There are only a few things that you need to know about the horsetail plant (Equisetum arvense):
It has sex
It has been around since the dinosaurs
It strengthens your bones
These outrageous statements clearly require an explanation, so I’ll begin with the first.
While it is technically true that many plants propagate themselves through sexual reproduction, I blushed when I learned that Horsetails, a spore producing plant, actually produce eggs and sperm that SWIM to fertilize the eggs. Can you believe it? It is a rather complicated process (involving the release of spores into water that then germinate to form a separate plant whose only job is to produce the sperm and eggs which then grow into a little baby horsetail plant), but it gets the job done. Go to any moist area in the PNW and you will probably spot a fuzzy little forest of them, just mating away. Just a fun little fact to tuck away under your cap.
How about that dinosaur bit? That sounds a little far fetched.
Well it’s true, I swear to god! Horsetails are considered living fossils, meaning that genetically they have changed very little over hundreds of millions of years. They’ve actually been around since the Carboniferous period, which was millions of years BEFORE the dinosaurs, and they grew to towering heights like trees. While you may overlook our contemporary equisetums measuring just two feet tall at their peak, think of them in their heyday, making shade for a pale triceratops or a velociraptor with heat stroke.
How have horsetails survived massive climate change to co-habitate with us? The key here is flexibility. The strength of the horsetail race lies in its unique chemical makeup. It contains the highest amount of silica in its tissues than any other plant on earth. Silica is an important element necessary for the growth and repair of bones, cartilage, teeth, skin, hair and connective tissue. It is also what allowed this non-woody spore-producing plant to stand tall like a tree. And horsetails have retained this essential element that gives them their rough, abrasive texture and their spindly, yet sturdy appearance. They are strong and supple. This is how we want our bones and skin to be- sturdy and protective, but also living and resilient, not brittle. Taking horsetail internally does just this. Elemental silica by nature is not soluble in water, but Horsetail has many handy forms of silica, such as silicin which IS soluble in water. It does take a bit of work, however, so for maximum benefit you need to simmer the dried horsetail in water or steep for quite a while (overnight oughta do it).
This is what I like to see all my menopausal and post menopausal women drinking to prevent osteoporosis. Mercifully, it also helps with preventing hormonal hair loss, and many women swear by it for thickening the hair and strengthening the nails. (Have you ever seen a horse’s tail? or its nails?) It is my favorite tea for mending broken bones, speeding recovery and strengthening your skeleton. Horsetail has a mild astringent and tonifying effect on lung tissue and the bladder and kidneys. I use it when there is constitutional weakness in these organs, such as a tendency to always get pneumonia when you have a chest cold, or a kidney infection from mild dietary transgressions. It pairs well with Stinging Nettle for all of the above uses.
To gather this genial little weed, you will need to find the tender young stalks of the infertile plant which look a lot like a bottle brush. Gather only from pristine areas, taking care not to collect from streams that are contaminated with agricultural runoff, as horsetails can concentrate these toxic substances. Take them home and lay them on a screen or in a shallow box in a well ventilated area. It just takes a couple of days for them to dry, as they are rather brittle little things. When they are bone dry, store in a glass jar and use a small handful in a quart of boiling water for each batch of tea. Try to drink a couple quarts a week for maximum resilience and flexibility. (Unfortunately, though convenient, the tincture is rather useless for delivering silica in any form.)
For the mane of a horse and the bones of a dinosaur, drink Horsetail tea today!