It’s summer, and that means many folks are spending a lot of time outdoors, me included. And often times that also means we get itchy from mosquito bites, poison ivy and other rashes and skin irritations. Fortunately, one way to get relief can often be found right in our own backyards.
Plantain is possibly the most widely distributed medicinal plant in the world, though many folks may not even know its name or its many uses. Plantain has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antihistamine qualities that make it quite useful externally. If you have it growing around your place, you can always just pluck a leaf, crush it, and apply it to the affected area of skin to get some relief.
For the last few years, my wife and I have been making our own anti-itch salve using the natural healing properties of this common backyard ‘weed’. It’s handy to have on hand, and a great natural way to stop those minor itches.
But before we can make a salve, we need to infuse the plantain leaves in oil, which can then be used by itself on the skin or to make other products like this salve. You can read about how I do it here: Homemade Plantain Infused Oil. My current favorite oil is sweet almond, but coconut oil and olive oil are also great choices. I like almond oil because it is easily absorbed into the skin, it has a neutral scent, and it has been found to have a calming effect on skin irritations. Of course, if you are allergic to almonds or other nuts you should choose another oil.
If you use the hot infusion method, you can easily make the infused oil in less than a day. With the cold infusion method it will take several weeks. Once the oil is infused and strained, you can make either a salve or lotion bars with it. You’ll need some beeswax, and some peppermint essential oil, though the EO is optional. You can also make it using a plant-based wax like carnauba, though you’ll need to use less wax that way. To make a salve, I use somewhere around 10% to 15% beeswax (and the rest oil) to thicken it enough to make application easier. For a lotion bar I use about 25% beeswax and 75% of infused oil. The more beeswax you add, the thicker the final mix but beeswax also adds ‘drag’ and too much can be unpleasant on the skin.
I like to add the peppermint essential oil not just because it smells good, but because it has anti-itch properties of its own. As with all essential oils, if you’ve never used peppermint EO on your skin you should test the diluted oil on a small patch of skin (on your upper arm, for instance) to make sure it doesn’t cause a problem. And EO’s should be used sparingly on young children, and not at all on infants.
The oil and beeswax mixture needs to be heated to melt the beeswax. You can use a double boiler or the microwave to do that. I usually measure out the oil and beeswax in a small glass Pyrex measuring cup and use the microwave, set for 50% power. I heat the mix for 60 seconds then stir a bit, then heat another 60 seconds or so if it hasn’t melted yet. Once the wax is all melted, you can add a few drops of the peppermint EO (if using) and give it all one more good stir before pouring into your containers. You can use any small glass, metal or plastic containers to hold the salve. The four ounce glass canning jars are a nice size to use. We have push up tubes specially made for lotion bars, but you can also use a silicone mold or muffin tins lined with muffin papers. Just make sure to let the salve or lotion bars cool completely before using.
Of course, as the saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To keep bugs away you can try our Lemon Balm Lavender Bugs Off Spray as a natural insect repellent. But if all your best efforts fail when it come to avoiding the ‘itchies’, this salve is a great natural way to help ease the discomfort.
To see more about how to identify and find plantain, read Saturday Spotlight: Plaintain.