Horsetail

Botanical Names

  • Family Equisetaceae
  • Equisetum arvense
  • Equisetum hyemale

Common Names

  • Bottle-brush, Corn Horsetail, Dutch Rushes, Hollander Rush Grass, Field Horsetail, Horse Willow, Horsetail Grass, Horsetail Rush, Paddock-pipes, Pewterwort, Scouring Rush, Shave Grass, Toadpipe
  • Spanish: Cola de Caballo, Ca utillo del Llano, Carricillo

Cautions

 It is contraindicated in those who have edema because of an impaired heart or kidney function.

It should not to be used for more than six weeks at a time unless under the care of a professional since the herb may cause irritation of the digestive tract.

It should not be confused with marsh horsetail (E. palustre), which is similar, but larger. This contains toxic alkaloids.

The herb is banned in Canada, except where the thiaminase-like compounds have been removed.

Description

 Native to Europe, North Africa, northern Asia, and the Americas, horsetail now grows as far south as Turkey and Iran. The plant is also found in the Himalayas, central and north China, and Japan where E. hyemale (mu zei) is the species used.

The Equisetum genus is the only group of the Sphenophytina, an order of vascular plants. There are sixteen known species and eighteen hybrids. Botanically speaking, they fall between the ferns and the clubmosses. Of the sixteen known species, eleven can be found in England and the lowland areas of Scotland.

It is perennial plant with a yellowish fruiting stem, growing to about fourteen inches in height, followed by a sterile segmented and toothed stem growing to about two feet in height having whirls of long, needle-shaped leaves. It does not flower, but produces spore-like sacs which are visible from spring to fall. Commonly found in damp soil, the sterile stems are harvested in summer and carefully dried and all discoloured parts discarded.

History

 Horsetail is a primitive plant which descended from huge trees that lived in the Paleozoic era (600-375 million years ago) and were the product of the Carboniferous period (270 million years ago). They are now our source of coal seams.

Its high silica content makes it an abrasive, as well as a medicinal, and has long been used by many cultures to polish metal and wood. This use is indicated in its nicknames and when it was tied to the tails of livestock to help them ward off flies.

Horsetail was long used as a wound healer as indicated by the English herbalist John Gerard in 1597 who quoted uses by Dioscorides and Pliny.

The ancient Greeks used the plant to heal wounds, but it is now considered, by many, to be an invasive weed.

In rural Mexico, the plant's leafless stalks are tied together to make scouring brushes used to clean pots, as well as by cabinet-makers to sand wood finely. Children make whistles out of the hollow stems.

It was once considered a remedy for gonorrhea because it relieved the burning urination that accompanies the disease.

Older herbals recommend its use as a styptic for arresting the flow of blood from external wounds.

Growing wild all over North America, horsetail was an effective diuretic used by many Native American tribes, including the Blackfoot and Okanagan. The Okanagans used a solution made by boiling horsetail stems to wash skin sores. They also treated poison ivy by washing the affected areas with a mixture of pounded horsetail and water.

Key Actions

  • astringent
  • anti-inflammatory
  • mildly diuretic
  • stops bleeding
  • tissue healer

Key Components

  • large amounts of silicic acid and silicates (about 15%)
  • flavonoids
  • phenolic acids
  • alkaloids (including nicotine)
  • sterols and phytosterols
  • saponins
  • bitter principle
  • minerals (potassium, manganese, magnesium, calcium, chromium, iron, phosphorus, and selenium)
  • tannins

Medicinal Parts

 The sterile shoots

Silicic acid and silicates supports the regeneration of connective tissue.

Although not well researched, horsetail does contain a poisonous substance called thiaminase, which produces symptoms of toxicity in animals and humans, including causing a deficiency of vitamin B1 and permanent liver damage.

Horsetail is a common source of supplemental silica which promotes bone growth and collagen formation. This is commonly known as the "glue" that holds connective tissue together.

Remedies

 Decoctions added to a bath benefits slow-healing sprains and fractures and certain skin conditions, including eczema. They can also be taken internally for heavy menstruation and skin conditions such as acne and eczema, stomach ulcers, urinary tract inflammations, and prostate and lung disorders. Horsetail should never be consumed whole or in its raw state, not only because the body cannot assimilate it in this form, but because it can destroy vitamin B1 in the body. Instead, steep horsetail in hot water, for at least three hours to extract the main constituents before drinking. This solution can be taken throughout the day for no longer than three days at a time.

Capsules of the powder are used for convenience.

Poultices are made from the powder by forming a paste, then applied to leg ulcers, wounds, sores, and chilblains.

Mouthwash and gargles are made from diluted decoctions and used for mouth and gum infections or throat inflammations.

Juice from liquidized stems is the best form for urinary disorders. For nosebleeds, some can be placed on a cotton swab and inserted into the nostril. It is also used for long-standing lung damage.

Traditional Uses

 Its traditional medicinal use was as a clotting agent to help staunch blood flow in wounds and nosebleeds, but it also reduces the coughing up of blood.

Its astringent property has an effect on the genitourinary system, proving especially valuable if there is blood in the urine, as well as in the cases of cystitis, urethritis, and prostate disease.

The herb speeds the repair of damaged connective tissue, improving its strength and elasticity.

It is also used to treat rheumatic and arthritic conditions; such chest ailments as emphysema, deep-seated lung disease; and for chronic edema of the legs.

In China, the dried stems are used to cool fevers and as a remedy for such eye inflammations as conjunctivitis and corneal disorders.

Since the plant is high in silica, it makes an effective diuretic, and is one of the more popular Mexican home remedy plants.

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