Hurray, I made a start! This is the very first of what I hope will be a long-running series called "Ask an Herbalist." This video covers how I got started as an herbalist, and one plant that I consider to be essential for every home herbalist. A transcript follows after the video. Hope you enjoy, and don't forget to join in by posting YOUR questions in the comments section!
Hi, everyone! This is Jennifer with Prairie Hawk Botanica, and I am starting the very first of my Ask an Herbalist series, where I answer questions from you all, that get posted to facebook or my website, or you can also post it on Steemit, if you're a Steemit user. And if I can answer your question quickly, then I'll go ahead and record it in a video, and put it up for your reference.
So, launching right in, the first video comes from Ms. Zanna from facebook. Anna, I hope I'm saying your name right. And she asks what got me started on the path to being a clinical herbalist, and what's my number one, you know, plant that I cannot do without in a holistic medicine cabinet. I'll see if I can answer that quickly.
How I Knew I'd Be an Herbalist
The, you know, like so many people, who find their calling, you know, through hardship, I found my - What launched me on the path to clinical herbalism was getting sick. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and had a gall bladder full of stones, and all kinds of pain, and issues that was - started in my very late twenties, into my early thirties. It was about my mid-thirties that I finally got diagnosed. And the amount of drugs that I was going to have to take was so phenomenal and terrifying to me that it kind of catapulted me into a more naturopathic direction. And, there's actually a large article that I wrote on that. So I'll go ahead and link to that article down below. So you can read the whole thing when you get a chance. But it was basically one of those things where getting ill kind of, you know, refocused me, and got me moving in the right direction.
Zanna also asked if my family supports me, and, yeah, yeah, they kind of do! You know, my two children were too young to be anything but my biggest fans. And even today, now that they're a little older, they're still my biggest fans! I'm so fond of those two human beings. And my husband was as shocked as I was by the amount of drugs that you have to take for autoimmune disorders. And so he was willing to go along with it if, number one, we went to go see somebody else besides me. He was pretty sure that we needed guidance beyond my own research, and that was actually very wise. You need a coach. You know, no matter how smart you think you are, how much knowledge you think you are [HAVE! HAVE! Sorry, y'all]. If you - even if you are already a doctor or a clinical herbalist, it really helps to have that second opinion. And, number two, his second criterion was effectiveness. It had to work within a certain amount of time. You know, and within a few months of coming up with a plan, and putting it into action, I started to see results. If I didn't, I might've started losing my husband's vote of confidence. As far as being a clinical herbalist, yeah, he was with me all the way.
If it's new for my family, Zanna also asks. Yes, there are no other herbalists in my family. We don't have a tradition of natural medicine. But, like my immediate family, my extended family sees the wisdom of it too. And so they're also really big fans for me. And I am deeply, deeply grateful for that level of support that I get from both the people who I live with, and from my parents and sisters and extended family. It's really nice to have that kind of support structure behind you, and just kind of pushing you forward.
Plantain - A Holistic Medicine Cabinet Must-Have
To answer your second question, Zanna, you know, most herbalists will tell you after years of study, they don't really have a favorite plant, because so many are so amazing. And they do so many wonderful things; however, especially if I'm teaching someone who's very new to herbalism, and is just getting started, and just looking to kind of be the family herbalist for their household. My absolute favorite plant, you know, for a new person starting in plant medicine, and even for myself (on the whole) would probably be plantain. And plantain - by plantain, I don't mean bananas. I mean the Plantago genus, which is a family of wild growing plants. They've naturalized here in the States, but I believe you can also find them in Europe and the UK. Plantain goes by a bunch of names, none of which I remember at the moment. I'll go ahead and put them down in a transcript of some kind.
But it's a very wild growing plant, widespread genus. and you can find it, goodness, growing from forest to prairie. Here in the States, it really exploits a lot of niches in the ecosystem. So the kind that grow around my area are very adapted to the prairie, and to droughty conditions, to having water be kind of feast or famine. I've also seen some really big plantains growing in areas that are more stable for water. So I'll go ahead - I pulled this out from the backyard two seconds ago. And to give you an idea of what plantain looks like. And because plantain can look really different. You see this guy's pretty small. It's already gone to seed, so it's about as tall as it feels like getting. I have seen plantain grow as high as, you know, knee high from the ground. You see how very thin these leaves are. Plantain leaves can have a big club shape. So they can look pretty different. The seeds, these very unspectacular-looking blooms with the seeds coming up. You see that there? They do always look like that.
But the real identifier is going to be this leaf. And what you want to do is turn over the back of it, and look for the vertical ribbing going up the back. And when I say vertical, I mean vertical. There's no veinage going out to the sides. It's all vertical, usually in 3 or 5, just [shoof noise] going right down the back. If you don't see that ribbing on the back, you don't have plantain.
There aren't a lot of mimics, so it's a pretty easy plant to find. And if that didn't show well, I'll see if I can find a few photos of that vertical ribbing on the back to make it easier for you. And I'll just put that up with the video, so that you can see. So again, when you're - If you think you have plantain, turn that leaf over. Look at the back, and you'll be able to really tell if you've got a member of the Plantago genus.
Healing Benefits of Plantain (Plantago)
The reason why I like plantain so much is because, as a vulnerary herb, it's a superhero. It can take the sting out of - the itch out of bug bites. It can [take] the pain out of stings, wasp stings, things like that. I have seen it take the pain and the swelling down from a wasp sting within minutes. I've also used it on burns, minor burns. You know, if it's a bad first degree or a minor second degree maybe. Third degree? For heaven's sake, go to the hospital. But I've seen it take the pain and some of the swelling down from minor burns, just last week on my husband in fact. And [plantain can] help with rashes like poison ivy. You know, even some skin irritations like eczema or psoriasis, some of those kind of autoimmune, inflammatory kind of rashes, it can really help with. And minor cuts or bruising, things like that. It's really, really, really good for those kinds of applications: wound healing.
And the easiest way to use it would be to actually cut up the plant or make a spit poultice, and that's where you just basically cut it up and slap it right on . So if your kids are out playing, and, you know, they're getting bit up by mosquitoes or chiggers, or they get a bee sting or something. And while they're, you know, running around, they can just take the plantain, chew it up, and then just whack it right on where they got stung or bitten. And it can help take the pain away. And in addition to that, you can make an infused oil, which looks like this. And that's where you're just filling up the jar with plant matter all the way up to the top with fresh leaves and then some kind of oil. I usually use organic, extra virgin olive oil, because it's just easy to work with, and is also good for the skin. And you let that sit for 6 weeks, and then strain out the herbs. And you've got a plantain oil that you can then use straight up or use to make a balm. I've also infused it into glycerin in order to make a spray, you know, to kind of put it in a bottle, throw it in my purse and take around with me. It's kind of easy to do that, and it works well that way. You can infuse it into witch hazel. I have a bug fighting spray that I use to try to help with the discomfort, and plantain goes into that mix.
So, really, really, really versatile plant. You can also add plantain leaves into your infusions where it will help internally with lung complaints, just general lung health (coughs, colds, tuberculosis, things like that), just try to help strengthen those lungs and help clear them out. It has astringent properties, and it can also help with inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, things like that.
So, very, very easy plant to work with. Not a lot of mimics, and it's so versatile that it's easily one of my favorite plants to have. So, there you have it, Ms. Zanna! Anyone else interested in having a short, quick video to answer some of their questions about herbalism, just go ahead and post it down below on YouTube, or on facebook, or on the website, or on Steemit, any place where you can find me. Go ahead and post your question. If I can answer it quickly, I'll make you a video! Alright, signing off for now.
Editor's Note: The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat illness. Always do your research before using an herbal remedy to ensure that there are no allergy risks or cross indications with any prescription medications that you are taking. See your doctor before starting any new treatments or programs. Anything that you learn from Prairie Hawk Botanica, its blog, or Jennifer Capestany must be considered informational only. You own yourself.
Author: Jennifer Capestany
Jennifer is a clinical herbalist and health coach, specializing in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Her interest in plant medicine led Jennifer to spend years studying herbology, physiology, and nutrition. She works one-on-one with her clients via her herbalist and health coaching business, Prairie Hawk Botanica. Jennifer lives on a homestead in rural Texas with her husband, 2 children, and various animals. In her spare time she loves to be in her large herb and vegetable garden. Sharing herb knowledge and her love of natural healing with others is her calling.
I'm Jennifer Capestany, a clinical herbalist and freelance writer with a practice in North Texas. Helping people deal as naturally as possible with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic illness and other chronic conditions is my calling.