Field horsetail – Characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effect

Field Horsetail - Plant and Spores
Field Horsetail - Plant and Spores

The name field horsetail refers both to the location where the herbs are to be found and to the appearance of the plant: field horsetails preferably grow on fields and have a nested structure of the stems. The alternative name tin herb („Zinnkraut“, in German) goes back to the earlier use of horsetail: it was used to brush and polish pewter and other tin utensils with it. The plant belonging to the ferns is an important medicinal plant against joint pain and discomfort of the urinary organs.

Profile of field horsetail:

Scientific name: Equisetum arvense

Plant family: horsetail family

other names: common horsetail, horsetail, tin herb

Sowing time / Planting time: depending on generation

Flowering period: depending on generation

Harvest time: May-August

Location: sunny

Soil quality: moist and loamy soil, tolerates waterlogging

Use as a medicinal herb: nosebleeds, arthrosis, rheumatism, gout, pharyngitis, sore throat, bladder infections

Use as aromatic herb: as vegetables in Asia

Plant characteristics and classification of the field horsetail

Field horsetail is reminiscent of coniferous trees. The “leaves” feel hard and grow slightly bushy on the stem. Due to the similarity with bristly horsehairs and the bushy-tail-like appearance, the botanical name of the field horsetail was chosen: horse’s tail = Equisetum.

Origin and distribution of the field horsetail

The field horsetail is probably the most important member of the horsetail family (Equisetaceae). This plant family has been inhabiting the earth for about 400 million years. It is hardly possible to determine the exact origin, as the continental masses at that time were completely different from today. Presumably they come from the then continent Gondwana. The herb is found today in the entire northern hemisphere and also occurs as a neophyte (introduced species) sporadically in some countries of the southern hemisphere (for example New Zealand). The plant is sometimes considered as an annoying field weed.

Although the field horsetail can be found primarily on fields, the plant grows on railroad tracks, on meadows and on roadsides as well as on fallow land.

Systematics of Equisetum arvense

The horsetail (Equisetum arvense) often referred to as tin-herb, belongs botanically to the ferns. It also belongs to the order of Horsetail (Equisetales), which are geobotanically among the oldest land plants on earth. Fossils have revealed that there were horsetail species in the past that have reached heights of growth of over 30 meters (100 feet).

Today more than 20 different species of the horsetail family (Equisitaceae) are known. In addition to the field horsetail (Equisetum arvense), the marsh horsetail (Equisetum palustre), which is mostly found near water areas, is also known.

Characteristics of the field horsetail

The field horsetail is a perennial plant that always occurs in two different generations. The most known generation is the so-called sporophyte generation, which appears as a plant about 10 to 60 cm (4 to 24 inches) long with light green to green-white needle-like shoots.

Field horsetail does not form roots in the true sense. In fact in the ground, it is attached by a rhizome, which can reach depths of up to 2.00m (6 feet).

As the field horsetail is a classic fern plant, it does not produce any flowers. The reproductive organs of the plant appear as so-called spore ears, which usually come to light in May. The propagules are referred to herein as spores (as opposed to seeds in flowering plants). The foliage shoots are sterile towards the spore ear.

Field Horsetail - plant
Field Horsetail – plant

Sow and plant field horsetail

In general the optimal location for field horsetail is a sunny place on moist soils with high amount of clay. In fact it is considered a indicator plant for near-surface water in the soil and that the soil needs a loosening. It grows excellently on heavy, compacted and humus-poor soils. Field horsetail is one of the few plants that tolerate waterlogging.

The best way to cultivate field horsetail is to pick some mature species with their roots from nature. When collecting, however, it should be strictly ensured that it is actually the field horsetail and not his poisonous opponent, the marsh horsetail.

If you still want to try to use the horsetail yourself, you will have to consider a few things. Unlike many other wild herbs, the propagation of field horsetail does not occur via seeds. Rather, it is the spores that adhere to the beige-brown spring shoot (spore ear) with which the horsetail propagates. In addition, the plant also spreads through subterranean stolon or – if by human interfere – by division of the mother plant.

For sowing, an almost germ-free substrate is recommended. For this reason, mixtures of the mineral components vermiculite and perlite (small grain size) and some potting soil (both about 50:50) are well suited. It is sufficient to press the spores on the substrate. Ferns grow fundamentally differently than seed plants. After spore germination, tiny shoots appear, which are referred to as prosthallies. These prothallium represent a separate generation (= gametophyte). The prothallium now have to fertilize, which requires water. After fertilization, the typical field horsetail is created from the prothallium. First the spore ear appears, then the green foliage shoots.

The substrate should never completely dry out, especially in the gametophyte phase and in the spore ear phase.

Field horsetail and its use

Even if the horsetail or tin-herb is not very popular due to the unbridled propagation, naturopathy has for centuries relied on the healing ingredients.

In the kitchen

As a culinary delicacy the field horsetail is not known and found in common recipes, which deal with wild herbs, little to no attention. The reasons are manifold: For instance field horsetail not only has a bitter taste, it is also very easy to confuse with marsh horsetail, which deters some herbalists. Marsh horsetail is toxic due to the containing alkaloids, and it takes some experience (or at least a good illustrated plant guide) to clearly distinguish marsh horsetail from horsetail while collecting.

Much more popular is field horsetail as food in Asia, where in particular the golden-brown shoots (spore ear) are eaten fried in oil.

Excursus: The difference between field horsetail and marsh horsetail

Equisetum arvense versus Equisetum palustre. The field horsetail and the marsh horsetail differ mainly in their chemical composition. The marsh horsetail Equisetum palustre is poisonous, while the horsetail only in very high doses leads to poisoning. Especially in cows and horses causes the eponymous poison palustrine in marsh horsetail poisoning.

It is therefore all the more important to be able to clearly distinguish both plants from each other. Decisive are two characteristics: the color at the subdivisions of the horsetail sections and the length of the sprouts. The tubular, seemingly nested sections of the non-toxic field horsetail are green; those of the marsh horsetail are dark brown, almost black and very well recognizable by the jagged pattern.

In addition, the length of the sprouts (“horsetail sections”) and the lateral “leaves” are examined. If the leaves are the same length as the sections or longer, this is a horsetail. Side branches, shorter than the horsetail sections, indicate a marsh horsetail.

Field Horsetail - herb-plant
Field Horsetail – herb-plant

As a medicinal herb

Horsetail in antiquity, in the Middle Ages and early modern times

Field horsetail is almost an all-rounder and has long been considered in the treatment of diseases. Not only Hildegard von Bingen treated patients with field horsetail; moreover even physicians in ancient Greece used it as a remedy for numerous diseases and complaints.

In the old well-known herbal books today’s names field horsetail and horsetail were not common. The names have changed quite frequently. In the Garden of Health (1485; German book), the herb was still referred to as Roßzagel (eng. horsetail), whereas in the herbal book by Matthioli the terms Schaffthew, Roßschwantz (horsetail) and Katzenschwantz (cat tail) were common.

Field horsetail was used at the time for gastrointestinal complaints, menstrual disorders and bladder and kidney problems (especially kidney stones). In the herbal book of Matthioli, it was recommended that the horsetail be used as a tea for feverish diseases, otherwise it should boil in wine. Used were both the herb and the root.

Externally, field horsetail was used to stop nosebleeds:

The wrung juice of horsetail, put in the noses, or spread on, stops the running blood in it.

The well-known fern plant was also generally recommended for wound healing (including Matthioli).

Today’s meaning of field horsetail in medicine

The field horsetail contains numerous active ingredients that are considered in medicine and in naturopathy. It is above all the silica, minerals, saponins and some essential oils that matter for the medicinal features of the plant. In summary, the ingredients have the following effects:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • expectorant
  • astringent (astringent)
  • antihaemorrhagic
  • diuretic
  • antioxidant

For the use as a medicinal herb, the green sprouts are harvested in the period from late May / early June to August. These can be both dried and used fresh. The sprouts are used today in natural medicine both for internal and external diseases or complaints, as following:

  • kidney infections
  • bladder infections
  • incontinence
  • joint pain
  • arthrosis
  • rheumatism
  • gout
  • cough
  • Circulatory disorders
  • itching

In order to get to the valuable and soothing active ingredients of the field horsetail, it takes some effort. It is mainly consumed as tea, but is not prepared in the same way as other herbal teas.

Preparation of field horsetail tea

For the preparation, a teaspoon of dried horsetail with about 300 ml (10 fl oz) of water is put together in a pot. The mixture is then boiled for about 20 minutes. The evaporated water is supplemented. The long preparation time is therefore necessary so that the silica contained dissolves from the cells and the other minerals are released from the herb.

For complaints of the genitourinary tract, e.g. Urinary tract infections, it is recommended to drink a cup of field horsetail three times a day. The anti-inflammatory effect of the tea also helps with inflammation in throat and mouth. This is usually gargled with the tea and rinsed. Due to the rinsing, water-drenching effect (so-called aquaretic) persons whose kidneys functionality is limited, should first talk to the doctor whether drinking the tea is advisable.

Other usages

In addition used as a beverage, field horsetail is also used for compresses and wraps. The main area of administration here are bone and joint complaints. The cooled tea is soaked in gauze bandages and then wrapped around the aching joints. The bandage should be slightly wet and not seeping wet as the field horsetail infusion may cause discoloration.

Externally it is also applied for skin problems such as inflammation or itching. For this purpose, 3 teaspoons of dried cabbage in a liter (34 fl oz) are prepared as described above and then added to the bath water. A bath in field horsetail causes the connective tissue to tighten and sustainably strengthened with regular use (keyword: cellulite). The bath is not only interesting for cosmetically use, it also ensures that the blood circulation is stimulated, and corresponding disorders of the blood circulation, but also varicose veins, bladder infections and prostate problems are alleviated.

Increasingly, many cosmetic producers are interested in the positive qualities of the field horsetail. Due to the high silica content, the medicinal plant has a firming, smoothing and wound healing effect; Reasons why some face creams and body lotions focus on field horsetail. It is no less important in hair care. Additions of horsetail in shampoos and rinses make the hair soft, shiny and tonifying, free the scalp of dandruff and stimulate hair growth because of the circulation-promoting effect.

Side effects:

If there is already a heart or kidney disease that is already being treated with medication, it is not advisable to use horsetail products.

Field horsetail as a plant tonic

Field horsetail has proven to be just as effective as a medicine against some plant diseases, where it is used in the form of a brew or even more effective as a swill. The field of application of cure is primarily fungal diseases, which show up as white mildew – for example on petunia, tomatoes, thyme, sage or mint – or as reddish brown rust on the leaves. Likewise, field horsetail is used to combat persistent aphids and to fundamentally strengthen any plant in the garden. The plant is rich in silicic acid – a component of silicic acid is among others Silicon, which strengthens the cell structure of plants.

To make a dung water from field horsetail it requires two bunch of fresh plants, which are placed in a water-filled bucket. Then let the dung water brew for two to three weeks. During this time, it can happen that it begins to foam and spreads an unpleasant, pungent odor. This does not affect the quality of the manure. Afterwards, the manure is sprayed diluted or pure (more intense) on the areas affected by pests or used directly with the irrigation water.

Buy field horsetail – What is there to pay attention to?

Field horsetail is a rarity in the gardening market. The plant is considered a weed that proliferates uncontrollably without intervention. Nevertheless, there are some traders who sell horsetail. However, you should get exact information and ask which horsetail is offered for sale. Thus, for example, the optically very similar marsh horsetail is sold under the name great horsetail (Equisetum telmateia, syn.: E. braunii, E. maximum) as a decorative perennial for pond enclosures. This should by no means be used for kitchen or tea applications. If horsetail is offered, the quality of the plant should be checked. Red or brown spots on the field horsetail indicate a fungal attack.

Spores are not offered in the trade.

As horsetail has gained an increased importance for folk medical applications in recent years, especially the dried herbs as well as some care products can be found in the trade again. When buying the dried herbs care should be taken to purchase verifiable products. In some online marketplaces, there are sometimes sellers who sell self-collected plants. Here you should be sure of their expertise. The prices for horsetail herbs are between 16 and 25 EUR/$ (depending on cultivation conditions, origin and quality).

Other products that contain horsetail as a base are juices, extracts or tinctures. Since it is very time-consuming to make your own tinctures or extracts of fresh herbs, these products are highly recommended for certain applications. Excellently suitable are extracts, e.g. for the production of shampoos.

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