After spending an entire summer in the city, barely getting out into the mountains at all I finally found a car to borrow and made plans to go for a good long hike over on the North Shore. I woke up in the morning, ran out to the garden to grab some fruit for breakfast and after all my barefoot backyard wanderings without getting stung once… I stepped on a wasp.
Reactions to wasp stings are very different from individual to individual- when I get stung it winds up looking something like this:
If its on my hand, my hand will swell up till I cant make a fist, if it hits my forearm, I swell from my elbow down to my finger tips. If I get stung on the calf I swell from my knee to my toes. The reaction lasts for three or four days and it is pretty miserable the whole time- hot, itchy, irritated by movement or touch.
Because I was in my garden, I ran immediately to a patch of plantain, whose growth I have been encouraging over in the corner by the rosemary, for just this purpose. I pulled some plantain leaves, chewed them into a paste, swallowed half of it and put the other half directly over the sting.
I then went inside, wrapped my foot in a damp cloth that I keep in the freezer and settled down for a while. The result:
A normal looking sting. A small amount of swelling, very little itch (when it does come up I chew come more plantain and apply it to the site) So while my grand plans for mountain adventures may have been dashed for the day, I have high hopes for tomorrow…
Plantain is an extremely adaptable invasive species, brought over from Europe. It likes disturbed, sunny ground and does not require a lot of water. It is likes moisture and is commonly found on road or trail sides, in gardens, and lawns. Unless you find yourself back in the deep woods, plantain is likely to be growing somewhere nearby.
Easily recognized by the parallel veins in the leaves and stem, created by the strong fibers within them, the leaves are arranged in a basal pattern around the base of the plant and the small, flowering stalks/ seed heads stick straight up from the plant. Once you are familiar with this plant it is a great friend to have around- BUT when you are first learning to recognize different species of plants be aware that plantain is similar in looks to several species of lilies, as well as the very deadly false hellebore, so take care in identifying it.
Plantain has multiple uses: it is a gentle remedy for mild intestinal inflammation. A tea can be used to treat chronic lung problems in children. A tincture helps with mild stomach ulcers. The seeds can be soaked until the become mucilaginous and used as a laxative. The Mexican fruit pickers I used to work with considered it a powerful remedy for snake bites, an often used remedy where they were from.
My favorite use of plantain however, is for insect bites. Chewed and placed on the sting it reduces the itch and swelling to a remarkable degree, and this makes it, in the opinion of someone whose eyes swell shut and who gets frequent welts from mosquito bites, never mind wasp stings, one of the best plants to know in the area.