Even in the middle of this very wet winter plantago is still growing well, we have the smaller version Plantago lanceolata, it grows close to the ground and has thin spear like leaves that form a rosette. Both the larger, Plantago Major and smaller, Plantago Lanceolata contain very high levels of anti-oxidants that have a positive effect on the health of the horse. Flavonoids and hydroycinnamic acids are two of the major anti- oxidants, both work to restore health and aid in recovery, both protect cells against oxidative damage by free radicals and activate antioxidant enzymes with anti-inflammatory properties, phenolic compounds have been identified as being the main ingredients of many ethno-medical plants, it’s great to have such a powerful one growing wild in the field that the horses can self-select if required.
The roots are high in phenolic anti- oxidants, these are water soluble so if you are making up a mash, soak the plantago in hot/boiling water first, then use the water to make the mash to ensure the horse is receiving his medicine!
The other benefit to a bit of plantago are the high levels of beta carotene a precursor of vitamin A. Synthetic Vitamin A is often added to processed pelleted feeds but between 30-40% of the vitamin A added can be lost in the pelleting process or degraded if stored badly or as the food ages. For those processed foods with added minerals the loss of vitamin A may be even greater as the minerals cause degradation of the vitamin A. Humidity and high temperatures can reduce the content to 2%. A 500kg horse needs around 15,000 IU of vitamin a per day and 100g of plantago will supply 11,000 IU’s, of beta carotene that’s around seven very small plants or one the size of the plant in the image, the beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in the digestion process.
The information on vitamin A in literature seems to be confusing, for instance vitamin A is recommended to be added as a supplement to the equine diet especially for horses stabled, but in a trial, mares fed a low beta carotene hay for 22 months, showed no signs of deficiency. The horse must be manufacturing its own, from food given, as there are over 10 known carotenes apart from beta carotene which may be used to convert into vitamin A without the need for synthetic added extras.