Plantaginaceae Family. Plantains are perennial herbs, usually without stem, with leaves most of the time in basal rosette, flowers clustered in terminal spikes, cylindrical and compact, driven by a secured shaft.
These flowers have a persistent calyx, tubular corolla, four protruding stamens with long filaments (visible especially in older flowers), an ovary with two cells one-ovuled multi-ovuled. Hermaphrodite flowers for Plantago (unisexual in Littorella).
Among the hundreds of species of Plantago, French flora has about two dozen:
• we meet on our coasts sea plantain P.maritima with several rosettes of linear leaves and rigid (also present in the Massif Central) and P. coronopus horn plantain (or Crowfoot) with linear to lanceolate leaves, toothed.
• in lawns, pastures, waste places and roadsides, the P.major or large plantain nearly cosmopolitan with 5-9 ribs leaves, P.lanceolata, lanceolate plantain or five sides herb (3 to 5 ribs), the P.media, “lamb tongue” with 7-9 ribs leaves (common in France except in the plains of the south).
Curiosity: plantain name also refers to a variety of Banana Starch Bur, belonging to a totally different order.
Plantain comes from Plantago, the Latin name of these plants. The name derives itself from the Latin planta meaning "soles of the foot". Different plantains are or have been used in medicine. The common plantain served to prepare an hydrosol used in eye drops, the sand plantain, Plantago arenaria, or psyllium provides laxative seeds. Farmers were familiar with the plantain as a dressing for emergency injury and if we believe Pline, it would cure "24 diseases." The crushed leaves and applied on nettle stings, the pain would calm quickly. Common in pastures, plantains are not however attractive to livestock, only seeds are sought by birds.