c.2018 Greg Tilford
Equisetum arvense Horsetail family
Appearance: The horsetail family is generally divided into three segments: 1) Annual varieties which produce separate, and distinctly different fertile and sterile stems; 2) those which produce sterile and fertile stems which are similar in appearance; 3) evergreen perennials which produce fertile and sterile stems which are alike. Despite variances, the entire family shares fundamentally similar characteristics— hollow, distinctively grooved and jointed stems, and leaves which are scale-like and dark in color— appearing as sheaths which surround the stems at the joints. In early spring Equisetum arvense produces a small (3-12″), fertile stem that lacks chlorophyll (the constituent which makes plants green). This dies back as its larger, green, sterile counterpart matures. The subsequent, 6″ to 2′ tall sterile stems have whorled branches which give the overall appearance of a green bottle brush. Equisetum hyemale is much larger (up to 5′), and lacks any branching characteristics. It looks like a prehistoric cross between miniature bamboo and an asparagus spear. Both species are often seen growing side-by-side.
Habitat & Range: Lake shores, stream banks, and other wet areas; up into alpine elevations throughout North America. Horsetails often represent the primary ground cover in shady, wet thickets.
Cycle & Bloom Season: The green, sterile plants emerge in spring. Perennial varieties remain green and usable throughout the year, annual varieties die back in late fall.
Parts Used: All aerial parts.
Actions: Diuretic, astringent, hemostatic, tonic.
Affinities: Muscloskeletal, skin and hair.
Preparation: Tincture or decoction for internal uses; a poultice for external compresses.
Specific Uses: Horsetail contains a vast array of synergistic chemical compounds which all contribute to myriad medicinal uses, but most notable is its usefulness in healing bone and connective tissue injuries.
Most of horsetail’s regenerative actions in the Muscloskeletal system can be attributed to its remarkable content of bioactive silicon. In the body, silicon is a fundamental starting point, or matrix, for the formation of bone, cartilage, skin, and other connective tissues, including those of the aorta and trachea. Silicon is perhaps the most common element on earth. In fact, most of the sand on our planet is comprised largely of silicon— but not in a form that can be absorbed and used by the body. The silicon contained in horsetail is unique in that it is in a form that can be metabolized for tissue repair and development1.
For you and your companion, horsetail is useful for speeding recovery from joint and bone injuries, including post-surgical trauma. To use horsetail internally, a decoction or tincture preparation is needed. Horsetail is poorly water soluble and is very abrasive— unless it is put into a form that can be easily absorbed by the body, it may cause irritation to the urinary tract and kidneys. To make a decoction, take a heaping handful of the dried herb and place it into a non-metallic cooking vessel (to avoid picking up metallic residues). Add a half teaspoon of sugar and enough water to barely cover the herb. The sugar will help extract the silicon constituents and will make a more palatable finished product2. Simmer the mixture over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the water has turned dark green. Strain through a fine cloth and allow to cool. The clarified decoction can be added directly to your companion’s food— one tablespoon per 20 pounds of the animal’s body weight daily, five days a week. Horsetail tincture can be used the same way, but at a smaller dosage of one milliliter (1/4 tsp.) per 20 pounds of body weight.
Horsetail is also useful for a variety of urinary tract problems, particularly those that involve bleeding or an accumulation of superfluous tissue in the urinary tract. The hemolytic and antimicrobial properties of horsetail make it very useful for urinary tract infections that involve minor bleeding from the bladder or urethra. To help avoid urinary tract irritattion during long term use (more than 10 days), it’s a good idea to use horsetail in conjunction with soothing, protecting, and lubricating herbs such as marshmallow, plantain, or chickweed. Marshmallow is our first choice, because it adds excellent antimicrobial properties to the therapeutic effort.
There is evidence to support claims that horsetail may help prevent bone degeneration, skin and coat disorders, and even senility in older animals. Scientific studies have concluded that as a body ages, silicon levels in the circulatory system and skin decrease, which in turn leads to tissue degeneration and a diminished capacity to form new tissue4. Other studies point to the possibility that horsetail may be useful in preventing certain forms of senility and degenerative bone disease— namely, those directly related to the balance between silicon and aluminum in the body. In theory, these ailments may result from a toxic excess of aluminum, a condition normally counteracted by the presence of silicic acid, silicon and other vital compounds that are contained in horsetail5. In other words, dietary supplementation with horsetail may help maintain a healthful balance of silicon in the bodies of aging animals. See your holistic veterinarian to ascertain if and how much horsetail is suitable for your companion.