees flew at me. Fortunately, I was stung only two or three times, and fortunately I'm not allergic, but the whole incident had me almost hyperventilating and the bee stings hurt like he**!

And what remedy came to my rescue? Why, the "lowly" plantain of course! Plantain is THE remedy for bee stings, bug and snake bites. Oh, there are others but plantain is so easy and so readily available everywhere. Its nickname is "white man's walk" because it grows where people walk, or on old trails (horse, deer, or man's). And also because the white man brought plantain over from Europe, along with dandelions and many other of our noxious weeds/invaluable herbal remedies and food. If plantain is growing in your yard as it is ours, it's a sign of compacted earth and it's often advised to aerate your lawn to get rid of it. You might find plantain growing along your sidewalk, as it is along mine in the photo below (next to thyme on the patio).
My favorite way to use plantain in the summer during prime bee sting season is to just take a leaf and make a lot of bite marks in it to get the juices going. Then hold the leaf on the sting like a band-aid and it will provide relief in a short time. I have impressed so many bee-stung kids with my "green medicine" this way! I also have plantain salve which works great if you put a band-aid or compress on top of it--you need something be it leaf, band-aid or piece of cloth, to which the stinger can attach itself. Today in my moment of panic I first grabbed some leaves and started biting, then ran into the house for salve, then had George get some band-aids, then I grabbed some compresses. The combination of it all did manage to calm me down and provide relief. I think in the end the whole leaves with bite marks in them and held on by a compress provided the best relief, but plantain salve is still a great ally for times when you can't find plantain growing.

Other uses for plantain leaves or salve: bites of all kinds, puncture wounds, slivers, dirty cuts and scrapes, or any abrasions. Plantain will draw out pus, dirt, shards of glass, slivers, etc. Then it will promote healing cell growth (class notes, Herbalist Lise Wolff lecture). You can also pack plantain leaves into your mouth for a toothache and it may draw out infectious materials and relieve the pain. It relieves canker sores as well. Plantain leaves or salve could be of great use to you during a dental emergency such as a root canal situation, but obviously see your dentist too!

I gave a client both plantain and white oak bark (quercus alba) tinctures for a series of dental problems she had. She still needed lots of oral surgery, but its possible the herbal remedies helped speed the healing. She didn't need as much antibiotics as usual.

Plantain tincture is an excellent general sore throat remedy. If you eat plantain when it's a little bit too big, you get some of its threads stuck in your throat so this can remind you that plantain tincture can heal sore throats when it feels like there's something stuck in there. (This is based on one herbal medicine/homeopathic principle--that herbs cause what they cure and cure what they cause--called the Law of Similars). For sore throats of any kind, take one drop under the tongue twice a day.

According to my teacher Lise Wolff, RH (AHG), Plantain is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and astringent. The tincture may also work for gastritis and cystitis where it cools inflammation. It may be indicated in cases where the kidneys and liver have been stressed by use of pharmaceutical drugs or heavy metal toxicity. I have less experience with these uses but if given the chance I would try plantain in these types of cases since its such a readily available local herb.

One last "signature" for Plantain is of the sole of the foot. Plantain/Plantago:Plantar have the same latin root word and plantar is the word for foot. Plantain can be used for relief of plantar fascitis and in this case you can use it in any form, tincture, leaf or salve.

One can look for these reminders for the uses of herbal remedies in the latin terms, the nicknames and even sometimes in the way a plant looks. In the case of plantain, the leaves have strings that one can see when you pull the leaf from its stem. Those strings remind me of plantain's ability to draw out toxins and bind up injuries--like a needle and thread.

The seeds of plantain are psyllium seed, the same stuff you can buy for a fiber supplement. Psyllium seeds are not only a good source of fiber for bulk in your diet, but they can pull parasites out of the intestines and pass them through the bowels. All parts of plantain are edible, the leaves and the seed pods. You'll want to eat the plantain leaves very early in the season when they are small and tender. They like all greens are very high in vitamins and minerals.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Yarrow Oil, Salve and Tincture: How To Make and Uses

Achillea millefolium: Yarrow

This is the season for Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) in Minnesota and probably many parts of the country. It's blooming on the prairies, in the ditches, in vacant unmown lots and everywhere. The wild yarrow has white, sometimes even pinkish, flowers. You can grow yarrow in your garden, and the colors range from yellow to orange to red to pink and white. It's a beautiful wild prairie plant, with lacy green leaves all up and down the rather woody stems.

Here's a photo of cultivated yarrow that I planted in my boulevard:
And here's a closer-up photo where you can really see the lacy leaves (well, sort of, if I had a better camera):

The leaves point to one of Yarrow's signature uses in that they look a bit like saw blades. Yarrow has various nicknames including "carpenter's weed" and "knight's milfoil" and is useful for the type of wound one might get from a saw or sword, a deep cut "down to the bone" with gushing blood. Yarrow can stop the bleeding and heal the wound quickly. You can use the fresh plant for this--if you happen to be injured in a place where yarrow is growing, you can stuff the cut with yarrow leaves. More conveniently at home, you can also use the oil or salve of yarrow and a compress pad of gauze or fabric.

My Yarrow Oil steeping for six weeks in the sunny window of my porch. I used cold-pressed olive oil and dried the yarrow for a day or so before cutting it into one inch pieces, packing it tightly into the jar and then filling the jar with oil.

Another name for yarrow is "Nosebleed" because it can both stop the gushing blood of a nosebleed as well as bring on a nosebleed in a person who may need to bleed (an old-fashioned medical concept). You can stop the nosebleed with yarrow oil or salve on a piece of tissue or a handkerchief inserted into the nostril, being careful not too stick it in too far for all the usual reasons. A friend's son who was having frequent nosebleeds used yarrow oil with great success. It stopped the bleed right away and helped in healing the spot that kept opening up.

In the same vein, yarrow is good for fevers and headaches with fevers. Once when my son was sick with a high fever and a headache with bright red cheeks, suggesting heat and excess blood in his facial capillaries, I gave him a couple drops of yarrow tincture. Not much later his nose began to bleed. This took some pressure off his forehead and he felt relieved. Yarrow tea would work well in this situation, as does the tincture.

Since yarrow is a blood remedy (both starts and stops bleeding) it is also good for bruises, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and other "stagnant blood" situations. Yarrow is a local version of Arnica for us. Arnica is used widely and is much praised by many for its wound-healing properties. Put Arnica on a bump or lump with a bruise and it immediately brings the swelling down. Yarrow does the same thing. I use Yarrow over Arnica always, because I can make the yarrow salves and tinctures myself. It, like Arnica, helps the wounded person with the feelings of shock and trauma as well.

Yarrow salve or oil can be rubbed on varicose veins to provide relief and hopefully healing of these stagnant, protruding blood vessels. An infusion of yarrow can be poured into a bath to soak the legs and/or bottom for either varicose veins or hemorrhoids, respectively. One could also soak just the feet in a yarrow infusion poured into a basin of water for bruised and swollen feet. I know of someone trying this now; we'll see if it works for her.

If you have a dirty wound, however, like a sidewalk scrape or wood sliver, the herb you want is not yarrow but plantain. Yarrow will bind up a wound too quickly and will leave the sliver or infectious dirt, etc. in there. Not good!

I highly encourage you to read what my teacher Matthew Wood writes about Yarrow, An Indispensable Herb on the linked web page; a quote:

In order to effectively treat disease we have to be able to decongest blood
associated with inflammation, thin stagnant, congealed blood, tone the veins,
stimulant the capillaries and arteries, and move the blood to or from the
surface. Yarrow, the great ‘normalizer’ of the blood does all these

The classic work, Maud Grieve's A Modern Herbal, has a page on Yarrow here. And if you want to read the old Master himself, Nicolas Culpeper, Biblomania.com has his page on yarrow here. And here's an excellent page on using yarrow flower essences: Developing Positive Sympathy by Kyra Mesich. Those are all excellent resources online. If you can get the original sources, Culpeper's Complete Herbal, Grieve's A Modern Herbal, and Matthew Wood's The Book of Herbal Wisdom, I encourage you to do so. All are filled with wonderful herbal information.

Refer to the sidebar of my blog page where I have instructions for making herbal oils, salves, tinctures, teas and infusions. And let me know if Yarrow has helped you!

Okay, I'll try to do more...

I just came over to this blog finally and realized there are two comments, both of them wanting me to do more with this site. Okay, okay! I really want to. I just keep forgetting that I even have this blog, except as a tool to advertise my practice. I now have business cards with this website on it so folks can read about me!

Well, I'm going to start working on some posts. Yarrow Oil to start, later today.