Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two Miracle Workers

I learned about plantain and comfrey many years ago when my children were small. Our family was homesteading in the mountains of North Carolina, and there were others like us living nearby, often people who had escaped from the ratrace of the city and were looking for a quiet and natural lifestyle. The community included quite a few people skilled in healing herbs, and I was an avid learner. It was from Susun Weed's books that I learned how to make plantain salve, and it soon became a popular item with some of my friends. Over the years I've experimented with different additions to the salve: comfrey, calendula and chamomile. And though these good medicinals lend their own great qualities to the mix, the truth is that plantain is the real miracle-worker. It is a humble plant, growing at our feet, especially where we walk frequently. It seems to prefer compacted soil, and Indians used to call it "white man's footsteps" (it was inadvertantly brought over from Europe with the first settlers). The seed head is the psyllium seed that we so commonly use in preparations for "regularity". But it is the leaves that I treasure. You can use them if you're on a walk in the woods and get stung by a bee, or by nettle: just pick a leaf, chew it up a little, and then put the mushy paste on the sore spot. Or if you get a cut or scratch, do the same. I use it in the salve pictured above, and it is by far my best-seller at farmers markets. People come to the market just to buy this! I am so proud of the plantain when this happens; it is like the Frodo of the plant world, small and humble yet so very important to us.

The last time I bought labels for my salves, my doctor recommended that I put something like "for external use only" on it somewhere. So I thought this is what I had included in my order. How surprising to notice, when the labels came in the mail, that I had writen "for internal use only!"  I got a chuckle imagining people buying these jars, getting home with them, reading the label, and beginning to eat the salve! So I put a dark mark through the ridiculous misprint. Next I'll have to think of a snappier name than Herbal Healing Salve. Any suggestions?

With all this praise for plantain, I should not forget comfrey. It is a regular ingredient in my salves because it is a master healer. Just recently I tore the miniscus in my left knee, and nothing seemed to be helping it. I finally realized that I should try a comfrey poultice. I picked several comfrey leaves (comfrey is quite large by now, as you can see from the above picture taken a few minutes ago), put them in the blender for a few seconds with a bit of water, and then put the mush into a washcloth and held it on my knee while I watched Miss Marple on TV. Although I didn't feel much difference that evening, by the next day my knee was almost back to normal, and it has stayed that way unless I give it too much of a workout. Comfrey is famous for knitting tissues and even bones at a rapid rate, and now it would seem that I have personal experience of this.

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