“What are you doing?”
My 11-year-old nephew appeared behind my shoulder. Kneeling to the ground, my attention alternated between my task and my daughter and niece’s softball practice.
I turned and looked up at his inquisitive eyes and held out my hand to reveal the contents in my palm. “I’m picking plantain. You want to help?”
Perhaps scavenging the field for weeds sounded more fun than watching his sister and cousin practice batting and fielding. That, or maybe my sweet nephew felt sorry for me, picking weeds all alone. I’m sure I was a strange sight among the other “normal” parents sitting in lawn chairs.
He smiled and shrugged.
The velvety, clustered leaves dotted the field. In my pre-gardening days, I probably would have thought someone needed to mow. Or spray some herbicide.
But now, I saw the treasure in what most people view an eyesore. And to my eyes, this unkempt field was full of gold.
Do a quick internet search for “health benefits of plantain weed” and you’ll find a host of ailments this plant supposedly aids. Indeed, its use as a medicinal herb dates back centuries, if not millennia. Yet in the modern age, we look right past it without a second thought.
Personally, I was most interested in the purported skin benefits of plantain — specifically with minor wounds, bites, and stings. What Arkansan who spends any time outdoors would be caught without some kind of cream or balm in the summertime?
Having dabbled in homemade skincare last winter, I felt confident enough to try a new recipe I found called, “Itchy Bite and Sting Balm.” After weeks of waiting for plantain, chickweed, and lavender to infuse its microbial properties into an olive oil base, I crafted the balm and eagerly awaited our first insect bite. (Funny to think about that now.)
The immediate relief exceeded even my expectations and won over the most skeptical members of my family. Indeed, this soothing salve became my family’s go-to ointment for all kinds of itches, bites, and stings over the summer.
While the itch balm surpassed my expectations, my daughter and I also experienced first-hand the healing properties of plantain. Early in the summer, before I had made the balm, each of us experienced wasp stings.
Having never been stung by anything in my life (true story), the sharp burning pain shocked me when I stuck my hand in a bucket of weeds in which a wasp hid. My husband begged me to go inside and get ice, but true to my stubborn nature, he found me walking the yard, hunting for plantain, flapping my hand in pain. Finally, I found some, crushed it, added it to aloe from our aloe plant, and covered the wound. Within minutes the pain decreased and the swelling subsided. Back to work in the garden I went.
A couple of weeks later, a wasp stung my daughter at a ball field. I applied the same poultice at home and she experienced similar relief.*
I reflect back on that day when my nephew and I harvested plantain in the field. It was a turning point for me — not only learning and experiencing the benefits of plantain but also opening my eyes to a world of healing at our fingertips.
Just a few generations ago, what modern society now deems crazy, our ancestors knew as well as we know our ABCs.
What I love about the age we live in, though, is that we do not have to choose between modern medicine and natural remedies. Nor should we. We can enjoy and appreciate both. With proper research and discernment to know when to seek medical assistance, we can learn what the flowers, herbs, and yes, weeds around us can provide.
And maybe if more of us would explore the world around us and all the gifts it offers, it wouldn’t look so crazy to pick weeds during softball practice.
*It should be noted that my family does not have any major allergy to insect stings, which can constitute a medical emergency. If that were the case, we would definitely have skipped the plantain and sought medical care immediately.