Podcast 205: Herbs A-Z: Pinus & Plantago
Our herbs this week are pine and plantain! A mighty tall tree and a humble herb of the packed earth.
Pine trees come in many varieties. Around Boston we mainly find white pine (Pinus strobus) and red pine (Pinus resinosa), but many others are similar. Pine can help sustain energy and mood, so we consider it a stimulant – but not like coffee. Pine will help you stand steady, not make you jittery. We like to include a bit of twig along with the needles in our tea, as this gets a bit of resinous material in there as well. As Ryn can (and will, at any opportunity) tell you, pines are lovely to climb – if you can make it to the first branch, that is!
Plantain – we’re talking about Plantago species, not the banana thing! – is an herb who loves paths and the people who make them. Whether the introduced and very common Plantago major or P. lanceolata, or the native-to-North-America purple-stemmed P. rugelii, this is a flexible and versatile herb. In this episode we focus on its capacity to help a uniquely modern problem: the impacts on our bodies of pharmaceuticals, especially NSAIDs. At the gut lining and the liver, plantain helps resolve the damage these sometimes-necessary medications can cause. And this from a very safe plant, with no known drug interactions!
Our Integumentary Health course features pine and plantain several times, along with an array of other herbs who help the skin: burdock and calendula, of course, but also turmeric and echinacea, among others. Whatever the problem is – whether we call it eczema, psoriasis, or just “that troublesome patch of skin”, herbs can help! Topical applications for common herbs play a big role in this work, and we also dig into the effective herbs you can take orally to see results on the skin. Like all our offerings, this is a self-paced online video course, which comes with free access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, twice-weekly live Q&A sessions with us, open discussion threads integrated in each lesson, an active student community, study guides, quizzes & capstone assignments, and more!
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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast. Yes. It’s pine and plantain this time.
That’s pretty exciting.
Two great tastes that go great together.
Yes. This is where we sip our tea. Oh, you’re… yeah…helpful.
So that the people…
For the audio. Yeah, right.
Yeah, there’s an audio medium. They need to believe that I really did sip my tea.
Appreciate it, yeah. We did actually make the tea today with the herbs we’re going to talk about. We didn’t do that last week with passionflower and dulse.
That would’ve been a weird tea.
It could have been okay. But this is good.
This is fantastic. I find it totally delicious. We just had a pretty epic series of snow and ice storms that caused us to lose power for nearly a week. And part of the losing power was that so many trees were breaking under the weight of all the snow and ice. And that is a bummer for the trees.
For the trees, yeah.
But it is one of the best ways to get pine. When the storms come or whatever, then a branch will fall down. And then you go get it, you know? Pine is very tall, and you can’t necessarily climb up there to get the branches.
Not every time. Sometimes you can. Yeah, so that’s going to be our herbs for this week.
Obviously, I can’t wait to talk about pine, because I’m just like launching right in. Yeah. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. We have things to say.
That’s good though, yes. So, this is going to be our two plants today. But before we go into that, just a quick reminder that hey kids. You want to learn herbalism by watching tv?
So, you can see me slurp my tea instead of just having to hear it.
Yes. Well, you can. Aha! You can learn herbalism from us online through video courses with a whole bunch of other fun stuff along with them including live Q&As and discussion threads right in each lesson, so that you can post your questions and get a response right away. We’ve got PDFs. We’ve got quick guides. We’ve got quizzes. We’ve got capstone assignments.
And if you’re an audio medium kind of person, don’t worry. Every video has a corresponding audio file. So, you can just put it in your ears and go for a walk if you prefer.
Yeah. And most of our video content has closed captioning too.
Yes. I’ve been really appreciating this week several people wrote in to say hey. For this reason or that reason, I really love the closed captioning. And I’m so grateful that you provide that. So, many people benefit from closed captioning for all different reasons. You know, there’s so many reasons why it can be helpful.
We do it for kind of the same set of many reasons as we make the transcripts of our podcast episodes available. And hey, if you didn’t know, our podcast episodes have transcripts.
They do. They do.
You can find those at commonwealthherbs.com. And you can find our video courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. Basically Commonwealth Herbs. That’s what’s up. Okay. So, before we get to the plants, let’s just remind you that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalist and holistic health educators.
We’re also not professional marketers or advertising agents clearly.
As you may have realized, yes.
So, we could add that to the list of things that we’re not.
Okay. But the ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. For real, they really don’t. We’re not just saying that. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only. Which is enough purposes, actually. It’s a good purpose, yeah.
Yeah. We’re into it. We’re into it, you know? We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as one objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you must adhere to.
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research further.
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey, and it doesn’t mean you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make.
You have the power.
Pine: A Tonifying Tree with Emotional Fortitude
All right. Let’s talk about pine. Let’s talk about… I’m going to pronounce it Pinus, okay?
No, that’s the way.
There’s this option.
No. The way is Pinus.
That might, you know, when you see the Latin name, you might think of this other set of sounds.
No, no, no, no, no, no. It’s Pinus. Pinus strobus, Pinus resinosa, plus a bunch of other ones that don’t live in New England. Like southern yellow pine, ponderosa pine, pinyon pine.
Or you can find some of them at the arboretum, but perhaps not out in the woods.
Yeah, that’s true. Basically what we’re talking about here is long needle pines. And I just want to clarify that there are many other evergreens that you can work with as medicinal tree parts. But today we are talking about pines.
Yeah. Long needles. They come in bundles. Rather than attaching each needle individually attaching to the twig, they’re going to be in bundles. With the white pine you get five needles per bundle. With the red pine around here you get two.
Two or three?
Two. Oh, because a lot of red pines give you three.
I know. And initially I learned it that way too, because it was like white: five letters. W-h-i-t-e: five needles. Awesome. Red pine: sometimes three needles. R-e-d, great. Three letters. But then I climbed several. And I looked at all of the bundles, and I said this is two. This is two. And I went and looked up Pinus resinosa at the fantastic website, Go botany.
Yeah. Oh, so good.
Which it’s not just gobotany.com. It’s like gobotany.newenglandwild.org maybe, or com.
If you put go botany in a search bar, it will get you there.
Yeah. And especially if you’re in the Northeast United States, it’s one of the better places to look for plant identification pictures, and extensive botanical descriptions, and a whole bunch of other great stuff. Yeah
All right. So, five needles, possibly three, often two. Anyway, bundles of needles and they’re attached as a bundle instead of individually like on a hemlock.
Or spruce or fir, you know? Yeah, right. So, for these podcast episodes here, we’re trying to not only repeat all of the same stuff that we have in our Materia Medica course.
Yeah, but to try to do like different, more, additional stuff.
Yeah. But there are some things that I kind of can’t help saying when we talk about pine. Like yeah, the needles, they’re fantastic to make into a tea. They taste good as we’re demonstrating here with our teacups that we’re drinking today. They’re nice and aromatic. That they can kind of lift your mood or even stimulate you a little bit. Not the way that coffee does, but get your blood moving.
You know? Okay. I really do want to talk about that, like the emotional perspective. Is this the time or should I wait for a minute? You’re on your way to a point.
I think this is a good thing to dwell on for a minute.
Okay, great. So, a temporary tangent. Pine, because you were saying to give a little stimulation, a little boost, but not like caffeine. And I think it’s really important to capitalize the not. Because when I’m looking to pine for a boost, the kind of boost that I’m looking for is when I need strength.
By which I mean fortitude. Like the strength to go on and not the strength to stay awake, but I’m going to have the jitters. I’m not looking to pine for a short-term stimulation, although it does have a fast effect. I’m looking to pine… You can kind of compare it to goldenrod in this way. For a marathon kind of situation, or a very heavy kind of situation, or a situation where I’m not sure that I’m strong enough to do what I have to do. Or maybe even where I’m not sure that I’m big enough to do what I have to do, not necessarily physically, but like energetically or emotionally or whatever. That I’m just not sure that I’ve got what it takes kind of a thing. And I guess kind of specifically in terms of energy reserves or resources to draw on, I’m starting to feel poured out. I’m starting to feel like the beginning of exhaustion coming in kind of thing. That’s the kind of boost I’m looking for when I’m turning to pine. And that’s really different than caffeine.
Yeah. I feel like a lot of that has to do with the foundations of the plant, right? So, we think of energetics. We think of this as a warming herb, tonifying, drying in the way that impacts the body. But particularly that tonifying element for this. Pine can help you hold yourself together, you know? Like a lot of astringent plants can be helpful in that way, especially if you have more of a watery type constitution, and you feel yourself leaking a little bit.
It’s funny because, okay, do I say this a lot? I don’t think of pine as very astringent. I think I must say that kind of a lot. But again, I have a cold and damp constitution, so something has to be really pretty astringent for me to feel the astringency.
For sure. I wouldn’t say very astringent. I mean, I enjoy drinking pine. And I can drink many cups of it in a day and feel pretty good. And it doesn’t cramp up my guts, or dry me out too much, or anything like that. So, it’s a flexible herb for a variety of different constitutional patterns. Yeah. And I have something kind of similar to you, because for me I think of pine a lot – and many evergreens, honestly – when it’s like all right. I want to make an endurance blend. I want to make something where I’m going to go and have a week of a lot of exertion, whether it was moving, or whether it was doing MovNat events in the deserts and forests or whatever. But yeah, it’s like I’m going to be putting a lot out. I still need to hold on to something to sustain me and kind of feed the fire the next day.
Also I’m thinking about herb conferences. Because that’s where we met ponderosa pine and pinyon pine. Because they grow in the Southwest, and that’s when we were teaching at some herb conferences in the Southwest. And that’s where we got to have firsthand experience with those pines. And the same thing. When you’re teaching at an herb conference, it is like an endurance sport.
It’s a lot of output of energy.
Yeah. It’s a lot a lot of output. And pine is very helpful in that kind of a situation.
Twiggy Bits, Needles, & Steams
Yeah, definitely. The needles, you know, and this is really what we’ve been talking about this time. I can’t sneak by without saying that they’re high in vitamin C. Yes, that’s great.
They are. It’s important.
They are. It does matter. Yeah. You know, if you have pine and rosehips, there you’ve got a really nice complex of vitamin C and bioflavonoids. You’ve got the terpenoids in the pine. You’ve got those aromatic elements. That’s a really good one that will prevent you from getting scurvy for sure.
Yes. You said the needles. I will specify that when I make tea from pine, I also put in some twiggy parts. And usually, so the way that the branches form, there’ll be like a strong central branch. And then some of the bundles might attach right to that strong central branch. But some of them will have these just sort of little three or four inch, little, tiny branch, like branchlet. It would be a petiole on a plant, but on a tree it’s little twigs. Yeah. And then at the tip of that twig is the bundle of pine needles. And it’s those. They’re quite soft. You could measure the diameter in millimeters. They’re thicker than an earring, but maybe two earring things put together. They’re not that thick, right? They’re pretty small. They’re very flexy. They’re very bendy. And so I like to put that part into the tea along with the needles. And part of the reason there is that I really like the resin-y, high aromatic, high resin aspect that you get more from the woody part. That is in the needles, but very light. And I just like to be a little heavy-handed with those constituents. So, I put in some twiggy bits also.
Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve often wondered when we look at pine species across the world. And pine, the way it turns up in in supplements and products and commercial things, there’s this product that you’ll see named very frequently called pycnogenol. And this is an extract from the bark of French maritime pine ™, you know?
No other pine will do. Accept no substitutes.
Special pine, slightly different chemistry. Yeah, okay. But, you know, it’s very famous as an antioxidant. And it’s been studied pretty extensively for those kinds of effects and beneficial for inflammatory issues of a wide array. And kind of looking at that and thinking well, you know. The twig is barky, and there’s that, like you say, the resin layer in there. And I think that it’s good to include, and it kind of broadens the set of chemistries of the entire pine organism that you get in your teacup. Yeah, so we’ve come to prefer to keep both needle and some twig into there for us. The other thing that we often like to say and repeat about working with pine needles is that they’re good for a steam.
They are great in a steam.
They’re handy to include in your steams.
Yeah. They’re delicious in a steam. Except the smelly kind of delicious.
The smelly kind, yeah.
As opposed to the eating kind of delicious.
Yeah. Steams are helpful for a lot of reasons. Steams are really helpful for clearing out your sinuses. They’re helpful if you’re kind of blocked up and have got a bunch of snot stuck in there. When you’re doing a steam, not just with plain water, but with herbs, you’re going to get delivery of these volatiles right into your respiratory tracts through your sinuses down into your lungs. That can stimulate immunity there. That can warm your lungs, heat up your system. Maybe help you expectorate some cold, damp, stuck, heavy phlegm that might be down into there. Yeah. So, these are all kinds of reasons we like to go for steam.
Harvesting Fresh Pine & Climbing Trees
And one really nice thing about pine in a steam is that if you live in a place where there is pine, then you have it whenever you need it. Maybe you had some oregano, and you ran out. And you had some thyme, and you ran out. And you had some all the different things that are also great in a steam. And you’re just like I’m out of all the herbs. I don’t know what to do. It’s the middle of winter. I can’t grow anymore. But hark, the pine. And so you can just go out and get yourself some pine needles. And you should go out and get the pine needles. That is the one tricky thing about pine. You really can’t store it.
Yeah. We haven’t had success storing pine needles for too long. They turn brown sitting in the jar. They’re clearly very sensitive to light exposure. Once you pull them off of the twig, you figure there’s a countdown timer that started to run.
And it’s short. It’s really short.
Yeah. So, what we do to solve this problem is we leave them on the twigs, on the branches for as long as possible. Today was a good example for that. I went out this morning to take a walk with the dog and see what’s going on some of the trails here in the forest around where we live. And a lot of downed branches, a lot of big half trees kind of knocked over and laying in the middle of everything. And so a lot of downed pine. And I took a couple of moderate-sized branches home.
Taller than you. Pretty tall.
I’m not so tall. So, they’re still pretty moderate. But yeah. And I brought them home. And because we have this giant pile of snow everywhere, I just sort of jammed them into the snowbank standing upright as if they were growing there.
Just like a tree. Yeah.
And that seems great. It’s cool outside. They’re going to be happy there. And there is something about leaving it on the twig or on the branch that seems to help. Even in the summertime, if we find a downed even a small branch and bring it home. We’ll just bring it in, leave it on the branch, but set it on a table. And then pull off however many handfuls of pine needles we want to make this pot of tea or the steam or whatever we’re doing. And otherwise leave the rest right there on the branch until they’re all stripped off.
It’s like buying tomatoes on the vine, right? The vine, or in this case the branch is still providing sustenance. So, those needles are not dead yet, actually. They’re in this kind of still alive state. Because even though the branch has been broken off the tree, the needles are still receiving nourishment from the branch. So, yeah. It’s the way to keep them fresh right up until the last minute.
Yeah. That’s how we like to do it. I find it difficult to talk about pine without discussing tree climbing.
I love that about you. Really, really, I do.
It’s not always the easiest thing to do to climb a pine tree. Because in many cases they’re going to drop or lose, or someone’s going to come by and knock over or knock down their lower limbs. Because pine trees can get very tall.
Like really, really tall. I don’t know. What are they, a hundred feet tall? Are they 200 feet tall? It’s hard to…
You hear about 200-foot pine trees, especially white pine trees here in the New England area, but not for a couple hundred years. And the reason is that when the Europeans showed up around here, they wanted to harvest the largest white pine trees for masts for sailing ships. And you know, by the time that there were local governors and whatever, they would be like these are reserved. We marked them with the arrow sigil, and that means that you can’t harvest that, or you’ll get in big trouble. But the thing was that those would only grow in the right conditions, like if there’s a ravine. And so the pine can grow up pretty tall, but not be exposed to wind for all of its height. That’s really important, and that’s not everywhere. So, in our forest there’s lots of places where pines can grow 40, 50 feet tall. But they’re not going to reach 200, because they would be standing alone above the hemlocks and the maples and whatever else.
I don’t know. It’s very challenging for me to estimate vertical height. But they are taller than all of the other trees. And the funny thing is that they’re kind of like Q-tips. They go straight up, straight up, straight up, straight up with really no branches, because all the lower branches come off over the years. And they get to where they’re taller than all the other trees. And then there’s like all of the branches with all of… It’s like the entire tree is above the other trees.
Because, you know, what’s happened is that over time, as the other trees have grown up around it. Or as it’s kind of gone that way, then those lower limbs are shaded. And so the tree says well, I’m not going to put pine needles down here, because there’s no sunlight getting down here. I’m going to grow up higher, and I’m going to put all my needles up there. So, that can be a barrier to climbing some pine trees now and then. But every now and then you do find one, and you can reach a lower limb. And now you triple check and make sure it’s sturdy. And you practice all your good safe climbing habits and everything. A few years ago we lived in Dorchester, and one of my favorite things about that neighborhood was that there was a park very close by that we could go play with Elsie the dog. And she loved it there. But also, I could go there, and I could climb. There was like four or five white pine trees.
They were red pine, weren’t they?
I’m sorry. There were four, exactly four red pine trees growing on this one corner of the park. And I would go out there oh, you know, in the morning, or at midnight, or in the middle of a thunderstorm, or other things like that, which I’m not saying I recommend. But it was something that I did and found delightful. And, you know, just building that habit. There was a full year where I made it a habit to climb a tree every single day. And it was almost always this one particular red pine tree that was over there at the park. And so I would often find myself like oh, time to go there. And I would kind of walk through the neighborhood. And it also kind of made me be thinking more about other plants. I remember in that year – this is all leading somewhere, I tell you – I was noticing in the springtime forsythia plants around people’s houses. And there was one right next to this house with the blue shingles on it. And I really marked it in my mind – that’s the forsythia right there – so that I could still see it after it dropped its distinctive yellow flowers. And then it was just sort of a green bushy shrub thing. And then I would walk over to the park. And I would jump over the park benches, and run around in the field, and go over to the tree, and climb up it, and hang out there for a while, and meditate or look at the stars or do other things like that. So, if you would like to hear that story in the form of a poem, it goes like this.
that’s a forsythia, at blue-shingle house. here in my height & i vaulted both benches. all up the pine i hear planes passing over until at the apex i climb to my senses. the view from the top of the red-barked tree, trimmedest of a quartet at the park: only up there could i feel-hear-see beyond electricloud to star-stud dark.
Well, there you go.
There you go. I like that.
Yeah. That’s my… well, one of some pine poems. You’ve got to have more than one, right?
Public Parks & Resinous Pines
Yeah, no. Listen, public parks are so important. They’re so important. I just think about where we lived in that apartment. And I liked living there, but it was near the airport. And so there were airplanes like literally every minute.
That’s the planes passing over, yeah, all the time.
Actually literally every minute. And it was a challenging sensory environment to live in. It was quite stressful on a low level that you both don’t consciously notice. And when you do consciously notice it, then you try to like chastise yourself for being stressed about an airplane. But listen, noise pollution is a serious, serious problem and a health impact. And so this particular park was just full of lots of trees. There were also white pine trees there and oak and other things. There was a section that was really woody, and then there were these four red pines altogether. And then of course there was like a big ball field. And there was a playground part and different things. But even just being in that park, which was like, I don’t know, an acre.
There were animals there. I saw coyotes a couple times. There were lots of squirrels obviously. But yeah.
It makes a huge difference when you are kind of like flooded with the input of the city. And when you live in a city, it can be hard to recognize that you are flooded with the input of the city, until you get into a green space. And you realize like oh, I’m relaxing things that I didn’t realize were tense. Yeah. So, even if there’s only grass and trees at a park. And you think well, there’s no herbs here that are fun. Well, first of all, most trees are actually herbs. And secondly, it’s still good. It is still good. Just go. And if you are not into tree climbing, it’s okay. You can just sit at the foot of the tree and be in that place too.
Yeah. I did enjoy that tree, because you pretty much had to jump and kind of reach up and grab the first limb and sort of lift your legs up above there to hook onto the next one.
It was a challenge.
It wasn’t the easiest thing to get to. But up at the top it was really comfy. It was like a nice place to hang out, and just rest, and just feel totally supported. The other thing I love about climbing especially a red pine tree, which it’s Latin name is Pinus resinosa, because it is resinous. Like it exudes even more resin than the white pine or a lot of other evergreens do. And you know it when you come down, and then you have the stickiness all over you. And just, I don’t know, for me it always sort of felt like oh, I’m getting a little pine to carry home with me. And maybe you get a little in your hair like I did earlier today.
And you always had it in your clothes. And it’s not easy to wash out of the clothes.
It’s not the easiest thing, yeah. But you know, despite the maybe frustrations or whatever that come with that, it was like ah, this tree is coming with me.
Yeah. And that resin is good medicine, let’s say.
Well, speaking of climbing in resin, I am reminded of a picture we have. Because we were getting some resin from a white pine tree. And this was a white pine with no lower branches. It was just like straight up for a long time. And a branch had come off. And so a big clump of resin had formed there. And if you’re going to harvest resin, it’s important to recognize that the big clumps of resin on the pine tree, that’s a scab for the tree, and it covers a wound. So, if you’re going to take some of it, then first off, you need to make sure that it is a really big clump. And sometimes they are, like it just keeps exuding sap. And you might have like a clump the size of a… Clump is the technical term.
Oh yeah, of course.
A unit of… yeah.
Right. Sometimes they’re the size of a golf ball. And so when you find something like that, you can say okay. Well, I can remove about half of this without harming the tree. Like, I’m still leaving a good thick seal over and making sure that the wound that the tree has covered is in fact still covered. But it’s really important that you don’t scrape it down all the way, because now you’re just reopening the wound on the tree, right? Okay. So, we had seen this egg-sized clump of pine resin. And we were like hey, that’s a great place to harvest. Because there’s so much of it, and we can leave a lot and still have some for us. But it was wicked high in the tree. So, I stood at the base of the tree. And then Ryn climbed up, and stood on my shoulders, and on his tippy toes, and then was up there getting the resin out. And then somehow like standing there I snapped a selfie, like me with his feet. And yeah, it was pretty funny.
So, these may be some pine adventures that you could enjoy. Once you’ve got your resin, you can work with that primarily through oil, you know. So we’ll melt that into some oil. Stir that up really good as it’s gently heating. Gently, gently. Slow and slow. And that will eventually dissolve mostly into the oil. And then you can strain it through cloth and everything.
Right, because there’s going to be some dirt and some like twiggy bits or bits of bark or whatever. Don’t try to pick that stuff out, because first off, it’s almost impossible to do. And secondly, your hands will be just a resinous mess. So, just plunk it all into the oil. It’s not a problem. Because once it all dissolves, you’ll strain it and all that will come out.
Yeah. And there will be some, you know, kind of gummy stuff that doesn’t fully dissolve, but that’s fine. The majority of what we’re aiming at here is going to melt out and come into the oil. And then now you can rub that on directly like a massage oil or make it up into a salve. And we always have pine resin salve in several different containers around the house and in all the first aid kits and travel kits and everything like that.
It’s my favorite salve. Of every salve, pine resin salve is my favorite salve.
Yeah. It’s an excellent vulnerary.
It’s antiseptic. It’s vulnerary. It’s like every possible wound thing that you could think of…
Local immune stimulation.
all at once.
Yeah. Wonderful stuff. We really love it.
It’s like proto-propolis.
Yeah, because the resin-y bits are what the bees take to make propolis. And so okay, propolis is like pine resin or other tree resins plus bee magic. And that’s pretty amazing. But the resin itself is already really amazing, so.
Plantain: A Path Herb of Resilience & Sting Relief
Yeah. All right. So, those are some pine-y thoughts. But let’s move on. Let’s talk about plantain. And this – I can’t help but do it – is not the banana thing.
Yeah. No, no. Not the banana.
Every single time I mention plantain, especially to a new group of students, it’s like let’s talk about plantain, not the banana thing. This is a cute little herb that grows on the ground. Here there’s a number of species, actually, not just in New England, but all around the world. We mainly talk about Plantago major and Plantago lanceolata. Those are the ones you’re most likely to encounter if you buy some plantain leaf from an herb supplier, for instance. There’s also Plantago rugelii.
Plantain with the googly eyes.
Yes. Plantago RU-gelii. Why would you say it any other way? That option is available. That has to be the way. RU-gelii.
Well, we need to – and I can’t believe we haven’t ever – but we need to get a plantain plant and put little Google eyes on it.
We do. So rugelii is the native plantain. The other plantain species are naturalized from Europe, but rugelii is the native plantain. And you know it by it has a lot of purple on the stem. And occasionally the major species also has some purple on the stem. But if you’re like huh, there’s a little purple there. That’s Plantago major. If you’re like whoa, the purple, you’ve got rugelii.
Yeah, right. And, you know, that’s like a clarification one can add to a thing herbalists in the U.S. have been saying since probably the seventies. About how a number of indigenous groups here referred to plantain as white man’s footprint. But when you realize that there was a native species here, you mean oh, so it wasn’t just like hey, I’ve never seen that before. The white people brought it. It was oh, this is a different kind of… And now you fill in the name that would’ve been used for that plant among those peoples.
Yeah. So, that’s one of the kind of classic things that you need to mention about plantain. But here we want to add a little layer of nuance to this.
You know, it is called that in other languages.
Footprint, path herb.
Path herb, yeah. Like in Russian it’s подорожник, which is it grows next to the path. The German name is escaping me at this moment. But I know we have listeners in Germany, so y’all can laugh at me for forgetting it. But it’s a footprint or a path herb. And the reason for that is because that is in fact where plantain grows. Some plants really like compacted soil. Like super mashed down, cars drive on it all the time. People walk on it all the time. Plantain is the one that you find if you’re at a park, or you’re at somewhere where there are sidewalks that are surrounding green area, and everybody cuts the corner. And that has created a trampled down path that is cutting the corner. And the trampled down path is usually hard, hard, hard, compacted dirt. That’s where the plantain will be growing, because that’s what it wants. It really wants that.
Yeah. My favorite example of that ever was a bike path and just this big healthy-looking plantain right there in the middle. I mean it was laying flat on the ground because it got flattened many times every day. But it looked fine. It was happy there, you know. That’s resilience. I was like oh, you’ve got something going on special.
Yeah. This is a plant of resilience. This is a plant much like dandelion. These are two plants that you can’t keep them down. You can pave over these plants, and they still will grow. Yeah, they’re kind of amazing.
Yeah. We love it for that. But at the same time, it’s not like a ferocious plant that’s going to hurt people or have a narrow therapeutic window or anything like that.
Or become invasive. Although I guess some people might think that dandelions in their yard are invasive, but that’s not true. It’s just nature bringing you beautiful yellow flowers, so you can feel happy. Plus food. Food.
Yeah. Plantain is often introduced first as a playground medicine for cuts and scrapes and bites and stings from mosquitoes and that sort of stuff. But look, honestly, if I was stung by a scorpion, and I saw a plantain, I would grab it.
But remember the time that you were stung by a bee?
Oh, more than once.
So, okay. Actually, this time that is in my mind, it was in that same park.
In the same park, yeah.
In Dorchester. And that park, the grass had lots and lots of clover in it and also some plantain in it. And the bees loved the clover, but it was close-cropped, because they mowed it all the time. And so the clover was like super close to the ground. So, if you’re walking around in the park barefoot being of course attentive for any neglected dog poop, obviously. But you’re walking around in the park barefoot, and all this clover is like low close to the ground. And all the bees are doing their work. And maybe accidentally ah, you step on a bee. And you feel really terrible about it like you did, but also your foot really hurts. And then you just ran and…
Yeah. I was able to sort of sit down and grab some plantain from over there. Chew it up a little bit. Put it right onto the sting. And you feel it recede the pain of the sting. You feel it recede within 30 seconds. It’s kind of amazing.
It’s amazing every time. Actually, now that we’re talking about it, I remember a time this happened in a park in Brighton also. This has happened a bunch of times. And every time it’s kind of like whoa, I can’t believe this is working.
Yeah. That’s kind of fun with herbalism. Because there are many things like that where you’re like oh, it’s working… again. Yeah. But it’s still, I don’t know, it’s exciting. It feels good.
It’s like listen, plants work, that’s fine. But when it’s something that is that overt and that sudden and immediate. And you’re just like ow ow ow. Hey, it’s gone. That’s really fun. It’s really fun. Yeah.
Yeah. So, we love it for stings. And it is anti-inflammatory to the sting. It does seem to really be able to draw out that irritation. And that extends not just to when there’s literal venom in there. But when there’s hot, red expressions on the skin and you can apply plantain, I think especially fresh plantain preparations to that. Then it can really cool that redness down pretty quick and relieve that pain and that discomfort.
Salve will do, because you can’t always have fresh plantain, right? You could freeze some into ice cube trays, but you can’t always have it. And so yes, a salve. But listen. Make your salve from fresh plantain. The only time that I really want to make anything with dried plantain is tea. That’s it. Everything else, is fresh, fresh, fresh, fresh.
Right. Yeah. You can try to chew on plantain leaves for food and everything, but the ribs down the midline and down really vertical, all the lines, parallel lines running up the leaf from base to tip, they’re pretty fibery.
They’re stronger than celery.
Yeah. This is a good comparison.
It’s the same kind of stringy thing, but even stronger.
Yeah. So, not the best salad herb really. Maybe if you get them really young, really small.
Yeah. Tender, young plantain.
Yeah, that’d be lovely.
It could be tasty. Yeah.
A Vulnerary with Biofilm Busting Abilities
You know, the fresh plantain leaf, or a poultice, or if we work with the salve, or that kind of thing, it’s just an amazing vulnerary. This herb really stimulates the capacity of the wound to heal. And plantain is also going to have a beneficial effect in terms of infection, you know? With wound care you’re always thinking, I want to encourage this to heal, but I don’t want any chance of an infection to persist as that progresses. So, plantain isn’t the most powerful direct antimicrobial to kill off the bugs, you know? But it is very helpful, because it can disrupt biofilms. It can break those up. And that makes it easier for either your immune system or your other herbs. Or honestly, if we were doing some collaborative medicine, we could even help this to improve the efficacy of an antibiotic or something like that.
Right. Like when you get antibiotic resistance. Especially topically, but honestly there are other quorum sensing inhibiting herbs that are assistive for antibiotic resistance internally too. So, I don’t want to just entirely limit it only to topical applications. But yeah, biofilms are a whole thing. And that is microbes protecting themselves in a community. It’s not like only one kind of bacteria has formed a film. It is a whole bunch of different microbes, many of which are pathogenic, that have glommed together, and they share work. And they literally have formed a community. And different parts do different tasks for the whole. And at that point, that entity is no longer something that our immune system is able to fight off. Our immune system expects to go cell to cell, like one immune cell responding to one pathogenic cell. And that’s how it does its work best. It’s not really very easy for our immune systems to take on an entire organized and complex organism, which is what a biofilm is. So, that’s how we get antibiotic resistance or other types of resistance. And that’s how we get infections that can’t be healed, even if it didn’t have an antibiotic. Like maybe no antibiotic was ever introduced, but you just have this thing that just won’t heal. And so these herbs like plantain that have these quorum sensing inhibition properties, biofilm busting properties, make it possible for other herbs that have antimicrobial action – or if it was something that required an antibiotic, then the antibiotic – to be able to be effective against that infection.
Yeah, right. And you know, here we have this tea today of pine together with plantain. And this would be a decent combo. I have realized that as I’ve been drinking this, I’ve been like swishing it around in my mouth several times. And apparently my gums wanted me to take care of them or something, because it’s driving me to do this. But yeah, like that combination, you do get some direct antimicrobial from the pine. You get the biofilm busting from the plantain. This is a decent dental combo, you know?
Yeah. A really good one.
A swollen mouth. You chewed on the side of your cheek or something like that.
Even if you had a cold sore, you know, this would be really, really effective. I know everybody’s like lemon balm, lemon balm. But this would be a fantastic blend for a cold sore.
Yeah. But learning this kind of thing about plantain and its contribution to that sort of job is a good reason to include it in something like a mouthwash formula. Yeah. You know, when we drink plantain tea those effects don’t stop in the mouth, right? They go all the way down your GI tract and that could include helping to deal with some gut infection or stomach infection. Somebody’s got an ulcer. They have H. pylori going on to an excessive degree. Because everybody… Not everybody, but most people have some H. pylori.
It can be part of this complete microbiome. It’s just when it starts to be bigger than there’s space for, then okay. Now we start to have problems.
Right. But yeah, you know, plantain is helpful in that way all the way through. And then again, that vulnerary effect encouraging the wounds to heal. And don’t just think of big open gashes, like a bleeding ulcer inside of you somewhere. But also places where there’s been persistent inflammation, and that’s compromised the integrity of the tissue, right? So, leaky gut syndrome is a way to express how that can manifest.
You know, when you fall off your bike or whatever, and you get road rash. It’s just like a ton of little, tiny cuts or all those little abrasions. And nothing is very deep. It’s just all scratched up, you know? And I think about that in the guts. If you have had a lot of diarrhea. If you maybe have been eating a bunch of junk, because listen, sometimes that happens. There’s no shame. Or if you’ve been taking a bunch of NSAIDs. All of these things cause damage to the gut lining. And it isn’t necessarily like a whole darn ulcer in your guts, although that’s an option.
Right. Yeah. But it’s like road rash, but on the lining of your intestines. And so if you think about that. And you’re like well, I need to sooth that. I need to heal that. And that is a place where plantain can really do great work.
Yeah. And look, I mean, you work with the agents that are going to do the trick, or the ones that you’ve got, or whatever you need to do in the moment. So, if you need to take some NSAIDs because of pain, because of whatever else is going on, then knowing that plantain can help clear up some of the damage that occurs as a result of that can not just give you peace of mind, but literally help to do just that. To help to resolve some of that issue.
I really feel like…
Gut Harm Reduction & Caring for Your Liver
It’s harm reduction.
Yes. I really feel like the United States, or the western world, or the world in general, I don’t even know. People have gotten the message that if you take antibiotics, you need to take probiotics. It’s taken a decade or so, but people have gotten that message. And I think that the general mainstream public is pretty clear on that. So, I think the next message that we all need to be working on is if you take an NSAID, you need some gut heal. The damage that NSAID’s do to your guts is not optional. It’s not like oh, that could happen, but probably won’t. No, it absolutely will happen. It will happen with the first dose. But it’s not the end of the world. It’s just like a scrape, you know? You don’t say, I’m never climbing a tree, because I might get a scrape. No. You do it, and then you just take care of the scrape. That’s fine.
Put a little plantain salve on there, and it heals up fine.
You’re good to go, right. And so it’s the same thing internally. If you have to do that, then you have to. If you have to take an NSAID, then you have to. You don’t lose your herbalism club card because you did that. That’s fine. But then we just say oh, I had to take an ibuprofen. Now I drink some plantain tea.
Yeah. Nice. All right. So…
Wait. Hepatoprotective. We wanted to talk about livers.
Well yeah, the liver, okay.
We got stuck in the digestive tract, and we were pretty excited about it. But we don’t want to forget the liver also.
Your liver is like hey, I’m attached.
I’ve got a tube that runs right into there. Come on. I’m part of the team. Yeah. Right. So, not just NSAIDS but a lot of pharmaceuticals, they put stress on your liver. And again, it’s not like a side effect. It’s not like a mysterious thing that sometimes happens and sometimes doesn’t. It’s a result of the way your body processes these foreign substances. And we can say that it regards them as being toxic or mysterious or strange, and something to be broken down, joined to other substances to make it inert, so that you can excrete it. You can get it out of you.
I’ve been thinking about a new analogy for the liver in this regard.
Oh, let’s hear it.
All right. So, we have an air filter in our house. His name is Jeff. And this air filter has a monitor. And it will tell you how many parts per whatever.
The 2.5m particle… yeah.
Yeah. It’ll tell you how many of them are in the air right now that it’s cleaning. And it’ll give you little blue if it’s like the best possible. And then green if it’s still really good. And then yellow and orange and red if there’s a bunch of smoke or whatever.
Or the painters just left or whatever.
Yeah. So, basically, it’s just constantly monitoring the particles in the air and telling you about the air quality of the air that’s going through the filter. Which is cool and kind of maddening, because you just want to look at it all the time and be like, am I passing? Is my air good? Like whatever. And here’s the thing though. Maybe you’re baking a cake, or I’m baking a cake, or lit some incense, because I like incense. And when I do those things, Jeff, the air filter, freaks out. And it’s like particles in the air. And then it like changes to yellow and orange and rarely red. A cake doesn’t turn Jeff red. But it kicks on the fan higher. And it’s like I’ve got to clean all these particles from the air. And I’m like actually I’m perfectly happy for my house to smell like cake. Thanks. That one’s actually not a problem. But the thing is that the air filter is designed to detect particles. It’s not designed to say cake smell is good. Smoke smell is bad. Paint smell is bad, whatever. It can’t tell the difference.
Incense smoke is okay. Signs of the wallpaper burning is bad. It can’t make that determination very well.
It can’t make the distinction. It just says particles in the air. Must clean. And so that’s your liver. Your liver does not understand that if you’re taking organ rejection drugs, those things are keeping you alive. Your liver is like oh, foreign particles in the bloodstream. Must clean. And that’s why you have to take more than one dose, right? That’s my new analogy. That’s it.
Cool. Okay. And plantain is here to vacuum the filters on the inside, so that the filter itself can function more efficiently.
Yes. Let’s go with that.
Something along those lines.
We may be stretching our metaphor at this point.
Plantain is caring for the filter, so that the filter can care for you.
Ah, there we go. Yes. Thanks, plantain. But again, that is a valuable category of herbs to think about in modern contexts. A hundred years ago, this was not one of the key features of plantain. That it could support people who were taking pharmaceutical medicines that were necessary for their health but had some extra stress on the liver. But that’s a really common situation now, especially in say elders or other people who’ve just had a lot of intersections with medical substances. And so the nice thing about plantain is that despite this direct action on the liver, it’s not the kind of action that’s going to change or compromise the expected metabolism of the drug. And we can compare that to something like St. John’s wort, which acts on your liver. Accelerates your metabolism of a lot of drugs. And because of that, it’s not a good thing to combine with most pharmaceuticals. Because it could make your drug less effective, or not work in the way it’s expected to do, or other things like this. Plantain is quite safe. And so that’s really handy if you have someone who has six different prescriptions they need to take every day. And they probably are going to need them for the rest of their life. Okay. Can we have them drink plantain tea on a regular basis? That could be pretty helpful.
And you know what is like double bonus about that is that lots of pharmaceuticals have gut side effects, like maybe cause upset stomach, or cause gut lining injury, or whatever else. It’s not just NSAIDs. Many other drugs do that too. And sometimes you need the pharmaceutical in spite of the side effects. You’re like well, it’s keeping me alive. And therefore I just have to deal with the gut distress that I’m getting or whatever. But so here we are protecting the liver, supporting liver health, and also healing up gut damage on the way to the liver. So, you get two for one action there.
Yeah. Really good stuff. Okay. I think, I think we’re probably done there for the discussion.
It’s just that we like these two plants a lot.
Yeah. Before we go, I wanted to just make a comment pine and plantain are both really excellent herbs for skin issues, right? We’ve talked about scrapes and infected wounds and different things here. But they’re not the only ones that can help out, not by a long shot. And if you know a little bit about herbs already, you might be thinking yeah, calendula, burdock. Super good herbs for the skin. But how about turmeric? How about echinacea? They can help actually. Yeah. And you know, skin issues, they’re not just cosmetic. It’s like that’s not what we’re talking about. They can be an expression of a deeper issue. So, it’s really good to take steps to improve them, and herbs can play a big role in that work. So, we have a course for you, if you want to go further with that. It’s the Integumentary Health course, the Skin Health course. And like all of our courses, if you buy this one, you’ll also get live Q&A sessions with us twice a week. Integrated discussion threads in every lesson. Lifetime access to all of the material and any future updates that we make. Quick guide PDFs, action prompts to help you make it real. A capstone assignment at the end so you can feel like you tested yourself.
But don’t be stressed out about it. It’s fun. And we are the ones who read it, so it’s like we’re all in this little club together. I don’t know. Some people get stressed out about capstones, but it’s not the stressful kind. It’s the good kind.
You’re going to love it. So, you can find that and all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. All right. That’s it for us. We’ll see you next time. You’ll hear us next time, I suppose is more accurate.
Unless they’re watching on YouTube.
Unless they are.
In which case, see you next time.
Yeah. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
And climb a tree safely, safely., Safely,
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