Feral Culture: Summer Self-care with Plantain and Burdock

burdock
Too bad you've spent all your money on flip flops and wine. Luckily help is waiting right outside, free.

It’s on. Summer and all its little cuts, scratches, and bug bites, not to mention the lingering effects of the double bacon cheeseburger and several beers too many you had on the patio yesterday evening.   

Self care is in order. Too bad you’ve spent all your money on flip flops and wine. Luckily help is waiting right outside, free. Plantain and burdock to the rescue.

Wild Plantain 

Plantain (Plantago major), is one of the top 3 lawn colonizers, along with dandelion and grass. Wind pollinated, it can thrive even in the absence of bees. Wherever you are, chances are you are within metres of a plantain. Edible and widely used in the past, its leaf is high in vitamins A, C, and K plus magnesium.

I enjoy it Southern USA style, boiled with mustard greens and a ham hock, or seasoned with bacon fat. Other urban rewilders swear by plantain pesto. Its seeds can be ground and used as a flour rich in vitamin B1, making it valuable for food security in NL.

Plantain is also medicine, and you have probably already heard of it under another name when used as a bulk laxative: this herb’s seeds are the ‘psyllium seeds’ that Metamucil praises so highly.

Laboratory trials with mice given injections of plantain extract showed their mammary tumor formation dropped 65 percent, suggesting it somehow helps block the formation of these tumors. Other trials support these anti-cancer findings, more research is being done. On a more mundane level, plantain is amazing first aid for bug bites, bee or wasp stings, and general cuts and scratches. It slows bleeding and can be applied to the skin as a poultice by simply tearing up a leaf, mixing it with your spit and affixing it with a bandage.

In the highlands of Scotland the plant is referred to as Slan-lus, meaning “plant of healing.” Beware of allergic reaction if you have general pollen allergies. Chest congestion and sneezing could be an issue in this case.

Burdock 

While plantain helps your flesh wounds, burdock (Arctium lappa) helps your poor beleaguered liver. Not that burdock is without its topical uses (it’s useful in treating eczema, psoriasis,  acne, boils, and bruises), but where it really shines is as an alterative or “blood purifier.” It’s one of the best plants for this use.

Removing toxins from the blood, it supports the health of all organs, but is specially valued for treatment of liver disease. The root is the main part employed, but leaves and seeds are equally valuable. August is the best month to gather the root in NL.

The Japanese call burdock root gobo when eaten as a vegetable, often stir-fired in small strips with tamari, sesame oil, sake, and chili. The Iroquois dehydrated it over a fire and stored the high fiber food for winter. While mostly used as a savoury food it can also be candied. It shows considerably stronger antioxidant activity than common fruits and vegetables and studies confirm it has prebiotic properties that may improve gut health, a total bonus during the indulgences of the season. Like booze, avoid this herb if pregnant or nursing, it could hurt your baby.

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