10.31.2018

Herb Fairies: Plantain

Shelbyville-Bedford County Public Library and LearningHerbs
Herbalism is one of many hobbies that I'm passionate about. I've always preferred the outdoors, but as I've gotten older, my imagination that used to conjure fairies and gnomes (and sometimes still does) has learned that personifying plants may not be too far-fetched. I love to watch documentaries, and after checking out titles such as David Attenborough's The Private Life of Plants and Nature: What Plants Talk About from my local library, I became enchanted by the life around us that is often overlooked. With increasing concerns over the food we put in our bodies and the growing rate of poverty, I decided to begin harvesting my own food and medicines (within reason). 

In addition to this program, I have also developed a Seed Library to encourage a more sustainable community. So far, the response has been positive and I have received an increasing number of participants in the exchange. 

Herb Fairies came about during some research I was doing. The family-owned company is called LearningHerbs and they developed this amazing learning system with Herbalists Kristine Brown and Rosalee de la Foret for kids to learn about safely foraging plants they likely come across every day. There is a book series that pairs with the curriculum to make the lessons entertaining and are delivered to you in various formats, including audiobook, ebook, and print (when offered). Materials include, crafts, recipes (food and medicinal), materia medica, songs, activities, journals, calendars, and more. The information is so rich, I can only hope to skim the surface in one hour. 

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I focus on four of the five senses. How may kids learn about this plant through touch, smell, taste, and sight? It is through our senses we create memories, and through this method I have had several parents tell me how excited their children get when they start identifying the plants in their yards. 

It is important to note that teaching herbalism is NOT giving medical advice. It is not to encourage families to avoid seeking medical attention when needed. There is a note that comes in the kit that should be distributed to parents about the safety of proper identification and consumption of plants. You may want to produce a contract for parents to sign. Before every class I make every child raise their right hand and promise they will not eat any plants without asking an adult first. 

One last thing: before distributing materials, please be sure to give credit where credit is due. I always tell parents how they can go more in depth by purchasing the system for themselves, and be sure to follow copyright laws when handing out resources. Libraries are permitted to circulate the Herbal Roots Zine as part of the collection, and we have subscribed to the zine for easy access and expansion beyond the 13 original plants presented in the books. To aid in memorizing plants and their uses even further, I created flash cards (all artwork is property of LearningHerbs) that I hand out for each plant.


Each book takes less than 30 minutes to read and will help children understand how each plant may be applicable in real-life situations. Per LearningHerbs.com:


Each of the 13 Herb Fairies books has a story of its own, but they’re all connected to tell the much bigger story of a time when the plant magic was fading from the world. When four young friends discover an herb fairy at the park, they are drawn into a healing adventure beyond their wildest dreams. 
The Old Man of the Forest has cast a terrible spell, locking up much of the plant magic and draining the magic from the world. The Herb Fairies turn to the children for help, and they all discover that only by working together and healing the magic keepers from all of the different magical races can the magic be fully restored."

A key element in the storyline is the discovery of a creature's name through riddles that surface each time an ailment is healed. The name discovered in the first book is Inspiration. I like talking about the names and why they are important. It's a simple way of adding a short lesson on character.


For Inspiration we did a short acronym activity where I provided a piece of paper that had "INSPIRATION" typed out on the side in colorful letters, and kids wrote something that inspired them that began with each letter. You may need to give them a few ideas and simplify the term a bit.

USING YOUR SENSES

No, we are not talking about the small banana plantain. Broadleaf Plantain is very easy to find almost all year and is likely a "weed" you see all the time. It tends to hang out where there's a lot of traffic (walking, parking, etc.). It's very hardy and can is a highly medicinal plant that can be used in many ways. With the help of Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 5 we worked through how to identify the Plantago Major species of plantain. The Zines have worksheets and puzzles that I print off for plant identification and exercises. Going through the sheets takes a bit of time, so the more you can allow kids to connect what the paper says to the actual plant, the better. However, you may not always be able to get the fresh herb and that is perfectly okay.

We began by smelling the plant to see if it had any kind of aromatics. Some plants are more obvious than others (mint, lavender, chamomile, etc.) and at times you can use the sense of smell to determine if you're dealing with a look-alike or not. Plantain is not a plant that has a strong, distinctive scent.

TASTING - Plantain, Orange, and Mint Butter
Taken from Herb Fairies Recipes - Plantain

I did not take a picture of this, but each child had a small piece of bread at their seat and some pre-made plantain, orange, and mint butter. Very much like the violet oil, I also simulated how I made the butter in front of everyone, but this time I let them put the ingredients in themselves.

We did not eat the butter we made together for sanitary reasons, but they were still able to taste the mixture I made at home. Be sure to disclose ingredients in any food you prepare in case anyone has allergies.

Above I've included the recipe from the plantain booklet in the kit in case you'd like to give this one a try. After this, we tried the plantain leaves by themselves. As usual, some kids loved it and others didn't care for it by itself.

CRAFT - Greeting Card
Taken from Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 5

Materials:
Plantain leaves
White or pastel tissue paper
Crayons and/or colored pencils
Scissors
Paper or cardstock cut and folded to make cards
Stickers or extra pieces of paper to decorate
Glue stick

I slacked on getting photos from this class, so I hope you can bear with me.
Plantain doesn't seem like a very pretty plant to make a card out of, but you can still get creative and make it look nice.

Place the leaves bottom side up under the tissue paper and rub over the top gently with a crayon or colored pencil.

Cut the leave shapes out and glue them on the front of the cards. Underneath, write the Latin name of the plant (Plantago Major). Then decorate or write on the inside to give to someone or keep.

MEDICINE - Plantain Infusion
Taken from Herbal Roots Zine: Volume 1 Issue 5

Materials:

1/2 Cup Fresh Plantain Leaved (1/4 Cup Dried)
Water
Electric Tea Kettle
Quart jar w/lid (I use various sizes of these glass teapots instead)
Ladle or Serving Spoon
Strainer
Hot pad

This class was I decided to introduce kids to infusions. If you've ever made tea, then you've practically made an infusion. Making an herbal infusion is very nourishing and allows us to extract vitamins and minerals that aren't usually taken from teas or extracts. It works from the inside out and pairs well for an ailment that is also being treated from the outside with, say, a poultice. Infusions are a good addition to anyone's daily diet and the recommended amount for kids to drink is 2-4 cups a day (3-4 cups a day for adults). 

You may make the infusion ahead of time since it takes 6-8 hours to steep and have them drink it during the class, and/or demonstrate in front of everyone and give them some to take home.

Fill your tea kettle with enough water to fill your quart jar. Bring it to a boil.

While it is heating up, place the plantain leaves in the bottom of the jar. Place a ladle or serving spoon in the jar (this helps to keep it from breaking).

Once the water has come to a boil, pour it into the jar.

Cover the top except for the space held by the ladle. Once it cools enough, remove the ladle and screw the lit on completely.

Let the infusion steep for 6-8 hours. Strain off the leaves and compost them if able.

Your infusion can be drank hot or cold and will last for 2 days. Keep refrigerated.

It's always important to label your creations, so on our labels we wrote what we put in our infusion (Fresh Plantain) and the date.

RECEPTION: Plantain is one of the most unsung heroes of health I know of. Before I knew what it was capable of, I also only saw it as a pesky weed that would pop up in the most random places. It's another one of those you don't realize how much you see it until you begin paying attention to it. Watch your families come back and tell you how much they see plantain after attending your program!