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Does Plantain Really Work?

I was recently doing some weeding in an area that I knew had poison ivy. I am allergic to poison ivy, but I don’t shy away from pulling it out while wearing gloves and a long-sleeve shirt. Of course, the sleeves always slip up a bit, and I’m never surprised when I end up with a little rash on my wrists the next day. It is annoying, but nothing too bad for me.

That is probably why it took me a bit longer to identify that something else was happening on my wrist beyond poison ivy. My left wrist had small bumps characteristic of poison ivy and was moderately itchy, but my right wrist was extremely itchy and had developed a large red patch. I finally realized that I must have gotten some sort of bite, along with a poison ivy rash. My first fear was that I had been bitten by a Lyme-carrying tick, but on close investigation, I decided it was more likely a spider bite.

So, I decided to put plantain to the test. One of the first things most herbalists will learn, and teach others, is that if you chew up fresh plantain and put it on a sting or bite, it will reduce the swelling and itchiness. So, off I went into the yard in search of plantain. It wasn’t hard to find.

Plantain (Plantago major)

Plantain is easy to identify once you know it. It has parallel veins and is a very smooth leaf without hairs. That said, please be 100% sure you’ve got the right plant before you go putting leaves in your mouth and chewing them up!

Below is a photo-progression over the course of one day and the use of 2 poultices.

First I chewed up a good amount of plantain, then took it out of my mouth and applied it to my arm. By the way, kids LOVE this while, even while they are screaming about how gross they think it is. Then I covered the plantain with a bandage. After a couple of hours, I removed the bandage to see what it looked like. While I don't claim this to have been a rigorous scientific study, what I noticed was that there was a reduction in the size of the red patch after I took off the first poultice. It was still very itchy and red, so I applied a second poultice. The last picture shows what my arm looked like after taking off the second poultice, which had also been on for a couple of hours. I think it pretty clearly shows that the redness had been reduced.

So, there you have it - a real life experiment to see if plantain lives up to its reputation as an easy-to-find first-aid remedy for bites and stings!

About me

My name is Jillian Bar-av and I am a Registered Herbalist and Licensed Nutritionist who works with busy women to help them have the energy to do what they love. I specialize in conditions that affect the reproductive system and urinary tract, such as PCOS and Interstitial Cystitis. I believe that it takes healthy people to create a healthy planet, and I want to make a difference for both.

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