There is a weed that grows on the edges of most parking lots and fields and most of us are so used to tromping on it, that we pay it little heed: plantain, either narrow-leaved (Plantago lanceolata) or broad-leaved (P. major). This common plant, an immigrant from Europe, is a veritable medicine chest of remedies that is now freely growing on nearly every continent across the globe. It is the same plant that provides us with psyllium seed and husk, used as a mucilage and mild laxative even by the early Anglo-Saxons. The Romans used plantain in recipes for boils and severe, blistering shingles. In fact, this herb is helpful for skin eruptions of all kinds, soothing itchy and inflamed outbreaks.

I use it as field first-aid because it helps stop bleeding and prevent infections of cuts and scrapes – just chew the fresh leaf a bit to release the juices and place directly on a cut.

One of the most notable attributes of plantain is its ability to draw out splinters, dirt, pus and infection out of wounds. It will also draw the venom out of bee stings, spider bites and snakebites. There are several herbs that have this attribute, but plantain is the most powerful in preventing and treating blood poisoning when used as a fresh poultice.

Many times in my travels, I have come across those with an active case of blood poisoning from a wound. This commonly appears as heat, inflammation and pus along with a red line moving away from the wound toward the center of the body. In all cases, fresh poultices of plantain leaf applied to the wound, along with eating the leaf, reversed the symptoms within three days. You can mix freshly minced plantain leaf into bentonite clay to make a poultice with even a stronger draw. In this same regard, plantain can be used wadded up and crushed enough to release its juices, to deal with emergency tooth and gum infections. The tincture used in water makes a good mouthwash as a preventative measure to oral infections.

Plantain has an affinity for the lungs – soothing irritation, removing excess mucus and lubricating tissue. The tea or tincture is especially helpful for chronic dry coughs, when there is not enough moisture to pull up the mucus trapped underneath. It will also strengthen the lungs after a bout of illness, as it tends to strengthen all connective tissue.

Keep a little plantain growing in your garden if you don’t already have it. If you are worried about it spreading everywhere, then be sure to cut off the seed-stalks once they are up. Otherwise, dry a little plantain or make a fresh tincture and keep it on hand for emergency.

Finally, like so many tonic herbs, plantain is rich in nutrients and can be eaten often by adding a bit to salads, various vegetable dishes and soups. Get to know this incredible and common green ally; it’s anything but plain – plantain!