Plantain (Plant)

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

plantain (plant) a name given to a group of small leafy plants, of the genus Plantago, long before it was applied also to the cooking varieties of banana (with which there is no connection, see plantain (fruit)).

The name comes from the Latin plantago, which itself comes from planta, meaning the sole of the foot and referring to the foot-shaped leaves. Another group of names, including the German name, is descended from the Anglo-Saxon wegbreed, meaning ‘growing by the wayside’, which turned into ‘waybread’ in the sense of food for travellers. Travellers would soon weary of a diet of plantain, although there are several species whose leaves, gathered when young and tender, are edible. One of them, P. coronopus, buckshorn plantain, qualifies as an element in the mixed salad of wild greens known as misticanza in Italy and has indeed been cultivated on a small scale in some European countries. Couplan (1984), the optimistic French authority on edible wild plants, avers that more than one species can be used either fresh in a salad or cooked in a soup.