Medicine in your garden

I REMEMBER going to my brother and sister in law’s garden for bonfire night many years ago – just around the time I began my studies to become a herbalist and being amazed by a strange plant called equisetum arvense — commonly known as horsetail, pewterwort or bottlebrush.

Medicine in your garden

My brother-in-law’s father told me that when he was younger, this plant was used for scouring any burnt pots which is probably where the common name of pewterwort came from.

Equisetum arvense or horsetail likes to grow in damp areas and it is more than a little ironic that the herb is used to treat damp conditions such as arthritis and urinary problems. Horsetail is an absolute gem for people who have joint problems. It has a high content of silica which is essential for the repair of ligaments, tendons and bones.

When using horsetail as a tincture it can be somewhat bitter to the taste because the herb contains tannins. It’s good for toning the membranes of the urinary system as well as removing urates without causing irritation. Due to this ability, it is also a herb that can be taken prophylactically if you are prone to kidney stones.

Horsetail can be crushed up by hand and applied as a compress for sprains, wounds or sores, or made as a tea and let cool before using it as a gargle for mouth and gum inflammations. It may be taken internally to stop bleeding from ulcers or to curb heavy menstrual bleeding and I have used this herb on occasion for bedwetting to good effect.

The strobils, which are the young shoots generally seen around the middle of May, can be cut and used as an asparagus replacement.

Horsetail tea

You will need some fresh horsetail stems, lemon juice, water and stevia or honey. Throw the horsetail into a blender with water and blend really well. Put through a sieve to get rid of any fibrous parts and add lemon juice and stevia to taste and drink up to three times a day.

Alternatively as a nail tonic, you can make a tea on its own by boiling for 15 minutes and straining.Then reboil the tea for a further 20 minutes until it has reduced by half. This can be painted on to the nails a number of times a day to help strengthen them. Mothers-to-be or lactating mothers shouldn’t use this herb.

As always this isn’t intended as medical advice so consult a professional about the use of herbs. If you have any queries you can contact me at

Sean McCarthy, DBTh MIRCH, is an holistic herbalist.

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