Recently, while on a walk in a neighborhood park, I came across one of my favorite herbs.
This is horsetail, or equisetum arvense.
Isn’t it beautiful?
The young shoots are just starting to get their branches. Here’s what it looks like a little farther into the season:
Now you can really see where it got it’s name, right?
Those gorgeous branches grow and form a bit of a bottle brush shape.
Horsetail is a very old plant that dominated the forests of the dinosaur era. At this time, they grew to the size of pine trees.
Now they are found in North America, Europe, and Asia, growing in damp sands or soils along lakes, rivers, and swamps.
Fun fact: Horsetail is also known as scouring rush, as people used to bind its branches together and use them as a scouring pad to wash dishes.
You can learn a lot about what a plant does by looking at its appearance and where it grows. This is part of the doctrine of signatures.
The doctrine of signatures dates from the time of Galen, a famous Greek physician who lived around 130AD. It states that herbs that resemble various parts of the body can be used to treat ailments of those parts of the body.
He looks like a nice guy, right? Lots of good work came from this one.
We can see the two major uses of horsetail from the doctrine of signatures.
#1 Connective Tissue Support
If you take a close look at the branches, you can see joints.
If you break these joints open, there is an elastic material within the joint that holds it together. If you bend it, it is easy to notice that it moves similarly to one of your own joints, like an elbow or knee.
Horsetail mimics cartilage, telling us it’s good for cartilage and connective tissue support. Connective tissue is everywhere in the body. It’s like layers of saran wrap around every muscle and muscle fiber. We’re pretty much one big sheet of connective tissue.
Horsetail is extremely high in minerals, especially silica, which is crucial for proper connective tissue formation. Not only is it great for joint rebuilding and pain reduction, but it’s fabulous for anywhere in the body with connective tissue, including blood vessels.
Horsetail can improve vascular integrity, reducing varicose veins and strengthening arteries.
Any other areas of the body that need silica — like hair, skin, nails, bones, teeth, and mucus membranes (like your sinuses, lungs, or gastrointestinal tract) — also benefit from horsetail.
Overall, it’s a wonderful tonic, rebuilding mineral depletion that most of us suffer from.
#2 Urinary and Kidney Issues
Horsetail’s other big use is in treating urinary tract and kidney issues.
The long, rigid, tube-like structure of the “tail” show an affinity for tubular structures in the body.
The kidneys are full of millions tubules and microtubules that form an incredibly complex system that concentrates the waste products of metabolism and extract all the good stuff (minerals, electrolytes, etc.) back into the body.
Looks intense, right? There’s a lot going on in your kidneys.
Horsetail is a wonderful tonic for the kidneys. It gently increases urine outflow (a mild diuretic effect), but preserves the electrolytes — meaning it doesn’t deplete the minerals the kidney needs to function, like some diuretic medications do.
It is commonly used in urinary tract infections, with kidney stone issues, or other urinary tract issues, like interstitial cystitis, bladder prolapse, chronic bladder infection/irritation, or urinary gravel (tiny, tiny stones that can be passed, but cause discomfort).
Horsetail strengthens the mucus membranes of the urinary tract so they are less susceptible to irritation. It is mildly anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, so it is a natural choice for infections or inflammatory conditions.
Horsetail grows in wet, sandy places. The water in the environment demonstrates it’s affinity for the kidneys, and the sand, which represents urinary gravel.
How do I take horsetail?
Horsetail contains so much silica it cannot be eaten fresh or cooked.
It is best to make a tea of horsetail, especially as it promotes urination. A tincture, or alcohol extract, can also be effective.
Use up to one month, then take a break of at least 2 weeks or discontinue completely, as long term use is not indicated.
Tip: please make sure you are getting your horsetail from a reputable source. It draws heavily on the soil it grows in to concentrate minerals, and if that soil is contaminated, the plant will be, too.
Horsetail is often seen growing by the roadside, and it will soak up whatever runoff happens. These plants are often high in cadmium and lead.
This amazing plant is right outside our doors!
Next time you take a walk, look for that characteristic bottle brush tail. Experiment with one of the branches by breaking one off and checking out it’s tubular structure and elastic material.
We learn about plants best by interacting with them. Say hi to some horsetail for me!
PS — If you do find some, feel free to post on my Facebook page or shoot me an email about your experience! Or take a photo and share!