Perennial plant with a yellowish fruiting stem growing to 14 in (35 cm), followed by a sterile segmented and toothed stem growing to 2 ft (60 cm). The latter has whorls of needle shaped leaves.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to Europe, North Africa, northern Asia, and the Americas, horsetail is a common plant, preferring damp soil. The sterile stems are harvested in summer and carefully dried, all discolored parts being discarded.
Horsetail contains large amounts of silicic acid and silicates (about 15%), flavonoids, phenolic acids, alkaloids (including nicotine), and sterols. Much of the therapeutic effectiveness of this herb is due to its high silica content, a large proportion of which is soluble and can be absorbed. Silica supports the regeneration of connective tissue.
History & Folklore
Horsetail is a primitive plant that is descended from huge trees that lived during the Palaeozoic era (600–375 million years ago). The herb’s high silica content makes it abrasive, and in the past it was used to polish metal and wood. Its common name, bottlebrush, indicates another of its uses. Horsetail was also tied to the tails of livestock to help them ward off flies. It was long considered a wound-healing herb. The English herbalist John Gerard, writing in 1597, recounted: “Dioscorides saith, that the horse-taile being stamped and laid to, doth perfectly cure wounds, yea although the sinues be cut in sunder, as Galen addeth.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
As its traditional usage indicates, horsetail is an excellent clotting agent. It staunches wounds, stops nosebleeds, and reduces the coughing up of blood. In addition, horsetail has an astringent effect on the genitourinary system, proving especially valuable where there is bleeding within the urinary tract, and in cases of cystitis, urethritis, and prostate disease.
Horsetail helps to speed the repair of damaged connective tissue, improving its strength and elasticity. The herb is also prescribed to treat problems related to rheumatic and arthritic problems, for chest ailments (such as emphysema), for chronic swelling of the legs, and for various other conditions. A decoction of the herb’s aerial parts added to a bath benefits slow-healing sprains and fractures, as well as certain irritable skin conditions such as eczema.
Horsetail breaks down vitamin B1 (thiamine) and should generally be taken long term only in tandem with a B vitamin supplement.