Horsetail

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Equisetum arvense (L)

 

Synonyms: shavegrass, pewterwort, bottlebrush, horsetail rush, paddock-pipes, Dutch rushes, mare's tail

Order: Equisetaceae

Description: Equisetum is a European herb which grows in moist waste places throughout temperate regions of the world and is cultivated in Yugoslavia. It  is a member of a very primitive family of plants. In spring a spore-bearing stem, resembling a thin asparagus shoot, rises 15-20cm; once shed, this is replaced by a pale green bush with erect hollow jointed stems with longitudinal furrows, and with sharply-toothed sheaths covering each joint; from the sheaths of the central stem arise whorls of fine branches, each giving off finer whorls, the whole sometimes extending up to 60cm in height, but usually less.

Parts used: the sterile stems (those appearing in summer; not the brownish fertile stems that appear in early spring bearing terminal cones). 

Collection: mid- to late summer

Constituents: minerals (silicic acids and silicates - 5-8%; potassium, aluminium, sulphur, manganese and magnesium), flavonoids (principally quercetin glycosides), phenolic acids, alkaloids (usually absent except for traces of nicotine, palustrine and palustrinine), saponin (equisetonin), bitter principle, phytosterols (cholesterol, isofucosterol, campesterol and others), tannins

Actions: weak diuretic, genito-urinary astringent, antihaemorrhagic, haemostatic, prophylactic causing a mild leucocytosis, restorative to damaged pulmonary tissue, possible detoxifier; Locally styptic and vulnerary

Indications: enuresis, prostatic disease, cystitis with haematuria, urethritis

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Equisetum is an excellent genito-urinary system astringent. It may be applied to such conditions as urethritis or cystitis with haematuria, reducing haemorrhage and healing wounds thanks to the high silica content. Whilst it acts as a mild diuretic, its toning and astringent action make it of value in the treatment of incontinence and bed-wetting in children. As a diuretic it is particularly suited to metabolic or hormonal oedema during the menopause. The diuretic action is thought to be due partly to the flavonoids and saponins. It is generally accepted that water diuresis takes place without increase in the excretion of electrolytes. Sitz baths with equisetum extract are indicated for functional pelvic disease in women where there is no inflammation, but primarily muscular tensions and changes in muscle tone in the small pelvis that are autonomous in origin. It is considered a specific remedy in cases of inflammation or benign enlargement of the prostate gland. Equisetum is restorative to damaged pulmonary tissue after pulmonary tuberculosis and other lung disease, as the silicic acid is said to stabilise the scar tissue. 

The juice of the plant is good for anaemia resulting from internal bleeding such as stomach ulcers, since it promotes the coagulation of blood. Externally it is a vulnerary and may also be applied as a compress to fractures and sprains. The effect of strengthening and regenerating connective tissues has been ascribed to the silicic acid content. The local astringent and antihaemorrhagic effect explains the application of horsetail to such conditions as bleeding from the mouth, nose and vagina, its use to check diarrhoea, dysentery and bleeding from the bowel, and for slow-healing wounds, chilblains and conjunctivitis.  The fresh, crushed stems may be used to alleviate nosebleeds. The juice increases blood clotting, in spite of it containing haemolytic saponins.The tea makes a good wash for wounds, sores, skin problems and a gargle for mouth and gum inflammations.

 In some cases Equisetum has been found to ease the pain of rheumatism and stimulate the healing of chilblains.  Horsetail tea is good for splitting nails and lifeless hair. It is also useful when white spotting occurs on the nails (a symptom said to indicate calcium imbalance in the body).

 It has been established that administration of silicic acid causes leucocytosis (a temporary increase in white blood cells). Equisetum's silica content encourages the absorption and use of calcium by the body and also helps to guard against fatty deposits in the arteries. Its influence on lipid metabolism leads to potential benefit for cardiovascular problems. 

Combinations: Equisetum may be combined with Hydrangea in the treatment of prostatic conditions.

Caution: Correct identification of this plant is important since other species of Equisetum contain toxic alkaloids, and excessive doses of E. arvense can themselves lead to symptoms of poisoning. It should not be used where there is cardiac or renal dysfunction (a warning sign is albuminuria). 

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

GSL Schedule 2

Dried Herb: 1-4g or by infusion or decoction

Liquid Extract: 1:1 in 25% alcohol, 1-4ml

Tincture: 1:5 in 25% alcohol, 2-6ml

Externally as an infusion or decoction in compresses

Additional Comments: The Ancient Greeks used horsetail in the treatment of wounds and the Romans used it as a vegetable, an animal feed and a medicine. Culpeper said it was 'very powerful to stop bleeding, either inward or outward, and eases the swelling, heat, and inflammation of the fundamental, or privy parts, in men and women.' The Chinese use E.hiemale, or mu zei, to cool fevers and as a remedy for eye inflammations such as conjunctivitis and corneal disorders, dysentery, flu, swellings and haemorrhoids. Recent research in Russia has apparently demonstrated that horsetail is effective in removing lead accumulations in the body. The dried stems may be used as a metal polish, hence the common name pewterwort.

 

Bibliography

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Bradley, P.R. (ed.) 1992 British Herbal Compendium, Volume 1, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Culpeper, N. 1649 Complete Herbal and English Physician, 1990 reprint of the 1814 London edition of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, Meyer, Illinois.

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, Penguin, London (First published in 1991 as Out of the Earth, Arkana)

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The A-Z of Modern Herbalism, Diamond Books, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ©Purple Sage Botanicals