As summer rolls around, the earth is alive in all her glory, decorated with many shades of green, flowers and critters taking care of business. Unfortunately, some of the critters, i.e., wasps, mosquitoes, bees, and gnats are out too. One of my favorite remedies for the pain of a sting/bite is plantain. No, I am not referring to the banana’s relative. The plantain I’m referring to is a low growing herb found throughout North America but is not native. In fact, Native Americans called it “white man’s footprint,” because wherever white men went, it was left behind. Plantain grows in soil that has been heavily compacted by feet or other traffic. Frankly, it is everywhere. Just take a look at your lawn, sidewalk, or driveway; it is almost impossible not to find it in your travels. You can identify it by its five parallel veins running the length of each leaf. (Most leaves have a central vein with smaller ones branching out from it). You may find broad leaf plantain (Plantago major), with wide leaves and a tall seed head, or narrow leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata), with long thin leaves and a small flower head that looks like a flying saucer. You can use either but I am more partial to the broad leaf variety.
Plantain is best known for its ability to draw. That may come from its ability to draw up minerals from the soil in disturbed areas. It also draws things like dirt, stingers, insect venom, and infectious materials out of wounds. It’s amazing how fast it works when you apply it after a bee sting.
How to use plantain for bee stings?
- Remove stinger.
- Pick a few leaves of plantain from a clean source. Try to gather it away from the side of the road, away from places where chemicals are sprayed or areas that animals may relieve themselves (i.e., walkways).
- Make a fresh leaf poultice: Pick a few leaves and chew it well in your mouth, you want it to mix with your saliva.
- Put the poultice on the bite.
- Hold it on the sting site for a few minutes until you feel relief. Repeat if necessary. Like magic, the pain, heat, and swelling — even allergic reactions — disappear fast!
- Of course, if the person is allergic to bee stings. Seek IMMEDIATE medical attention if the person’s tongue swells, has difficultly breathing, you observe a sudden rash, or the person complains of nausea or blurred vision. Plantain is good but cannot ameliorate a severe allergic reaction.
Mathew loves how well it works (sadly, he has received his share of yellow jacket stings) and enjoys telling adults how to make a poultice. Unfortunately, while at camp last summer, he got stung and the counselors never heard of this remedy (they thought he was talking about the banana’s relative) and wouldn’t let him treat himself. They were too scared of the liability of putting a chewed up piece of weed on his skin. Therefore, they opted for putting a chemical on his skin. He was quit upset about their lack of knowledge or belief. Later, I simply instructed him to take care of his needs when faced with a similar situation in the future. Mathew knows plantain and is well versed in how to use it. I also told him not to instruct other children about it as their parents need to make the decision about whether to use it and besides other children may not have the same eye for herbs as he does. He agreed.
So before you need plantain to rescue you, get your field guide and go out and identify it. You will be grateful that you did. You never know when a bee or wasp may decide to sting you.
All information is shared for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition.