Horsetail: Is it a weed or a miracle plant? 

Why do we regard horsetail as a weed when it offers so many health benefits, asks Peter Dowdall 
Horsetail: Is it a weed or a miracle plant? 
A cup of herbal tea with fresh horsetail plant. Picture: iStock

I POSTED to my Facebook page recently about a plant which most of us refer to as a weed. The amount of comments and feedback that the post received really got me thinking.

This was the original post: “Equisetum arvense also called marestail or horsetail is an extremely invasive weed and causes problems for many.

I am regularly asked on how to control it and you know what, sometimes you just gotta roll with it!! This is a plant that has been on planet earth since the dinosaurs (think about that for a minute). Don't really think we are going to be able to control it no matter how invasive we may find it.

It's extremely rich in silica and makes a great hair tonic I'm told (I wouldn't know!).”

I know that this plant is extremely invasive and I remember learning in college, a lifetime ago, about how much the rail companies in the UK had to spend to chemically control it on the lines for obvious safety reasons.

I do not use weedkillers and nor do I recommend them, I think we quite simply have to have a more holistic approach to gardening. A weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place. The wrong place meaning, somewhere that we don’t want it. What’s wrong with a bit of hand weeding? I know hand weeding won’t control the dreaded marestail in most instances but why is it so dreaded?

Perhaps one of the best holistic approaches that I read was this comment: “The best approach is to try to move it on. Plant something that will make it uncomfortable, that'll make it want to go another direction. A plant that has long, grassy leaves which continuously move and rub the ground will deter the horsetail, e.g.pampas grass, phormium etc. But, you gotta accept that it will simply move it on.”

Many people have suggested using various concoctions of boiling water, vinegar, salt and other ingredients to control it in the often, mistaken belief that they are doing less harm than by using chemical weed-killers. Unfortunately, all of the ingredients mentioned can have a hugely detrimental effect on soil and surrounding plant and insect life so be careful before you reach for a seemingly innocuous cure.

Knowing that this plant has been around for Millenia should have prepared me for the information that it has so many uses, many of which I was unaware.

Some of the information that I have learned from my original post include: “Horsetail is used for such a large variety of health problems, including urinary tract infections, oedema, joint diseases, hair loss, brittle nails, skin health, diabetes, osteoporosis and more”; “You can also make a salve to heal wounds, stop bleeding, prevent infection, and reduce pain”; “Apparently, it’s nice in a salad”; It’s bad for horses. Inhibits Vitamin B1 uptake”; “It is great for hair. Add a small bunch in a mason jar top it with organic apple cider vinegar, leave it for 14 days in the fridge or cupboard away from light. Use two tablespoons in two litres of water to rinse your hair. Your hair will grow and recover its natural shininess”; and “Apparently, the ancient Romans used it to clean their dishes, because of its strength.”

As I say, all this got me thinking, if it has so many uses and is such a helpful plant why are so scared of it? Why are we so intent on killing it at any cost? Yes, it is invasive but so is grass. Could we not, maybe have lawns of Equisetum arvense and use the clippings to make tonics?

Then I spotted another comment, which will get the grey matter going even more: “I once read an article where the author suggested that there was only one marestail plant in the whole world, their roots were all connected”

Seems strange if not completely impossible to believe that they can be connected between countries, even across continents but who am I to say they aren’t all part of the one parent plant? Perhaps this is how the plant has survived for so long when myriad other species have come and gone.

I can’t help thinking that when Homo sapiens are long gone and with us, all our talk of Glyphosate, salt and vinegar, the Equisetum will be still thriving.

One comment from a German follower has really set me off on a much more innate level about wildflowers, herbs and weeds in general:

“Something I have witnessed in my garden a couple of times now, plants do come when there's need for them or the sincere wish to have them around. So maybe check if you personally, a family member or the garden itself might be in need of this plant.”

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