Horsetail is a perennial plant which is sometimes described as a living fossil.
About 350 million years ago - the Devonian period, the horsetails flourished. They grew to heights of up to 40 feet or more and resembled skinny branchless pine trees, growing as dense as a forest.
Horsetail likes a fairly moist loamy or sandy soil. It has a creeping, string-like rootstock that grows deep in the soil and a number of hollow stems, which are of two types.
During the Middle Ages bunches of horsetail were often used as scouring pads to clean iron and pewter pans, kitchen utensils and pewter, because of it's high silicon content. It has also been by cabinet makers as a fine sandpaper for polishing wood.
Probably for centuries children have made blowpipes from horsetail. Recently there have been records of some of them getting seroiusly ill from the levels of nicotine in horsetail (nicotine is lesser known as an agricultural pesticide).
Horsetail Herbal Uses
There are records of horsetail's history of use as a herbal remedy as far back as ancient Roman and Greek times.
The correct species of horsetail must be used and there are dangers in using any horsetail species
There is a similar species of horsetail, the marsh horsetail (Equisetum palustre) which also grows in the Western Isles and contains poisonous alkaloids.
Traditionally horsetail was used to stop bleeding and in the treatment of wounds, gonorrhea, nosebleeds, digestive disorders, gout, for treating urinary disorders, and a many other conditions.
Horsetail has a very high silicon content, as silicon is important in bones structure, horsetail is being used to prevent and treat osteoporosis, and likewise to strengthen brittle nails. There is also speculation that it may be of use in rheumatoid artritis.
Horsetail can accumulate and concentrate the heavy metals which are in it's growing area.
Horsetail has an enzyme which has been known to cause death in livestock if eaten in large doses. This enzyme is rendered harmless by heat treatment.
Horsetail is a diuretic. It helps to eliminate water from the body, this can cause dehydration and for people who are on some medications such as lithium, dehydration is dangerous.
Horsetail can cause loss of potassium, for people with heart problems or others who are using medications based on digitalis this can be dangerous.
is a native plant of the Western Isles. Other species of horsetail which grow here are marsh horsetail, wood horsetail, and great horsetail.
Photography © Suzanne Harris
Croir - Isle of Great Bernera- Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
April and May, 2007