Welsh, (P. major) Llyriad or Erllyriad, Sawdl Christ, Henlly-dan y fordd, Llyriad mwyaf (P. maritima), Bara can y defaid, Llys y defaid, Sampier y ddafaid, Gwerog man y don. - Gaelic, Geuan phadruic, Slan-lus - French, Plantain. German, Wegetritt, Paradies feige. - Italian, Piantagine. - Spanish, Plantano. - Illyric, Bokvica, Haskvica, Bokva-pod-vonja. - Arabic, Lissan-el-Hamal, Logmet e' naga, Khanant e' naga.
The Rev. Mr. Talbot, as pointed out in the "Botany of the Eastern Borders," is certainly mistaken when he reads the old English name of this plant as way-bread, instead of way-bred; and another writer, following him, actually proposes it to the wayfarer as the "staff of life." "Merrily," he says, when alluding to the pleasant old English names of our wild flowers, "merrily might the traveller wend on his way when there was the little speedwell to cheer him, waybread to support him, gold of pleasure to enrich him, traveller's joy to welcome* him." Its signification is nothing more than that of "wayborn," bred by the way-side; and it is ridiculous to bring the German name in support of the error, as although in some illegible old MS. the second initial consonants in way -tread and way-bread, might be easily confounded, such a mistake between the German tritt, tread, and brod, bread, is by no means so likely to have arisen. A similar meaning is expressed in the Welsh names Llyriad erllyriad, "creeping or overspreading, follower;" Llyriad sawdl Christ, "follower of the heel of Christ," and Henlly-dan y fordd, "old broad of the road." So universal is the dissemination of the plant wherever Northern nations make their home, and so perseveringly does it follow their path, that the American Indians have poetically named it "footstep of the white;" and its prevalence is, I believe, no less remarkable in the "settled districts" of Australia and New Zealand. Richardson derives the name of plantain, plan-tag'o, from the resemblance of the form of the leaf (of at least one species, the P. major) to the sole of the human foot; but I rather incline to the more general opinion, that this also relates to the way-side growth of the tribe, which seems to love situations trodden by the foot of man, humbly offering to the passer-by its leaves as a salve for any bruises, burns, cuts, or sores, he may have received in the course of his travel.
Hence the Gaelic name of slan-lus, or "healing-plant." The P. lanceolata, which is astringent and slightly bitter, and esteemed by Dioscorides as a specific in many diseases, is, I believe, the only one of our British species whose seeds are covered with a mucilaginous coating, which causes it to be sometimes used by manufacturers for stiffening the finer kind of linen. It abounds to an unfortunate extent in our pastures; but may be employed for making paper - which now requires some new supply of materials for its manufacture - its leaves also yield a strong and serviceable fibre, as is apparent on their being broken.
* See "Notes and Queries," vol. vi., p. 503.
Common Plantain. Plantago major.
The P. maritima is a most invaluable plant, especially for sheep; on which account probably, it is called in Welsh, bara can y dafaid,i.e.,"white bread of the sheep;" Llys y dafaid, "sheep's herb;" sampier ddafaid, "sheep's samphire;" gwerog, "the suet producing;" from the extraordinary improvement seen in sheep and cattle when pastured on this plant. It is remarkable that the Arabic name of the P. major, lissan el hamal "the sheep's tongue" has a similar meaning; and the P. albicans is called in Arabic lokmet or logmet e'naga, "the ewe's morsel. The names of Llyriad mwyaf, "tender or emollient creeper," and man y don, or "dwarf over-spreader," are also given it in Welsh.
Common Plantain. Plantago major.
The remaining British species are the hoary-plantain (P. media) which occurs abundantly in England, but more rarely in Scotland; and the buck's-horn-plantain (P. coronopis) which flourishes in gravelly and sterile soils, where, not unfrequently, little else will grow.