HORSETAIL - ANCIENT HERB: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF HORSETAIL
HORSETAIL, EQUISETUM ARVENSE
This small plant has its origins millions of years ago, as does ginkgo biloba. It is descended from huge tree-like plants that were around in the Paleozoic era, about 400 million years ago. It is a close relative of ferns such as bracken, and is viewed as a non-flowering weed. It is native to parts of
Europe including the British Isles, Asia, the Middle East and North America. It has hollow stems and shoots and looks a little like asparagus when it first appears from the soil, but this resemblance doesn’t last as you can see from the photos.
It grows “bristles” and to me looks like a small Christmas tree - or that’s what I thought when I first found a clump of them growing in my local park when I was a child. My biology teacher was very interested in them and explained that they were plants from prehistoric times and very simple ones. That was where his explanation ended.
The bristly appearance gives rise to one of its names, bottle brush, and setum means bristle in Latin too. The name Equisetum means horse bristle, (equus means horse in Latin) and arvense means of the fields. The feathery green parts of this plant have a scratching or scouring effect and it was once used to clean metal, hence another name for it, pewterwort. The feathery tails which form as the plant dries are made from silica crystals which give this effect.
In some places it is believed that the plants indicated that there is a subterranean source of water, so if you see a clump of horsetail you won’t need a hazel twig divining rod.
The above ground parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine systems, but if you are tempted to take any medicines made from horsetail you need to supplement your intake of B-complex vitamins, as the plant contains thiaminase which can deplete these vitamins in the body. It should be treated with caution as it also contains equisetic acid which is thought to be identical to aconite acid, which is a potent heart and nerve sedative which can be fatal in large doses. It shouldn’t be taken over a prolonged period of time.
The plant also contains flavonoids such as quercetin and kaempferol as well as saponins along with phenolic compounds which give it its antioxidant properties. Alkaloids are present too one of them being nicotin, making it unwise to give any medication made from this plant to children. The Asian and North American horsetail contain luteolin-5-glycosides although these are not contained in the European plant.
the horsetail is used for problems of the lower urinary tract and for gravel in the kidneys, and topically it is used to promote wound healing. The horsetail is taken dried in an infusion, 1 teaspoon of the herb steeped in 250 ml. boiling water for 20 minutes and drunk three times a day. If you take horsetail internally you should increase your intake of fluids. Germany
Horsetail extracts are used in cosmetics and are said to help prevent or smooth out wrinkles by repairing cell damage and increasing collagen production.
It is thought that the plant may be a useful treatment for osteoporosis because of its silica content. However few studies have been conducted on this plant. It is possible that it may have anti-cancer properties but this is still under investigation.
Traditionally horsetail has been used for minor wounds and burns when it has been applied as a compress or poultice, stomach ulcers when the infusion is taken internally and to get rid of kidney stones.
Writing in the 17th century, the English herbalist, Culpeper has this to say about horsetail, and perhaps he should be given the last word on this curious plant.
“It is powerful to staunch bleeding either inward or outward, the juice or the decoction thereof being drunk, or the juice, decoction or distilled water applied outwardly. It also stays all sorts of lasks and fluxes in man or woman and bloody urine; and heals not only the outward ulcers, the excoriation of the entrails, bladder &c., but all other sorts of foul, moist and running ulcers, and soon solders together the tops of green wounds. It cureth all ruptures in children. The decoction thereof in wine being drank provokes urine, and helps the stone and stranguary; and the distilled water thereof drank two or three times a day and a small quantity at a time also eases the bowels and is effectual against a cough that comes by distillation of the head. The juices or distilled water being warmed, and hot inflammations or pustules or red wheals and other breakings-out in the skin, being bathed therewith, doth help them and doth no less the swelling heat and inflammation of the lower parts in men and women.”