Sunday, September 14, 2008

Plantain Salve for Bug Bites, Skin Problems

Back in August I had a post about plantain oil, with which I would be making salve. Last summer I had poison ivy--this summer the plague has been bug bites. I have yet to see the bugs that bit me--the bites look like mosquito bites, but I haven't caught the buggers at it yet. Anyway, these are annoying bites. Nowhere near fatal or even serious, but I can and do wake up in the middle of the night itching like crazy.

A spit-poultice of plantain leaf (grab a leaf or two, chew it up, apply the moistened leaf to the bite) is wonderful for a bug bite--takes the sting and itch away, not quite immediately, but pretty damn fast. Plantain poultice also works for nettle stings, which I get no matter how careful I am when harvesting nettles. Since plantain works so well, I wanted a salve I could use when I didn't have an actualy plantain plants around.

The first thing you do is harvest your plant, in this case, plantain. Common plantain is truly ubiquitous, available everywhere. If you have a lawn, you'll find some there. Just look around and you'll find it--on the edges of driveways, in the cracks of sidewalks, lawns, etc. There is also a narrow leaf plantain, which can also be used to make poultices and salves.

I harvested a grocery plastic bag full of plantain leaves. Then I rinsed off the leaves, cut them finely and stuffed them into a sterilized mason quart jar. I poured extra virgin olive oil into the jar to cover the plant material. And that's it. The first step. I set the jar in a cool, dark place for 6 weeks, and tried to remember to shake the jar occasionally or daily. The oil will absorb the plant's color and its active properties.

After the six weeks are through, the oil will have become a lovely green color. It was really beautiful. And there was no mold--I had thought there might be because someone on the net who I was reading warned against rinsing the plantain before adding the oil, saying that mold might form due to the moisture. It didn't get moldy in this batch, and the oil smelled fresh, very nice.

Second step is to set up a double boiler. I put the oil into the top of the double boiler, and gradually warmed it up. I grated a bunch of beeswax from a 16 oz. block of beeswax I purchased from Hunter's Honey Farm. You can probably find a honey/beeswax producer close to you, but these folks are the ones I used. I added the beeswax slowly to the oil, stirring it with a wooden spoon to mix it up with the oil. I used about an ounce, maybe an ounce and a half. The measurement is usually one oz. beeswax to one pint oil. To check the texture of the salve, dip in a teaspoon and put it in the freezer. You'll be able to check the salve's consistency on the spoon in a minute or so. I also added two capsules of Vit. E oil to preserve the salve. Plantain salve is a nice green color, with a good scent to it. I suppose you could add a drop or two of essential oil to scent it further if you wanted too.

Pour the salve into small jars, and label and date them. I now have 3 jars of plantain salve: one to give away, one for home use, and one for our medicine/first aid kit.

Does it work? I find it is not quite as effective as a spit-poultice plantain leaf. But it is good stuff and it works fine. It will cut the sting and itch of any bug bite, and smooth rough or dry skin. It's said to be good for diaper rash and baby skin as well. I use it on my hands when they feel dry and tissue off the excess. It absorbs quickly into the skin. I like this stuff and am glad I have it available.

Another method of making salve, one used by our ancestors, was to use animal fat. Animals fats are easily absorbed by human skin. Lard is recommended, or tallow. Heat the fat gently on the stove and add your chopped plant material. Gently infuse it over low heat for 45 mintues to an hour. Strain it carefully, and pour into jars. I will try this method and let you know how it works.

Making herbal medicines, syrups, extracts, salves, oils, decoctions, infusions, poultices, etc. is fairly easy to do, once you have the plants harvested. And it is a good skill to have, both the herb/wild edible plant knowledge and the know-how of making the simple but effective medicines. Working with plants requires attention to detail, as much knowledge of what you're doing as you can gather ahead of time, and patience as the medicines develop, in case of the 6 week wait. But it is all worth it. You'll enjoy the doing of it, and the products you'll have when you're done. A fine feeling of accomplishment!


chloe said...

I made some plantain up in my first go at making a salve, it was so exciting to watch it transform from liquid into solid as it cooled. I had had excema on my face for some time and over the weeks the plantain shifted it. Now if I get signs of its return I pop some salve on before bed and it generally clears.

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