Equisetum arvense- Horsetail

Family: Equisetaceae

Names: Shavegrass,Field Horsetail, Equisetum calderi, Equisetum saxicola.

Habitat: Arctic and temperate regions of Europe, including Britain, N. America and Asia. Open fields, arable land, waste places, hedgerows and roadsides, usually on moist soils.

Large quantities of the plant can be toxic. This is because it contains the enzyme thiaminase, a substance that can rob the hazardsmallbody of the vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase. The plant also contains equisetic acid – see the notes on medicinal uses for more information. Avoid in patients with oedema due to heart failure or impaired kidney function.

Horsetail are an old plant and have a long history of use as a medicinal herb.Horsetails have an unusual chemistry compared to most other plants. They are rich in silica, contain several alkaloids (including nicotine) and various minerals. Horsetail is very astringent and makes an excellent clotting agent, staunching wounds, stopping nosebleeds and reducing the coughing up of blood. It helps speed the repair of damaged connective tissue, improving its strength and elasticity. The plant is anodyne, antihaemorrhagic, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, galactogogue, haemostatic and vulnerary. Sometimes the ashes of the plant are used. The plant is a useful diuretic when taken internally and is used in the treatment of kidney and bladder problems, cystitis, urethritis, prostate disease and internal bleeding, proving especially useful when there is bleeding in the urinary tract. A decoction applied externally will stop the bleeding of wounds and promote healing. It is especially effective on nose bleeds. A decoction of the herb added to a bath benefits slow-healing sprains and fractures, as well as certain irritable skin conditions such as eczema. The plant contains equisetic acid, which is thought to be identical to aconitic acid. This substance is a potent heart and nerve sedative that is a dangerous poison when taken in high doses. This plant contains irritant substances and should only be used for short periods of time. It is also best only used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh plant. It is used in the treatment of cystitis and other complaints of the urinary system. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Equisetum arvense for urinary tract infections, kidney & bladder stones, wounds & burns.

By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Description of Horsetail:

Equisetum species – horsetail family are Creeping, perenial, Branching rootstocks, rooted at the nodes. The Arial stems may be annual or Perennial, are cylindrical, fluted, simple or with whorled branches at the jointed nodes. The inter nodes are usually hollow. The Surfaces of the stems are covered with Silica. The Cones are terminal. Equisetum avense is a Perennial from creeping rhizomes, often forming large colonies; to 2 1/2 ft. Stems hollow, ridged, jointed. Sterile stems green, with whorled branches are nodes; leaves reduced to brownish, papery, toothed sheath around node; sheath with fewer then 14 teeth. Fertile stems brownish to whitish, with large “cone” at tip, formed by spore-producing scales; cone produced in early spring.

Equisetum arvense is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.6 m (2ft).
It is hardy to zone 2. The seeds ripen in April.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

By rosier (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Cultivation of Horsetail:

Prefers poor dusty ground. This rather contradicts another report which says that the presence of this plant indicates underground water. Prefers a moist but well-drained fertile soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. A very cold-hardy species tolerating temperatures down to about -30°c. Plants have a deep and penetrating root system and can be invasive. If grown in the garden they are best kept in bounds by planting them in a large container which can be sunk into the ground.

Propagation of Horsetail:

Spores – best collected as soon as they are ripe in the spring and surface-sown immediately on a sterile compost. Keep moist and pot up as soon as the plants are large enough to handle. Very difficult. Division. The plants usually spread very freely when well sited and should not really need any assistance.

Collection: Take care to ensure the plants being picked are E.arvense or other common species, as some other specices are rare but locally abundant. Collect in early summer. Cut the plant just above the ground, hang in bundles and dry in an airy place. The green infertile stems are used, they are most active when fresh but can also be harvested in late summer and dried for later use.

Culinary uses of Horsetail:

horsetail,equisetum_arvenseMedicinal uses of Horsetail:

Part Used: Dried aerial stems.

Actions: Astringent, diuretic, vulnerary.

Indications: Horsetail is an excellent astringent for the genito-urinary system, reducing hemorrhage and healing wounds thanks to the high silica content. Whilst it acts as a mild diuretic, its toning and astringent actions make it invaluable in the treatment of incontinence and bed wetting in children. It is considered a specific in cases of inflammation or benign enlargement of the prostate gland. Externally it is a vulnerary. In some cases it has been found to ease the pain of rheumatism and stimulate the healing of chilblains.

Ellingwood suggest the following uses: dropsy, lithaemia, haematuria, gonorrhea, gleet, irritable bladder, enuresis in children, prostatitis, and the ashes for acid dyspepsia.

Preparations & Dosage:

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried plant and let infuse for 15-20 minutes.. This should be drunk three times a day.

Bath: a useful bath can be made to help in rheumatic pain and chilblains. Allow 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces of the herb to steep in hot water for an hour. Add this to the bath.

Tincture: take 2-4 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Combinations: Horsetail is often combined with Hydrangea in the treatment of prostate troubles.

Other uses of Horsetail:

Dye,  Fungicide,  Liquid feed,  Musical,  Paper,  Polish,  Sandpaper,  Scourer,

The stems contain 10% silica and are used for scouring metal and as a fine sandpaper. They can also be used as a polish for brass, hardwood etc. The infused stem is an effective fungicide against mildew, mint rust and blackspot on roses. It also makes a good liquid feed as the silicates not only are antifungal but they add strength to plant structure making them stronger and more wind resistant. A light pink dye is obtained from the stem. It is yellow-gray according to another report. The plant has been used for making whistles. Horsetail for Hair is used as a wash to prevent dandruff and help to heal irritated scalps.

Esoteric uses of Horsetail:

None known but if you use this plant please let us know!

The Chemistry:


  • Alkaloids, including nicotine, palustrine andpalustrinine
  • Flavonoids such as isoquercitrin and equicetrin
  • Sterols including cholesterol, isofucosterol, campesterol.
  • Silicic acid.
  • Misc: a saponin equisitonin, dimethylsulphone, thiaminase & aconitic acid
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