Anyone would think from the paucity of posts on this blog in the past couple of years that I have given up on herbs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Admittedly, most of my energy now goes into creating new fiction since the pandemic restrictions made it impossible to continue holding workshops and taking on new apprentices. Herbs are still part of my life and help me cope with the myriad of challenges we have faced this year.
Plantain continues to sustain me. Both the greater and narrow-leaved varieties have set themselves up in my garden. I was very surprised to see them edging the flower beds and snuggling up to the lovage in the middle of the largest raised bed underneath the laurel hedge, but I have been so grateful they are there. Every time my husband bruises himself or strains a muscle, the plantain is there, either to chew up for a spit poultice or to gather for another batch of double infused oil for salves. It never disappoints.
This past month has brought several wasp and bee stings. It was interesting to see how my sister’s leg swelled and produced a crimson patch bigger than a hand when she was bitten by two wasps at the same time. I’d made sure she knew what plantain was but the pain was too much for her to move and her husband had recently strimmed the whole garden, thus removing all the easily accessible plants. She finally succumbed to anti-histamines three days after the stings but the angry, crimson swelling took at least two weeks to disappear.
My first bee sting happened at our festival, over a month ago. The poor bee must have mistaken my green sleeve for a plant and didn’t appreciate being squashed when I moved my arm. I managed to poultice it straight away but didn’t renew it until the following day, so there was a red, angry patch for about a week, but no swelling or heat.
You would think I might learn from experience but no. My father’s house has been plagued by wasps these past few weeks. One decided to crawl up inside my trouser leg whilst I was interviewed a lady to become part of my father’s care team as he is now very frail and has difficulty eating.
Of course, the wasp stung me when I touched it to see what was tickling my leg. I’ve done a lot of interviewing in my lifetime, but this was the first times I’d ever had to say, "Excuse me for a moment while I go outside into the pouring rain and find some plantain to chew for a spit poultice."
The poultice was duly fixed, but I was too busy to change it until the following day, which wasn’t enough so again I had a nasty red patch. This time I treated it on the evening of Day 2 with a salve made from fresh plantain and yarrow. I’d made it for my father, gathering the plantain from the field and the yarrow from an overlooked patch behind a stone wall.
Those double infused oils took up one day, then the following morning I melted some gifted raw beeswax, poured it through one of my late mother’s stockings and then left it to set. It produced 12oz of wax, admittedly still attached to some honey, but it will all get used.
The salve was made especially for my father’s itchy legs but after one application he complained it made them worse so I took it home. I was very grateful it was there to address my wasp sting. Five days later of applying it night and morning there is just one tiny, raised spot when the venom was injected. The red area which must have measure 2-3 inches has disappeared.
I love herbs!
Many years ago when I was trying out some stories about herbs for children, I adapted an English translation of Plantain’s portion of the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herb Charm.
Plantain growing on the floor,
Rib-shot leaves you grow so small
See how we dance over you
See how bulls prance over you
Carts rumble over you
Ladies ride horses over you
Small you may be
But strong your leaves
You draw out poisons
And stings from bees
Special plantain, mother of herbs
You help us heal, all over the world.