Plantain salve is one of the best ways to start a home herbal first aid kit. Plantain is abundant, and this easy to make salve is good for all manner of minor burns, cuts, and stings.
Sometimes we all need a bit of boo-boo medicine, whether you’re 5 or 50. Plantain salve is just that, the perfect medicine to treat all of lives little cuts, scrapes, stings and abrasions.
Herbalists know plantain as natures’ band-aid, and the large oval leaves are perfect for wrapping around minor injuries. It’s well known as a bee/wasp sting treatment, and a little plantain poultice works fast for relief when little else will. Both of these assume you’ve got fresh plantain on hand, which may or may not be the case.
Making plantain salve combines the healing benefits of common plantain with the soothing effects of oil and beeswax. It also preserves plantain in a convenient form right in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit.
Though plantain is incredibly common, it’s only available for harvest 4-5 months of the year here in Vermont. Short summers mean we need to preserve our medicine so it’s on hand when we need it.
If you’re not familiar with plantain, read up on how to forage plantain for proper identification.
Benefits of Plantain Salve
According to WebMD, the herb “plantain contains substances which might help decrease pain and swelling (inflammation)…. It might also be able to kill bacteria and fungi.”
While plantain is also used to decrease inflammation internally, a plantain salve will only be used topically. According to Gia Herbs, “Plantain has been used to support healthy levels of inflammation both internally as an extract and externally, as a topical agent. Topically, the leaves or extracts of the leaves are often used to soothe irritated skin.” This includes all manner of skin irritations and minor inflammatory conditions, from eczema to minor allergic reactions, as well as cuts and stings.
According to Kaiser Permanente Health System, “Plantain has long been considered by herbalists to be a useful remedy for cough, wounds, inflamed skin or dermatitis, and insect bites. Plantain is approved by the German Commission E as topical use for skin inflammations. The fresh leaves can be applied directly three or four times per day to minor injuries, dermatitis, and insect stings.”
Applying a homemade herbal salve is similar to applying the fresh plant material, and herbalists often employ this traditional preparation. Keep in mind though, there are no peer-reviewed scientific studies (at least that I can find) to back up this traditional use.
Plantain isn’t meant to treat anything beyond minor superficial injuries, and you should seek medical attention for puncture wounds, serious rashes, or large contusions.
Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet. Use your best judgment and consult your doctor or herbalist if you have any questions or concerns.
Supplies & Equipment for Making Plantain Salve
The equipment you need is pretty basic. A simple double boiler, either a store-bought double boiler or hacked up in your kitchen (as I’m doing) will allow you to gently heat the oils.
Herbal material is infused into a neutral oil, and olive oil is a great all-purpose choice. Other oils like grapeseed and jojoba oil work well too and have other skin-nourishing benefits.
Finally, containers for the finished salve. I’m using 2-ounce salve tins which screw shut and make great gifts. You can also use any small jar with a tight-fitting lid, such as quarter pint mason jars.
How to Make Plantain Salve
The process for making plantain salve is more or less the same as making any herbal healing salve. It all starts with collecting fresh plant material (or finding a good source for dried plantain leaves).
Be sure to harvest from a clean area that’s not sprayed with herbicides or pesticides, and avoid places where dogs are routinely walked.
Our side yard is the perfect spot, rich in broadleaf plantain and completely free of contamination of any sort.
I start by packing a mason jar full of clean plantain leaves. (Note that other plantain varieties such as narrow-leaf plantain also work.)
The next step is increasing surface area. A sharp knife or a pair of scissors will make quick work of the plantain leaves, chopping them into small pieces.
With more surface area, the medicinal constituents within the herbal material are better able to infuse into the oil.
At this point, you can either dry the chopped plantain leaves, or proceed immediately to make a herbal salve with fresh leaves. The process is a bit different, depending on the variation you choose.
If you’re working with dried plant material, simply cover the dry leaves in a neutral skin-safe oil (like olive oil or grapeseed), cap up the jar and allow it to infuse out of direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks.
Fresh plant material has unique challenges. All the water in the leaves will cause the oil to go rancid if it’s allowed to slowly infuse over the course of several weeks. You need to speed things up a bit, and since bug bite season overlaps with plantain season, I’m choosing the rapid infusion route.
To make salve with fresh plantain leaves, start by covering the chopped leaves with oil.
Leave the jar open and place it in a double boiler with a bit of water. You’ll need a spacer at the bottom of either a saucepan or a crockpot, to keep the jar away from direct heat. I use either canning jar lids or an old cotton dish towel.
Place the jars on the spacer within the pot or crockpot and then add water.
Slowly warm the water to 110 to 120 degrees. Don’t allow the temperature to get too hot, you’re not deep-frying the herbs, you’re just trying to gently infuse them with a bit of warmth. Cooking the plant material means you’re cooking off the medicinal components.
Allow the plantain oil to infuse for 24 to 48 hours at a consistent 110 to 120 degrees. I do this by periodically turning the stove on very low, and then leaving it off but covered with a towel overnight.
For efficiency, you can infuse multiple oils at once if you’d like. Below I’m infusing arnica oil for massage, comfrey oil for comfrey salve, yarrow oil for wounds, and plantain oil for my homemade plantain salve.
Once you’ve infused plantain into a carrier oil, it’s time to make the finished salve. Filter out the plant material and measure out 1 cup (8 ounces) of infused oil.
Place that infused oil in a heat-safe bowl and gently warm it above simmering water (you’re creating a double boiler for a second time here). Add in 1 ounce of beeswax and continue to gently heat the oil until the wax has melted.
Once the wax is melted, stir to ensure it’s evenly distributed and then pour the plantain salve into salve tins (or small mason jars).
Homemade herbal salves are usually considered effective for about 1 year, as a general rule.
We make a small batch of 4-6 tins for life’s little boo-boos and that’s plenty to share with family and friends.
Even with two small children in the house, we only need 2-3 tins a year to handle all our minor cuts, scrapes and stings. That’s even with living almost full time outdoors either in the garden or in the woods.
Plantain salve is the perfect addition to your herbal first aid kit to handle all of lifes little cuts, scrapes and stings.
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh plantain herb
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups Olive oil (or other neutral oil)
- 1 ounce Bees Wax
- Double Boiler (or saucepan and heatproof bowl)
- Salve Tins (or small mason jars)
- Harvest fresh plantain from a clean, uncontaminated area. As with any wild plant, always be 100% positive on your identification before harvesting.
- Chop the plantain leaves and use them to fill a pint mason jar most the way to the top.
- Cover the fresh herb with a neutral oil, such as olive oil or grapeseed oil.
- Place the mason jar on a trivet in a double boiler or crockpot and add water to the pot.
- Gently heat the water until it's 110 to 120 degrees and turn off the heat.
- Periodically turn on the heat to maintain this warm infusing environment for 24 to 48 hours. (Never leat the heat on overnight or for long periods, and be careful not to overheat and cook the plant material.)
- Once the fresh plantain has infused into the oil, strain out the plant material.
- Place the strained plantain infused oil into a heatproof bowl and then put that bowl above a pot of gently simmering water (again, creating a double boiler).
- Add the beeswax and gently heat the oil just until the beeswax melts.
- Stir to ensure the beeswax is evenly distributed and then pour into prepared salve tins (or small mason jars).
- Allow the salve to cool completely and set up before using (usually around 30 minutes).
Note: If using dried plantain herb, you can use this same quick warm infusion method, or you can use a longer room temperature infusion for 4-6 weeks in a cool dark place. When using fresh herb material, you must use the warm infusion method because the fresh herbs will spoil in a long slow infusion.
Be sure to spot test before using, as there's always the possibility for allergic reaction.
As always, please consult your doctor or herbalist before starting any new treatment. I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to be.
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