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  • Rights: DairyNZ and The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato
    Published 15 April 2021 Referencing Hub media

    Plantain is a herb that has caught the interest of farmers and scientists. Experts from DairyNZ introduce us to a plant that has many useful properties.

    Questions for discussion:

    • How does plantain impact nitrogen cycling on a farm?
    • Why have plant breeders changed the structure of plantain cultivars to make it more useful as a pasture plant?
    • What does Ben mean when he says plants start to go reproductive?


    Dr Elena Minnée

    Initially, we started with working with plantain to provide feed in the late summer/autumn when our ryegrass pastures are starting to lack a bit of feed quality and not growing as much as they would in the spring season. So we’ve introduced plantain in that time to increase our feed mass.

    Dr Ina Pinxterhuis

    Plantain is a herb. It’s been a medicinal herb for human consumption for centuries. So it was known that plantain had a couple of properties that might also benefit the animal and might have an impact on the nitrogen cycle. One property that was known from plantain was that it is diuretic. People and animals start to pee more when they eat more plantain. So the idea was that that might dilute the urine, because the urine patch is really the concentrated place of nitrogen in a grazed system.

    Ben Fisher

    Plantain used to be a weed. Now it’s not considered a weed and there’s different varieties.

    Dr Elena Minnée

    The one that you have in your lawn will be a rounder broadleaf plantain – adapted to be flat and survive being mown – but the one that we’ve researched is one that’s been developed by the seed companies to grow upright so the animals can harvest it.

    Ben Fisher

    It’s another quality feed that can be in your pasture that provides variety for the cows. They tend to prefer it during spring and into summer as well, but once it starts to go quite reproductive, like most grasses and other things, then the cows tend to not like it so much. If it’s managed well, it can be good quality. And particularly in those drier months, it’s nice to have something green in the paddock when everything else is brown and dying off, so plantain can provide good-quality feed at that time of year.

    Dr Ina Pinxterhuis
    Ben Fisher
    Pan from healthy pasture to dry pasture, courtesy of Just the Job.
    14th century illuminated manuscript showing medicinal uses for plantain, from Pietro Andrea Mattioli, Discorsi, a herbal assembled and illustrated by Gherardo Cibo. Courtesy of the British Museum.
    Still of broadleaf plantain in seed by Simon, licensed under CC BY 2.0.


    This resource has been produced with the support of DairyNZ.

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