“Hug a Horsetail”( i.e. give that noxious weed some love)

23 Mar

This is an article I wrote for the Alaska Peony Growers Association

“Hug a Horsetail”( i.e.  give that noxious weed some love)

  It’s February now and there’s an array of seed catalogs fanned out around me; on one side is peony wholesale types and on the other is the garden/herb/perennial variety.   This is better than shopping for shoes!  And so much better than watching ice sickles drip.

  In the back of one catalog, I found Horsetail Butter for sale- more of a body butter than a bread butter.  Last year I came across Horsetail Tea (equisetum arvense) as well, even though it was $6.50 for a box of 50 bags-I purchased it to remind myself of all the untapped possibilities growing at my feet.  Horsetail is that plant we all love to hate.  It is so tenacious, every year I feel like
I simply go through the exercise of pulling out the same equisetum I pulled out the year before; like Ground Hog’s Day–over and over.  Since it is the sole survivor of a line of plants that go back 400 million years ( Equisetaceae family) I can understand how impossible it is to eject from the soil.

  In an effort to change the way I relate to this plant, I started a little research.  I already knew horsetail contains 35% silica and makes a great pot scrubber when we’re camping but I just learned it can be used to sand wood as well!  I’ve seen the extract added to hair care products but didn’t really think about why. Silica, which helps form the collagen in skin and bones, also helps to strengthen hair and encourages hair to grow. The plant contains significant levels of the minerals potassium, manganese and selenium, as well. Active compounds known as saponins and flavonoids also are abundant in horsetail.   This helps rebuild and regenerate damaged tissues of the skin and improves cuticles and nails.  Well, there’s a farmer’s friend right there!  If reading this gives you the hankering to mow-down on this herb–be aware that it may cause levels of vitamin B1 (thiamin) to drop in the body. Taking a multi-B supplement is advisable.   I found the University of Maryland Medical Center has done research on the benefits of horsetail as well as Utah State University.

  Silica is found in every tissue and organ in the body, skin, hair, teeth, bones, tendons and ligaments.  It builds and strengthens cell walls and studies show equisetum  may help osteoporosis.  What it does for human cells it does for plant cells, helping plants resist pathogens, resist cold damage and recover from wind damage. I found that the European farmer commonly uses horsetail extract as an effective fungicide. The plant contains trace amounts of nicotine. They use it most specifically for ‘black-spot’ on rose crops and rust on mint fields and mildew on strawberries. 

  When you see that patch of horsetail reaching toward the sun, envision those plants capable of accumulating gold, cadmium, copper, lead and zinc from the soil, effectively cleaning and balancing the soil.  It is your friend.  You may not get a warm fuzzy feeling watching the new crop of horsetail elbow its way into your rows this spring, but I hope you can see it for it’s potential as an asset to you as well as the place it holds in the natural world.

for tea:
Collect the horsetail, foliage, stems, rhizomes and all, and for each 28g (1 oz) pour on 1.1 Litres (2pt) hot, not boiling, water, and allow to stand for twenty-four hours. Strain off the ‘tea’ and use undiluted.  

for extract:
Horsetail fungicide concentrate for spray;
  In a glass or stainless steel pot mix 1/8 cup of dried horsetail leaves/stems/roots- chopped- to 1 gallon of rain water or unchlorinated water.  You can let chlorinated tap water sit for 2 days in an open container to allow the chlorine to escape.
  Simmer for a minimum of one half hour. Cool, strain through cheese cloth.  This extract will keep for a month in your glass jar; be sure to label it.

  Dilute the extract 5 to 10 parts water  to 1 part concentrate.    Spray infected plants 1 to 2 times a week or use as a preventative once a week to every other week and especially when weather conditions could cause stress to the plants.
(PS– be sure to add the limp equisetum leftovers to your compost pile! — yum yum)

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