Plantain (Plantago major—not the banana-like fruit!) is one of my favourite herbs, but not for the reasons you might think. I like it because I see it everywhere, growing in alleys and public parks, and I just think it’s a fun thing to see something so useful thriving everywhere. It’s like the sparrow of herbs! It’s also sort of fun to point it out to people as most people just think of it as a nameless weed. Today we’re turning that backyard weed into a really neat Plantain Chamomile Ointment—it’s got a great vaseline-y/ointmenty consistency and is great for summer scrapes and bug bites.
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Plantain has a long history of use in wound healing. “P. major contains biologically active compounds such as polysaccharides, lipids, caffeic acid derivatives, flavonoids, iridoid glycosides and terpenoids. Alkaloids and some organic acids have also been detected. A range of biological activities has been found from plant extracts including wound healing activity, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, weak antibiotic, immuno modulating and antiulcerogenic activity.” (source)
P. major has been used to boost healing and stave off infection for centuries, and was “described by the Greek physician Dioscorides in ‘De materia medica’ in the first century” (source), while groblad, the Norweigan and Swedish name for the plant, translates as “healing leaves”. Traditional healing uses include mixing it with honey and applying it to the skin, or cooking it with butter and eating it. It even makes an appearance in Romeo & Juliet!
Scientific studies have also demonstrated the efficacy of P. major, finding wounds treated with plantain extract healed faster than wounds treated with a commercially available ointment. The study concluded “P. major extract showed good effects on wound healing processes rendering it a promising candidate for the treatment of wounds what also justified its traditional usage in wound treatment.” (source). Cool, eh? If you want to learn more I’d recommend The traditional uses, chemical constituents and biological activities of Plantago major L. A review and Evaluation of healing wound and genotoxicity potentials from extracts hydroalcoholic of Plantago major and Siparuna guianensis as some great continued reading!
The other herb we’re using is Matricaria recutita L., aka German Chamomile. Chamomile is another one of those used-for-centuries herbs that has some good scientific evidence demonstrating its efficacy. “In the pharmacological study in humans, ointment containing matricaria flower extract was more effective than 0.1% hydrocortisone (anti-inflammatory synthetic drug) in reduced chemically-induced toxic dermatitis”, and “In another clinical study, after 2 weeks of treatment of patients with medium-degree atopic eczema, effectiveness of creams containing matricaria flower extract was superior to that of 0.5% hydrocortisone cream with respect to the symptoms of pruritus [itching skin], erythema [redness due to irritation or injury] and desquamation [peeling skin].” (source). So, when it comes to soothing irritated skin and helping it heal, Matricaria recutita L. is pretty great, and has been shown to out perform hydrocortisone creams!
All of that is to say there’s some good evidence supporting the use of plantain as a healing ingredient, and chamomile as a skin soothing ingredient and healing support. I love it when awesome plant-based ingredients have scientific studies standing behind their awesomeness.
We’re thickening the herb infused oils with a blend of cera bellina and cetyl alcohol. Cera bellina is a modified beeswax that gives this salve its amazing ointment-y consistency. You could use beeswax or 2g of a c-wax (candellila, carnauba) instead, but you’ll lose that super cool soft-peaks ointment thing. Cetyl alcohol helps further thicken the ointment while also helping cut the greasiness that cera bellina can bring. A touch of mango butter rounds the whole thing out, for a bit of thickening power and faster absorption.
Once you’ve got the ingredients it comes together wonderfully easily; weigh, melt, stir, voila. Enjoy your Plantain Chamomile Ointment!
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Plantain Chamomile Ointment
3g | 0.1oz cera bellina (USA | Canada)
8g | 0.28oz plantain infused grapeseed oil
6g | 0.21oz chamomile infused olive oil (pomace)
3g | 0.1oz mango butter
0.4g | 0.014oz cetyl alcohol
0.1g | 1 drop Vitamin E MT-50 (USA / Canada)
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the cera bellina, infused oils, mango butter, cetyl alcohol, and vitamin E oil into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
Once everything has melted, remove the measuring cup from the heat and dry the outside of it off with a dish towel. Set the measuring cup on a towel or hot pad to insulate it from the counter and stir the mixture with a flexible silicone spatula to combine everything.
Set the hot pad aside to help the ointment cool faster, stirring occasionally (I sat it next to me while I worked on some writing, giving it a stir every couple minutes). Make sure you scrape down the sides of the measuring cup and re-incorporate those bits as they’ll set up faster than the main body of the ointment.
Once the ointment has thickened up to an ointment-y consistency, transfer it to a jar or tin. I used these lovely little 25mL amber glass ones from Voyageur, but something else like a 30mL/1 ounce tin would also work (there will just be some more head room).
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this salve is 100% oil based, it does not require a broad-spectrum preservative (broad spectrum preservatives ward off microbial growth, and microbes require water to live—no water, no microbes!). Kept reasonably cool and dry, it should last at least a year before any of the oils go rancid. If you notice it starts to smell like old nuts or crayons, that’s a sign that the oils have begun to oxidize; chuck it out and make a fresh batch if that happens.
- If your herbs are already infused in a different carrier oil, go ahead and use that—just keep in mind that heavier oils will make for a greasier salve, and it’s already pretty oily as written
- You can use shea butter or cupuacu butter instead of mango butter, but both will make for a greasier final product
- You can use beeswax instead of cera bellina, but it will drastically impact the consistency of the final product—it won’t be an ointment anymore, just a soft salve
- You can use more cera bellina if you don’t have cetyl alcohol, but this will result in a heavier final product