One of the most googled questions about horsetail or Equisetum arvense is how to get rid of it (the word “destroy” is actually being used quite liberally in searches) from your garden. Considered a noxious weed, horsetail is despised by gardeners. However, before you try to eradicate it (which is a challenge in itself because it has a tendency to grow back after uprooting) consider using it to make a healthy herbal tea.
Horsetail Growing Habitat
If your garden has a sandy or stony soil spot you are likely to see horsetail growing spontaneously there. Sometimes adding gravel to a garden will introduce horsetail spores (that’s how this plant reproduces) as quarries are often the perfect habitat. Bog lands are also rife with horsetail so you could be introducing it if you use compost that contains peat, which in itself is a practice that needs discontinuing because peat lands are getting depleted at a worrying rate. Horsetail has survived many millennia and dates back to the Paleozoic era.
Horsetail loves poor draining soil that retains water (that’s why it thrives in bog lands) so the advice (see Gardener’s World for example) to limit the spreading of horsetail in gardens is to apply lime (ground limestone rock) as a soil amendment, which is rich in calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. These minerals help to make the soil less acidic.
Horsetail has a high silica content, which it extracts from poor soil. The mineral silica has been linked with remineralising properties in human bones and teeth as it improves the absorption of calcium in the body.
WebMD lists a number of uses for horsetail, adding a strong caveat that there isn’t enough evidence available to substantiate equisetum’s health benefits. Horsetail uses include:
- increasing bone density and remineralising teeth
- bladder control
- improving fluid retention through diuretic action
- improving hair and nail growth, as well as slowing down hair loss
- facilitating wound healing.
According to Mount Sinai, a network of hospitals in the New York metropolitan area comprising the Icahn School of Medicine, the first uses of horsetail for medicinal purposes were documented from the ancient Roman and Greek times onwards to treat wounds and ulcers. Mount Sinai warns about potential interactions of equisetum with medication and other herbal remedies as well as lowering the absorption of vitamin B1 and potassium so it recommends to speak to a qualified practitioner first.
Horsetail Health Benefits Research
The Journal Of Medicinal Plants Research quotes a lengthy list of horsetail’s beneficial properties, including, amongst others:
Although the sample group was too small (36 adults) a 2014 research study confirmed that equisetum is an effective diuretic, aiding the removal of excess fluid from the body.
A 2015 study on a small group of women post-partum found that applying equisetum ointment promoted wound healing, supporting the reconstruction of the dermis and epidermis, and even reducing wound size (making it a comparable treatment to more traditional zinc oxide ointment application).
The IOSR Journal of Pharmacy published a study on the compounds found in Equisetum arvense in 2017. Equisetum has pharmacological uses thanks to these compounds:
- amino acids,
- ascorbic acid,
- silicic acid,
- volatile oils.
This means that horsetail has antioxidant, antimicrobial, sedative (calming and promoting sleep), anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective (protecting the liver) and diuretic effects, as well as it supports the osteoblastic response, meaning that it promotes bone density, as evaluated during in vitro tests on human bone marrow tissue. Additionally, Equisetum arvense has an antiploriferative activity on human cancer cells.
In particular, the antimicrobial activity of horsetail has been tested as effective against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus epidermidis.
Is it worth drinking horsetail herbal tea? Its flavour is comparable to green tea, making it a pleasant hot drink with potential health benefits. Looking at the research literature, there isn’t enough evidence to support claims that horsetail tea can be used in a therapeutic way, however having it occasionally can help flush out excess fluids in the body.