As part of our Save Our Skills year, we are looking at foraging. These post were originally published on our Facebook Page, we'd like to thank Claire Fleetneedle for allowing us to publish them here.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Horsetail, also known as shavegrass and bottle brush, is a prehistoric plant which once covered the earth. In spring a spore-bearing stem, resembling an asparagus, shoot pops up which is then quickly replaced by an upright hollow jointed stem covered in whorls of feathery fine branches. This grows to mid-calf height.
Contains vitamins C, K and folate plus calcium, flavonoids, iron, magnesium, phosperous, saponin, silica, sodium, tannins, zinc and a wide range of acids
Prolonged use (in very high doses) can lower vitamin B1 levels. Horsetail should be avoided by pregnant or breast feeding women. If you have a nicotine allergy do not use this herb.
Anti-inflammatory, soothing diuretic, anti-rheumatic, beneficial for vitamin malabsorption and iron deficient anaemia, re-mineraliser, stops bleeding, decongestant and tissue builder.
As a gardener this plant is maddening, it seems impossible to get rid of. I spent many hours trying to remove it from my old allotment all the while thinking something so prolific had to be useful. Little did I realise how true that was …
The first spring shoots of Horsetail can be eaten, before the fronds unfurl. At this point in its lifecycle the plant resembles a space age version of asparagus - in Japan it is eaten as a delicacy called tsukushi. I have found conflicting information about eating the more mature plant, so I would suggest it’s probably safest to avoid eating once the spiny fronds are showing. However, a few handfuls of fresh horsetail made into a tea would be perfectly safe. You can also make a salve from it at any point during its life span.
The high silica content preserves the connective tissues of the body and controls the absorption of calcium, thus giving a boost to your nails, hair teeth and even bones. This makes it an excellent treatment for osteoporosis and other brittle bone complaints.
Silica assists with the formation of collagen, which is why Horsetail is a common ingredient in many anti-aging and wrinkle creams. I originally experimented with the herb as a replacement facial salve, because the dry summer last year had created a poor harvest of my usual plant. Almost twelve months on I can vouch for its effectiveness as a face cream, or an all over body lotion. In addition I can report a marked improvement on my ability absorb vitamins and minerals – specifically iron.
Ingredients: About 12 horsetail stalks freshly picked and thoroughly washed– pat dry with a tea towel to stop oil spitting during preparation.
1 pint of cheap olive oil
¾ bar of bees wax
Heat the olive oil in a pan until you hear it bubble, take the fresh horsetail and drop into the hot oil, allow to cook for a few minutes then remove from the heat. Do not allow it to burn, the burnt odour will spoil it. Strain the hot mixture through a sieve and some muslin into a bowl. Throw the drained herbs away (or on the compost), and wash the pan. Return the drained oil back to the clean pan and reheat. Drop three quarters of a bar of beeswax into the oil and allow it to melt. As soon as it has disappeared remove from the heat; at this point you can choose to add about 6 – 8 drops of essential oil, I usually add tea rose oil but it is fine to leave it unscented. Allow to cool slightly while preparing sterilised lids and jars. If, during the cooling process, you see that there is separation, whisk until the liquid has combined again. While it is still warm pour into the sterilised jars, covering the tops with muslin while the oil cools. Once cooled label, name and date, then store in a cool dark cupboard. If stored correctly this will last more than a year.
Horsetail is considered beneficial in the treatment of chronic or persistent bladder infections, as a soothing diuretic and general cleanser. It is certainly good for water retention and beneficial to both the liver and kidneys. The plants cleansing properties remove uric acid and cellulites from the system, making it an ideal treatment for those suffering with arthritis or rheumatism. I have even discovered that having a bath with dried or fresh horsetail (inside a muslin bag) is thought to help to relieve joint pain.
It was once used as a poultice to heal boils, wounds and to stop bleeding plus, as a natural coagulant, the salve is thought to be an excellent treatment for haemorrhoids.
Horsetail is also a well-known internal and external anti-inflammatory for a wide range of ailments. Its rebuilding qualities have been known to hasten repair to the tissues after lung damage with the tea traditionally used as a remedy for chest complaints and catarrh congestion.
I have found a whole host of further uses for this ancient plant - far too many to list here - so I will conclude with my final domestic use. Once known as pewterwart due to its effectiveness as a polish for pewter and metals, it was also used as a very fine sandpaper and made into an oil to polish wood. I use my homemade salve to polish leather shoes, wooden furniture, floorboards and even the slate hearth, with superb results.
This is my personal experience of using Horsetail combined with information I have researched over a number of years. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the above please stop using the herb immediately. And always take care when identifying the plant.
LIFE ON PIG ROW DISCLAIMER: We’d like to thank Claire for this wonderful piece, as she points out, this is her personal experience and common sense must prevail in homemade herbal remedies. Therefore, if you are out and about foraging and aren’t confident that what you are about to pick is edible or medicinal the best advice is to leave it where it is. In the event of an adverse reaction to any homemade herbal remedy or foraged edible food you are advised to seek out medical advice. While every care is taken in the production of these posts neither Claire Fleetneedle nor Life on Pig Row are responsible for adverse reactions. Please remember to check local by-laws before foraging and never forage on private land without permission. Please use common sense when foraging.