Western Isles
 Western Isles of Scotland

Western Isles Wildflowers

Western Isles wildflowers is a collection of information about our Hebridean wildflowers including identification hints, traditional herbal uses and general plant lore.


Marsh Horsetail

Equisteum palustre

Gaelic name: Cuiridin

Marsh Horsetail


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.

Marsh horsetail likes wet grassland and damp marshy areas. It has a creeping, string-like rootstock that grows deep in the soil and a number of hollow stems, which are of two types.

Marsh horsetail has separate fertile and sterile stems. Both of these are greenish (field horsetail fertile stem is buff-coloured). At the top of the fertile stem of both species is a cone-like spike which contains spores.

Both stems later develop whorls of branches.

Horsetail Uses

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 seriously 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.


Marsh horsetail (Equisetum palustre) contains poisonous alkaloids.


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.


Marsh Horsetail is a native plant of the Western Isles. Other species of horsetail which grow here are field horsetail, wood horsetail, and great horsetail.

Photography © Suzanne Harris
Breasclete - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
June 18th, 2007

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