Horsetail, or equisetum, is a group of grass plants from the Equisetaceae family, a plant family that has been around for about 400 million years.1 Because of this, Equisetum has been deemed as a “living fossil,”2 because its existence dates back even before the dinosaurs.3
One of the members of the Equisetum group is the Equisetum arvense, which is commonly called the horsetail4 or field horsetail.5 This article will primarily focus on the Equisetum arvense variant of the horsetail group, with the name “horsetail” referring exclusively to the Equisetum arvense.
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, horsetail has been distributed all throughout the world and has been used as an ornamental6 and medicinal plant. Its symmetrical and linear appearance lends patios and lawns a clean-cut aesthetic, which many people appreciate. As a medicinal plant, its use dates back to the Roman and Greek civilizations, who used it to help treat ulcers, wounds and kidney problems.7
Unfortunately, farmers usually treat horsetail as a pest that’s very challenging to get rid of. This is because horsetail can propagate through spores, which are located in cones at the end of the plant’s stems.8 These spores are equipped with elaters, which allow them to move around once they land on the ground.9 This means they can spread easily and more effortlessly than other weeds.
How Can You Benefit From Horsetail?
Despite its status as a weed, horsetail can deliver surprising advantages for your well-being. Numerous studies have focused on the medicinal uses of horsetail and the possible health benefits you can get from this plant. Some of these benefits include:
- Helps promote bone health — Horsetail contains high amounts of silica, a mineral essential for strong bones.10 In fact, this herb has the highest amount of silica in the plant kingdom.11 In an Italian study, menopausal women with senile osteoporosis were observed to have increased bone density after a year of horsetail supplementation.12
- Helps stop bleeding — According to the book “Prescription for Herbal Healing,” using horsetail topically may help heal wounds quicker and stop them from bleeding.13
- Functions as a diuretic — Horsetail may help flush excess fluids and salt from the body, and may be beneficial for people with kidney problems, bladder stones or edemas.14 A 2014 study showed that horsetail is just as effective as hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic medication.15
- Aids in maintaining skin and hair health — The high levels of silica in horsetail assist in the production of collagen, an important factor in preventing signs of aging.16 One study found that using an oral supplement that included horsetail in its formulation helped boost hair growth among people with alopecia.17
- Assists in easing urinary tract infections — The diuretic, astringent and tissue healing properties of this herb may help ease UTIs. In a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Drug Development and Research, horsetail was one of the herbs evaluated for this particular ailment.18
Here’s How You Can Use Horsetail Herb
If you’re curious on how you can use horsetail to improve your health, here are some ideas you can try:19
- Drink horsetail tea — This is one of the easy ways to reap this herbs benefits. The instructions on how to make horsetail tea can be found below.
- Create a horsetail poultice — This is ideal for topical ailments that can be resolved by this herb, such as healing wounds. Apply it on the affected area.
- Make an herbal bath — Adding horsetail to your bath water may help address a sluggish circulation and ease gout or rheumatism. Soaking your hands in a basin of water infused with dill seeds and dried horsetail herb may also help keep your nails healthy.20
Apart from its therapeutic uses, horsetail is important in biodynamic farming. Called Equisetum 508, horsetail tea or liquid manure preparation is used as a spray to help protect plants from weeds, rot, pests and mildew, as well as to control and prevent fungal diseases.21
Note that this type of horsetail tea is different from the one you can brew and drink. You can find instructions on how to make horsetail tea for plants, as well as liquid manure, in the book, “Biodynamic Gardening.”22
How to Grow Horsetail in Your Own Backyard
Horsetail is a perennial plant23 that usually thrives in wet and boggy soil. It’s extremely hard to control if not managed well. This is one of the reasons why horsetail is best planted in wide areas. If you have limited space, using containers and pots will help control their spread.24 If you want to plant your own horsetail to add a tinge of green to your home or you want to reap this plant’s numerous benefits, here are a few tips from SF Gate:25
- Choose a shady part in your garden. A shady location will ensure that the horsetail will keep its color throughout the year. Make sure that you have soil that is rich in organic matter. You can ensure this by adding a layer of compost or organic manure on top of your soil.
- Make a hole in the soil for your plant and set the plant down into the hole. The crown should be at ground level.
- Water the horsetail after planting. Make sure that you keep the soil moist at all times.
How to Correctly Harvest and Store Horsetail Herbs
The best time for harvesting horsetail is during late spring, when its leaves are still bright green.26 After harvesting, storing a whole year’s supply of horsetail is easy enough. The thing that you should remember is that the leaves should be thoroughly dried before storage. Here is a step-by-step guide from The Daring Gourmet blog on how to properly store horsetail leaves:27
- After harvesting, rinse the leaves to get rid of dirt. Dry them in the sun for a few minutes before hanging them up.
- Bundle a few horsetails together, making sure that they still get enough air exposure. Tie them with a string.
- Hang them up in a dark place with good air circulation. Drying them would take two to three weeks. You can determine whether they’re completely dry by breaking a stem with your fingers and no moisture comes out anymore.
- Chop the leaves up and store them in an airtight glass container. Place the container in a dark place. Stored leaves usually last for up to one year.
Get This Herb’s Health Benefits by Brewing Horsetail Tea
As mentioned above, one of the best ways to reap horsetail’s benefits is by making horsetail tea. There are online stores that offer horsetail tea, either as loose tea or in teabags, but if you currently have an adequate supply of this herb, there is the option of brewing your own. To help you brew your first batch of horsetail tea, here is a recipe from the book, “Healing Teas:”28
Horsetail Tea Recipe
- 1/2 ounce (or 3 3/4 teaspoons) dried horsetail herb
- 8 ounces water
- Boil water in a kettle.
- Place the horsetail in a mug or teapot.
- Pour water onto the herb. Let it steep for three minutes.
- Strain your tea and drink.
Note: You can take this daily for two weeks, but no longer than that to avoid irritating your intestines and kidneys.
Contraindications and Possible Side Effects of Horsetail
Take note that horsetail, like other herbs, can lead to various side effects, especially if taken without the assistance of a health practitioner. Some of the side effects that you could suffer from prolonged horsetail use include the following:
- Thiamine deficiency — People who suffer from thiamine deficiency should steer clear from this herb because it’s been observed to destroy thiamine during digestion.29
- Potassium deficiency — Horsetail’s diuretic property may increase your risk of potassium deficiency (hypokalemia by depleting your body’s supply.30
- Lowered blood sugar levels — The ingestion of horsetail can alter glucose levels in the blood, which may be hard to manage for people with diabetes. If you are diabetic, it is best that you don’t use horsetail unless approved by a health professional.31
Remember that Equisetum arvense is the focus of this article, and not the other types of Equisetum plants. Equisetum palustre, another variety of horsetail found in areas like Canada, is toxic to sheep and cattle32 and may not be safe for humans. Before ingestion, make sure that you have the correct herb.
For pregnant or breastfeeding women, it is best that you do not take any horsetail products to ensure your and your child’s safety. This is due to the herb’s nicotine-like effects and the lack of conclusive studies that determine its toxicity.33