It is about to be that time of year again. The weather is warming up, which means we are about to experience an explosion of mosquitos and fire ants, and their bites can be very painful and irritating. Fortunately, we have a common weed that is the perfect remedy for hot, itchy and painful bug bites. It is so common, I am sure you could walk outside and find it growing in your backyard.
The plant is called plantain (different from the big green banana like fruits you see in the grocery store). There are many different species of plantain (Plantago spp.), but we usually see two different kinds. Broad leaf and narrow leaf. The picture from above is narrow leaf plantain. They are used interchangeably and have a wide range of uses.
Plantain is an edible weed. According to David Winston, young leaves can be cooked and eaten as greens. They contain vitamin C, A, carotenoids, zinc and potassium. It can be taken internally as a tea to help heal gastric and intestinal inflammation, relieves bronchial irritation and coughs, and minor urinary tract infections. Also, the plantain can be used topically (either fresh or dried and infused into oil) for burns or bug bites to soothe inflamed tissue and reduce itching and irritation. The seeds are also edible.
I am constantly amazed that so many of the pesky weeds that people complain about are actually powerful medicinals.
I harvested a bunch of plantain last fall so I could have it for tea and infuse it into oil for salve making. I used the same setup for drying (window screens on a wooden clothes drying rack) that I wrote about when I harvested and dried my stinging nettle.
I infused plantain oil on the same day that I infused comfrey oil to make my Sore Muscle Comfrey Salve. The process for both was the same.
Then I poured in oil until it barely covered the plant material. I used olive oil this time.
Then I put them in a 200 degree F oven and baked them for 2 hours. It is helpful to have an oven thermometer to know you have the right temperature. You will know it is too hot if your oil starts bubbling. If this happens, turn down the temperature a few degrees and open the oven for a few minutes to let out the excess heat.
Once the two hours has passed, pull them out of the oven and let them cool enough where you can touch them without getting burned. You don’t want to infuse medicinal oils and then burn your hands trying to strain them!
Once they were cool enough to touch, I lined a bowl with a flour sack towel and poured in the infused oil and plant material. Then I gathered the edges and squeezed out the oil into a bowl. This part is the hardest, because no matter how hard you squeeze, there will be some oil that you can’t get out. But, do the best you can and squeeze as hard as you can and compost the rest.
Then I poured it into a clean jar and labeled it. I wasn’t ready to make my salve yet, so I put in a cool dark place for later.
To make a salve you need your infused oil, beeswax and essential oils. The ratio is 2 tsp beeswax and 10 drops of essential oil per 1 oz of infused oil. The instructions are the same for the Sore Muscle Comfrey Salve I made. First you gently warm the oil and beeswax over low heat.
Once the beeswax is melted you can test it to make sure it is thick enough.
To test, dip the spoon into the mixture and stick it in the freezer for 30 seconds until it has solidified. Then you can test it on your hand and see if it is the consistency you want. If it is too soft, add more beeswax, if it is too hard add more oil.
Once your oil is ready, it is time to prep the jars by adding the essential oils to the jars. My jars held 2 oz of oils each, so I put in 20 drops of essential oil into each jar. I used 10 drops of lavender, 5 drops of tea tree oil and 5 drops of lemongrass in each jar.
Once the essential oils are added to the jars, then you can pour in the oil/beeswax mixture that has been kept warm on the stove. You can use a chopstick or popsicle stick to stir everything together and then let it sit in a stable place where it can solidify.
I didn’t take any pictures of the plantain salve and gave the jars I made away as Christmas presents last year. But they looked very similar to the comfrey salve jars, and the label for the plantain salve read:
Itch Away Plantain Salve
For any kind of bug bite, inflammation or irritation on the skin.
Ingredients: Plantain infused olive oil, beeswax, and essential oils of lavender, tea tree, and lemongrass
If you want to make your own infused oil, here is a recap of the info.
To infuse oils: you want to grind up your plant material in small pieces, cover with oil, bake in oven at 150-200 degrees F for 2-2.5 hours. Let cool, then strain.
To make the salve:
The ratio: 2 tsp beeswax and 10 drops of essential oil per 1 oz of oil.
Melt oil and beeswax together over low heat, test on spoon to make sure consistency is right. Put essential oils directly in jar first, and then pour in the melted oil/beeswax mixture. Mix with a chopstick or spoon. Set on counter or in fridge to firm up, label (so you know what it is), and enjoy your new salve!