The common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is one of the most widely distributed species along stream banks and meadows of Europe, North America and Asia. Most people see it as a nuisance weed, and indeed, it is impossible to eradicate if you have it in the garden.
Horsetails have existed little changed for more than 400 million years. During the Carboniferous period, there were many more varieties than exist today, some growing into trees 50ft [15m] tall and dominating tropical forests. Fossil specimens of Equisetum have been found dating from the Jurassic Period.
However, it is a very useful plant. Gather only the sterile green stems that appear in the summer. Cut the plant above the ground and dry quickly in an airy place.
Common horsetail is sometimes used in Europe as a home remedy for kidney and bladder diseases. The stems contain so much silica that they are used by European craftsmen to polish furniture, wooden floors and pewter.
The plant produces a light green dye suitable for dying natural fibres.
Its antiseptic properties make it valuable as a pan scourer, particularly useful when camping. Before the advent of detergents and disinfectants, horsetail ferns were gathered by dairymaids and used to scour milk pails and dairy equipment.
The astringent qualities of the horsetail help to heal wounds and haemorrhages. Chemicals in horsetail have an astringent effect that may lessen bleeding when applied to minor injuries such as cuts and scrapes.
Horsetail contains chemicals that have a mild diuretic action. Taken orally for a few days, at most, horsetail may relieve swelling due to the excess accumulation of water in the body. It has also been used to treat bladder, kidney, and urinary tract infections. As a tea, it is used for the treatment of inflammation or benign enlargement of the prostate gland.
In some cases it has been found to help ease the pain of arthritis. Horsetail contains relatively large amounts of silica and smaller amounts of calcium. horsetail may have some pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
An infused oil made from horsetail fern may safely be used in the treatment of external otitis [infection of the outer ear].
A tea may be made from soaking one or 2 teaspoons of dried horsetail in about 6 ounces of boiling water for 5 minutes and then straining out the solid particles. Up to three cups of horsetail tea may be consumed per day.
Steep 3 ½ oz of the herb in hot water for 1 hour. Add this to the bath. This may help in rheumatic pains and help to heal chilblains.
CAUTION: Horsetail may contain nicotine, which is more likely to cause potentially serious side effects in children than in adults. Therefore, horsetail is not recommended for individuals under the age of 18. The diuretic effects of oral horsetail may worsen heart or kidney conditions by decreasing the levels of potassium in the body, therefore individuals with such conditions should avoid taking horsetail. Horsetail is known to block the absorption of thiamine, one of the B vitamins. If it is taken for more than a few days, a thiamine deficiency is possible. Avoid if you are taking prescription diuretics. Do not take at the same time as herbal or prescription laxatives.
© Anna Franklin 2020