Plantain: Traveller’s Talisman
I’ve been reading Martin Shaw’s “Scatterlings” this winter. The message is a wise old one, that “what we’re searching far and wide for, turns out to be actually right where we live”. What I resonate with in Martin’s book is, because we’re in a cultural/technological trance we can’t see or access this deep, nourishing relationship with the land. We fly all over the world looking for this thing that we’re missing, chasing after this or that trend, rather than staying where we are, and burrowing into the present. By living in a deep way with the land, in a “nest” of presence, we come to know and be connected with the plants, animals and land Herself, as a living mythical being. One that embodies the secrets of our ancient past, and whispers out morning’s misty spells to create each day anew. When we are not present, we are someplace else. We find the nourishment and inspiration to really “be” at home where we live, through coming to experience Her mythical dimensions.
These are all things I deeply believe and have lived for more then thirty years. Ironically though, this winter I travelled for the first time in many years. And what I realized was, I may have the opposite problem to the seekers and wonderers. Which is, I’m so focused on these realities of the land, it’s very hard for me to get out and leave. I don’t mean, I’m afraid to go out or that it’s hard for me to leave my work. Rather, I feel so involved with the story and attached to the land, it’s hard to imagine it won’t all collapse when I stop listening and leave, or that it will be there when I come back. It feels like I’m walking out on my Grandmother, part way through her story. Even in February when she seems to be napping, the plot moves forward.
Yet, sometimes we’ve got to go. We’re called out, or the cage of our life gets too tight. This winter, the family and I went on a month long road-trip/book-tour down the Eastern Seaboard to the very tip of Florida. A small thing for most folks I imagine. But for two Taurus’s, who haven’t travelled in ten years since they had kids, it felt like pulling out a stump. In the weeks before we left, the pushing, pulling and hacking of our ties, to get us lose, began in ernest. As the day of departure was approaching, it felt like the main tap root we were pulling on was directly rooted into my gut. The pain increased with each day until I couldn’t sleep or eat well. When I went to the bathroom my stool was black. If you haven’t been eating blood pudding, this generally means there’s bleeding in your digestive tract. Not a good sign.
Before the pain, and seeing signs of blood in my digestive track, I had been thinking ‘gallbladder/liver’ because my digestion seemed really off. I had been taking bitters for my liver, and celandine once (which is very toxic) for my gall bladder, but these digestives weren’t helping as they have before. After suffering through another long sleepless night, on the morning of departure, fearing I might end up in a U.S. hospital without health insurance, I went to our local hospital. They couldn’t tell me what it was but the doctor thought it was most likely a bleeding stomach ulcer, which they can’t do anything for. They told me to watch for fever or other signs of infection and gave me prescriptions for tranquilizers and antacid. I never had to take either.
Once I realized that the problem was my stomach, and there was likely a bleeding (maybe infected) ulcer, and that it wasn’t my liver or gallbladder, my intuition immediately brought me to Plantain. No, not the banana, but the lowly herb. Sometimes, when we think “I know”, it gets in the way of our intuition telling us what we really need.
It’s always amazing when you think you know a herb and have used it for years, but then realize a whole new side of her. This has happened to me many times. Just like people, when they join in to heal or change something, whole new sides of them emerge that we have never seen. When I called on many of my herbal healers for help with Lyme disease, I came to know Teasel, Bee Balm, Boneset, Dandelion, Burdock, Cleavers, Sarsaparilla and many others, in a new way because of the more acute situation. These plants and thousands of others have so many hidden gifts to offer us when we are in need and ready to receive them. These herbs are gifts from the Gods to both sustain our health, and heal us in an acute situation.
Plantain, Plantago major has followed in the wake of colonization as a healing balm. A balm to heal the wounds to the Earth inflicted by horse and cart, and heavy soled shoes. And, a balm for wounds to human and animal alike. The juice, tea or poultices of the green leaf has miraculous properties as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Ribwort is one of Plantain’s common names, and a key to its traditional use. The ribs, which run the length of the leaves, signify how she pulls out toxins, stops bleeding and heals wounds. She pulls the pain and the toxins from the cut and sews it safely closed, free of infection. Thankfully, I’ve know plantain for many decades, and used her topically for every kind of bite to take both the pain and the itch away. As well as for boils, burns (sun and fire), rash (including diaper rash and shingles), mastitis and other infections. I’ve sold plantain to people in Central and South America because it’s in great demand there for use in healing internal aliments, including cirrhosis of the liver. But I had never worked with her myself for internal problems. Plantain is also well known as a lung remedy.
At our farm we wild cultivate her so we can harvest leaves for salad in spring, in early summer for cooked greens, late summer for medicine and we collect the seed in the fall for food. We add it as a part of a wild seed mix that supplements our flours. This highly nutritious oily seed is related to psyllium to she aids in digestion and elimination.
I made a good strong tea/soup and drank it for the first few days we were on the road, eating the leaves and all. I ate the seed in bread, and my morning porridge. And, I did tincture throughout those first “acute” days and afterward in smaller amounts for the remainder of the month long road trip. Within a day or two I was completely better, no more signs of blood or pain.
Like that healing wasn’t enough, she still had more gifts for me. In the extended use of this powerful herb I came to realize; not only is she a healer for the travel beaten roads of the Earth, and the wounds to, and within, our bodies, but the deeper mystery of why she has travelled with us for over nine thousand years. We brought her with us from Asia and the Northern Steppes of Europe, because she is a talisman of the traveler. Her presence and use as a tea, tincture or food has aided us, as immigrants, to humbly blending in with the new place in a useful way (and not aggressively colonize). And she’s given us the toughness to be stepped on and still thrive in diverse conditions. We can also look to her for the ability to quickly form roots that can draw from and transform poor over-compressed ground, where the displaced often find themselves.
Contained in what is the most common of plants, we step on every day, is both a food staple (of greens and grain) and miraculous multifaceted healer.
It’s somehow fitting that this gift who has been with us for thousands of years, so often goes unseen. As we grow up, we’re always told to “look up” and “look ahead”, to keep our “head high” and “chin up”, but really maybe we should be teaching our kids to “look down”, “look what your stepping on”, “look at what sustains and heals us”.
An ancient companion and mysterious healer is growing by your doorstep, don’t miss the chance to introduce yourself to divinity.
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