The World's Most Useful "Weed"

A beaten up plantain plant

A beaten up plantain plant

Last week I had my first real encounter with poison ivy. Up until this point I had often bragged about being "immune" to the stuff, but alas, I was proven wrong! 

I was walking through a forest that seemed to be carpeted with thick, waist high brush. To get through, I employed the just-plow-through technique, when I was tripped up by a hidden barbed wire fence. Of course, I've fallen over dozens of barbed wire fences while hiking off trail, so that was no big surprise. When I went to catch myself I landed directly on my forearms. I wasn't aware of what plant I had landed in at that point, but soon after I felt an overwhelming itch. 

Author's note: Although I identified the cause of my itch as poison ivy, I now realize that it was probably nettles. Nettles tend to itch right away, but poison ivy takes a while to set in. My itch seemed almost instant. 

My first reaction to this was a typical "oh crap, this isn't cool."

But, the "oh crap" soon turned to excitement. Maybe a bit too much excitement for a poison ivy "victim. "

Plantain in its "paste" form, after being chewed

Plantain in its "paste" form, after being chewed

I quickly got back to the trail and started looking for an incredibly common plant called Plantain (or broad leaf plantain, or Plantago Major). Plantain is often seen as just a weed. It gets mowed over in city parks, plucked out of gardens, and sprayed with chemicals if it shows up where any proper grass is expected to grow. However, rather than trying to get rid of it, maybe we should explore the benefits of this "weed." After all, it grows almost everywhere. From my travels I've found plantain in northern Maine, all over my home state of Nebraska, and even near the airport in British Columbia. 

I was excited to finally put this plant to the test...

Although my intentions were to use plantain to treat my poison ivy, it has a multitude of other uses.

Author's note: These are the medicinal uses of plantain. It's also edible, but that's a different blog post!

  • Plantain tea can be used to treat diarrhea and dysentery
  • Plantain paste can be rubbed onto bug bites to treat the itch
  • Plantain paste can also be applied to wounds, sores, and stings to promote healing
  • The plant is know to have anti-inflammatory, weak antibiotic, immundo modulating, analgesic, antioxidant, and antiulcerogenic properties
Difficult to see, but my forearms were bubbling up! 

Difficult to see, but my forearms were bubbling up! 

Although there haven't been many official studies to prove all of the potential benefits of plantain there are many stories (like mine) that have continued to promote the plant as the ultimate healing "weed"

So back to the story; I located plantain, chewed it up into a paste, and spat it into my hands. I then rubbed the paste into the affected area. Within a few minutes the itching had gone away. I hiked back to my truck, drove home, and washed my forearms with cold water. There was no sign that anything had affected my forearms. They didn't even appear to be pink from all of my previous scratching. I had always hoped that plantain would do its job when I had to put it to the test, and now I have my answer. 

Long live plantain!

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About The Author

Sam is a writer, adventurer, and founder of Woodsong. In 2011 his practical experiences over many nights in remote wilderness areas inspired him to start this blog! Sam’s adventures have lead him throughout North America where he has had the opportunity to learn from world-class outdoorsmen, and perhaps the greatest teacher of all, the natural world.

Catch Sam this summer on HISTORY's ALONE!