Courtesy of M. Michener
Courtesy of M. Michener

Horsetail, or Scouring Rush, Equisetum arvense

Family: Equisetaceae, the Horsetail Family

Description: Native perennial herb 0.1-1m tall. Fertile stems leafless with strobili producing spores in April-May, sterile stems green, hollow, and grooved with whorled branches and leaves around each node

Abundance: Occasional on Mt. Desert Island

Habitat: Wet meadows, roadsides, woods, open sandy areas

Plant Parts Used: Leaves, stem

Food: Condiment, tea, juice

Medicine: Bone strength, hair, nails, teeth, stops bleeding

Other: Scrubbing pots and pans

This is an odd plant whose stems are used both to stop bleeding and to scrub pots and pans. Ray keeps an assortment of wild plant condiments on his kitchen table, one of which is horsetail. Dried and powdered, horsetail serves as a good condiment; it does not have much flavor, but it is good for strengthening bones, hair, nails, and teeth. Sue told me that the spring leaves make a bone strengthening tea or juice. Terry-Anya does not gather horsetail often because it is so often found in polluted areas. She knows it as being used for urinary tract infections. She described one of ethnobotanist and herbalist David Winston’s medicines for osteoporosis that contained horsetail. Terry-Anya also pointed out that David Winston cautions that horsetail should not be gathered beyond a certain point in the season; later in the summer it can become actively irritating to the same systems that earlier it helps.

Also called scouring rush, this plant is used for polishing wood and cleaning pots and pans. Simply crush and dry it and use like sand paper. John told me that when harvesting horsetail, one should wear gloves and harvest in the fall. Like Sue, however, Deb said to harvest horsetail in the spring. She will then tincture it fresh or add it to apple cider vinegar to incorporate into dressings. Horsetail is often included in tea formulas for increasing calcium absorption. Deb also purports this plant’s use for strengthening bones, nails, teeth, and hair, and for preventing osteoporosis and healing broken bones. She even said it can help people with fragile, papery skin as is often seen in older people.

Caution: According to Turner and Von Aderkas, the mature horsetail plant should never be eaten. Due to the presences of thiaminase, some saponins, and flavones glycosides, horsetail should always be used “sparingly and not in quantity.”

Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.

References:

  • Brooks, John. Personal Interview. 28 Nov. 2010.
  • Hayes, Terry-Anya. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2010.
  • Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
  • Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
  • Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.
  • Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.
  • Turner, Nancy J., and Patrick Von Aderkas. The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms. Portland: Timber, 2009. Print.
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