By Janelle Eklund
Spring time in the garden. The beds were given nourishment in the fall with a nice layer of well composted cow manure. Garden plants are not the only ones that like this delicious soil food. Other well meaning plants come with it, including horsetail. Don't get me wrong - this isn't a bad plant. Sometimes it just wants to grow where I'd like other plants to grow - notice I'm not calling it a weed. Its roots are strong and when pulled on will not give up their stand in life. It's nearly impossible to get them to move on. But at least they are only in a couple of beds and not so prolific. So, I try not to fight them too much and if they start getting a crowd attitude I just break them off until their heads pop up again. There are plenty around in other places if I so choose to use their medicinal or other useful qualities.
Tanaina Plantlore by Priscilla Russel Kari says that the spring tubers on the roots of horsetail are like the first berries of the season, being sweet and juicy. You do have to harvest in spring for eating because after that they get hard and dry.
When horsetail first emerges from the ground in the spring the leafless stem is brown with a cone shaped hat on top. This is the time to dig those berry-like tubers for their sweet and juicy flavor.
As summer progress the stem starts to grow it's leaves, and as they emerge they point toward the sky in celebration. This is the time to gather them for any medicinal uses. Janice Schofield's book, Discovery Wild Plants, says a poultice of the plant is good for "...hemorrhages, cancer like growths, and ulcerous wounds, and as a tea for internal bleeding, kidney stones, rheumatism, bladder and urinary tract diseases, and stomach ulcers. As an external wash, it's said to be antiseptic and disinfectant and ideal for insect bites and skin eruptions." Janice says she made hot packs by boiling the horsetail and put it on a painful cyst. "Within forty-eight hours, the cyst was totally drained." I have been trying to do all I can to thicken my aging head with more hair and this is just another way to encourage that growth. Janice says to make a decoction by boiling a heaping tablespoon of horsetail in a cup of water. In addition to promoting hair growth it is also supposed to get rid of dandruff and head lice.
As the leaves mature they grow into feathery like arms and point out and down, resembling a horses tail. The stems become rich with silica, which is very abrasive. I have used it to clean pots when camping, which also acts as a disinfectant. In ancient times it was used to polish metal! You don't want to eat it because it can be irritating.
Horsetail is one of the oldest plants on earth. The Latin word equus means horse and seta means bristle.
Enjoy this prolific plant for what it has to offer.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.