If you haven’t heard of horsetail herb, you’ll be pleased to discover that it doesn’t involve the tail of a horse. In fact, horsetail herb has been around since pre-historical times, remedying everything from ulcers to wounds as well as kidney problems.
Unfortunately, horsetail is often treated as a weed (similar to dandelion) and destroyed once found. But what if the people who killed horsetail knew of the wonders it provides for our body? In the same way dandelion fights cancer and heals the liver, could horsetail be another hidden natural health treasure? The answer: Yes.
What is Horsetail?
The common horsetail plant, or Equisetum arvense, is a perennial plant belonging to the genus Equisetum. There are over 15 different species of Equisetum around the world (1), with the common horsetail plant being, you guessed it, the most common.
Horsetail herb is found in areas that are moist and rich (like wetlands and other low-lying areas). It commonly grows in temperate climate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, including Asia, North America, and Europe.
Horsetail is a descendant of ancient plants that grew as tall as trees (!) during the carboniferous period in prehistoric times (2). It is one of the most abundant sources of silica in the plant kingdom, so much so that it can even be used to polish metal.
Historically, horsetail herb was prepared as a juice, tea or tincture to treat swelling, weight loss, diabetes, bladder disease, kidney disease, arthritis, tuberculosis, and other infections (3). Let’s take a closer look at how horsetail benefits the body.
Benefits of Horsetail Herb
Horsetail is rich in beneficial compounds that fight inflammation and infections, including (4):
– Vitamin C
– Thiamine (vitamin B1)
– Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
– Niacin (vitamin B3)
– Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
– Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
– Vitamin E
– Vitamin K
– Phenolic compounds
– Kynurenic acid
With a list like that, it’s no wonder horsetail has the ability to heal a variety of health ailments. So what are the benefits of horsetail herb? Read more to find out.
1. Rich in Silica for Hair, Skin and Nails
As mentioned above, horsetail is one of the highest natural sources of silica. Silica is a nutrient known for boosting skin, hair and nail health (5), mainly because it is a key ingredient in collagen creation (a building block of your hair, skin and nails).
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, horsetail in combination with other ingredients increased hair growth, volume, and thickness in a group of 15 women with thinning hair (6).
In another study, women with nail plate alterations applied a test product containing horsetail randomly on the nails of one hand only. They did so for a total for 14 days. What did they find? The test product significantly improved splitting, fragility and longitudinal grooves (7).
Because of its collagen-boosting properties, the silica content in horsetail is thought to have anti-aging and skin toning properties. As the skin ages, collagen naturally breaks down and the skin is less able to restore it. By using horsetail on the skin (or internally), it will allow it to produce more collagen, which makes the skin appear more smooth and plump.
2. Heals Wounds and Relieves Burns
Horsetail has been used since time immemorial to help heal wounds faster. Nicholas Culpepper, a seventeenth century English herbalist used horsetail juice or decoction as a remedy to stop bleeding, to treat ulcers, wounds, ruptures and inflammations of the skin (8).
In a double-blind clinical trial, 108 postpartum nulliparous mothers were divided into two groups: 54 women in the horsetail group and 54 mothers in the placebo group. They wanted to test to see whether the topical application of horsetail ointment (3%) was effective in wound healing and reduction of inflammation and pain relief after episiotomy (a common surgical practice in midwifery). Half of the women who used horsetail ointment on the wound for 10 days found a significant reduction in pain and faster healing of wounds. The researchers postulated that silica in horsetail helped to seal the wound, while the flavonoids helped prevent infection (9).
To treat burns and wounds, it is recommended to apply horsetail herb directly to the affected area of the skin (10). You can soak a clean cloth in horsetail herb-infused water and apply it to the affected area, or opt for an ointment made with horsetail.
3. Removes Heavy Metals from the Body
Heavy metals take a major toll on our body. They cause cancer, cause nervous system disorders (like Alzheimer’s and dementia), negatively affect the digestive tract, trigger autoimmune disease and so much more. Fortunately, horsetail helps our body get rid of them.
Horsetail is a well-documented and studied heavy metal chelation herb. Similar to cilantro, horsetail literally pulls heavy metals from the earth and helps remineralize the soil (11). It also does the same job in our bodies.
How does horsetail reduce the concentration of heavy metals in the body? As I’ve been pointing out throughout this article, horsetail herb is rich in silica. Silica also happens to reduce aluminum levels quite drastically in the body. It does so by binding with its molecules and extracting them from the brain, and out of your body via urine and other means (12).
A study conducted by Dr. Exley found that after 12 weeks of drinking high-silica water (around one liter a day) “facilitated the removal of aluminum via the urine in both patient and control groups without any concomitant affect upon the urinary excretion of the essential metals, iron and copper. We have provided preliminary evidence that over 12 weeks of silicon-rich mineral water therapy the body burden of aluminum fell in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and, concomitantly, cognitive performance showed clinically relevant improvements in at least 3 out of 15 individuals” (13).
4. Reduces Inflammation
Horsetail is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s no wonder this herb works wonders for those with degenerative joint disease like osteoarthritis. It does so by causing cells to produce less inflammatory markers like IL-2 and TNF alpha. The silica content also helps balance the immune effect in these cells (14).
A study published in 2013 found that horsetail herb is one of several herbs that contain kynurenic acid (KYNA), which possesses anti-inflammatory, antioxidative and pain-relieving abilities. Previous studies pointed out that KYNA in the synovial fluid of patients with rheumatoid arthritis is actually lower than in patients with osteoarthritis. They concluded that using herbal preparations with high concentrations of KYNA “can be considered as a supplementary measure in rheumatoid arthritis therapy, as well as in rheumatic diseases prevention” (15).
Inflammation of the skin can also be relieved by using horsetail extract or tea infusions on your face after washing. It can be used to alleviate the redness from eczema, acne and other skin conditions. All you need to do is steep 1/2 cup of horsetail in 1 cup of water and let sit for a couple hours. Strain, and add to a spray bottle to mist on your face after washing.
5. Increases Relaxation and Sleep
The flavonoid isoquercetin in horsetail acts as a mild and safe sedative. It is also rich in calcium, which is a mineral responsible for soothing and calming the nerves. Drinking a cup of horsetail herb tea is said to restore health to your nervous system, helping reduce irritability, hyperactivity and even insomnia (16).
6. Strengthens the Bones
Because of its high silica content (a mineral needed for bone health), horsetail herb is beneficial for providing support to the bones.
Research has shown that silica stimulates osteoblasts (your bone-building cells) by increasing protein collagen synthesis. Collagen is a protein that provides the framework of your bones, while calcium and other minerals fill in and strengthen that framework. It also inhibits osteoclasts (your bone-resorbing cells) by directly discouraging bone resorption. Bone resorption happens when osteoclasts break down the tissue in bone and release the minerals (such as when someone consumes an acidic diet, and the body requires alkaline minerals in the bone to buffer the acidic pH in the body). However, we want those minerals to stay inside our bones – and silica helps achieve just that (17)!
In an Italian trial, 122 women received either a placebo, horsetail extract, a horsetail-calcium combination or no treatment. Both the horsetail and calcium groups had a statistically significant improvement in bone density (18).
In 2012, another group of scientists tested horsetail extract and found that it helped reduce bone loss and destruction. A comparison study found that the extract excited human osteoblasts (bone-building cells (19).
7. Fights Cancer
Horsetail herb has shown promise for treating cancers of the skin, blood and lungs.
One study investigated the antioxidative and antiproliferative properties of different horsetail extracts, and found that all extracts inhibited cancer cell growth, with the ethyl acetate extract exhibiting the most prominent antiproliferative effect, without inducing any cell growth stimulation on humor tumor cell lines (20). The authors note that “horsetail extracts could be used as an easily accessibly source of natural antioxidants and as potential phytochemicals.”
Another study found that a blend of herbs (containing horsetail and the mushroom chaga) was effective at reducing lymphoma and leukemia tumors in mice, increasing survival rates by 33 percent (22).
How to Use Horsetail Herb
There are many different ways that you can use horsetail herb. It can be used both internally and externally, and is quite simple to prepare.
To make a strong infusion, take a handful of dried horsetail herb (about 1/2 cup), and boil in 2 cups of hot water for 10 minutes. Let it then sit for 1-7 hours after done boiling. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the infusion will be (and more nutrient-dense).
You can use this infusion for:
– Herbal Hair Rinse to support strong hair and hair growth. Once it has finished steeping, strain the infusion and use as a hair rinse in the shower.
– Skin Tonic for glowing skin. Strain the infusion and use as a rinse on your face. Alternatively, you can soak a paper face mask in the tea and wear it on your face for up to 30 minutes.
– Sore Throat. Strain the infusion and mix with some sea salt. Gargle with this mixture a couple times a day until symptoms start going down.
– Gingivitis. Strain the infusion and gargle/swish, for 3-4 times a day until remedied.
You can also sit in a bath of horsetail herb to soften your skin, and also get rid of urinary tract infections. By sitting in a bath with horsetail tea for at least 15 minutes two to three times a week, you can heal the symptoms of UTIs. Steep 10 teaspoons of dried horsetail herb into one quart of boiling water for 10-15 minutes, and add the strained tea to the bath water.
Horsetail herb can also be taken internally by drinking the above infusion, or by taking horsetail tincture or capsules (as outlined below).
Where to Buy Horsetail Root
Horsetail herb can be easily purchased online or found at your local health food store. In comes in different forms, so I’ll leave you with some links below if you’re interested!
Horsetail Herb (Fresh): Can be harvested wild, or purchased in local health food stores (I have personally not found it in local health food stores, but have found wild horsetail).
According to Dr. Jennifer Brett, N.D., you should avoid horsetail “if you have high blood pressure. Some cases of high blood pressure are due to kidney abnormalities (a condition called renal hypertension), and horsetail can irritate the kidneys. Those who have a family history of silica kidney stones also should avoid horsetail. Horsetail may make breast milk less palatable to nursing infants.”
She also recommends to “limit its use to one month at a time, or stop for one week every three weeks when taking this herb.”