Is Horsetail A Weed? Does It Benefit Your Health?

Reviewed By Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Julie Freeman, MA, RDN, LDN, RYT
by Swathi Handoo

Horsetail is often spotted near abandoned plots and pond lines. It looks like asparagus, only that it is thinner. Horsetail was used in traditional medicine to treat brittle nails, wounds, ulcers, fractures, and kidney issues.

Recent research confirms the therapeutic importance of this plant. It is reported to have abundant silica in its stems. Hence, horsetail can be used for promoting skin and hair health. You’d be shocked to know about the kind of benefits this weird weed has. Scroll down for a mind-blowing read!

Horsetail: What Is It? Why Is It Named So?

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Horsetails (Equisetum arvense) are living fossils from the family of Equisetaceae. They are the remnants of a group of large, thick, and bushy plants that lived approximately 350 million years ago (1), (2).

You can spot horsetails easily. They have hollow, jointed stems. These stems can be easily broken into sections, revealing rough edges that are rich in silica derivatives.

One distinctive feature of horsetails is their stems do not appear to have leaves (like asparagus stalks). However, some species have small scales and even flowers emerging from the stem junctions (1). The overall bristly appearance gives the plant its name.

Horsetails are commonly called snakeweed/grass, skeleton weed, and horse pipes. You can find them growing on the margins of a pond, in fields, and ditches (the reason they are often classified as ‘weeds’).

It could be a misnomer because the Romans ate young shoots of horsetails. They considered horsetails to have high nutritional value (1). However, modern-day research is in progress to prove their therapeutic potential.

How Can Horsetail Help You?

Horsetail is native to tropical Southeast Asia. It has been used in local folk medicine to heal wounds and muscle spasms. Its stems are used in hair loss treatment as a hair growth stimulant (3).

Studies report that horsetail extracts possess antioxidant and antibacterial activities. Their decoction acts as a diuretic and emmenagogue (promotes menstruation) (4).

Scroll down to find a few evidence-based health benefits of horsetail.

What Are The Benefits Of Horsetail?

1. May Control Hair Loss

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Hair loss is a result of complex hormonal interactions in your body. Several enzymes cause miniaturization of the hair follicles. Compounds that inhibit these enzymes work well as anti-hair loss agents (3).

Ancient medicine used a decoction of horsetail stems for hair strengthening. Recent trials suggest its stems have hair-protective effects. Palmitic acid was found to be actively involved in blocking the enzymes (3).

High levels of free radicals might also stimulate hair fall. Horsetail contains antioxidants like quercetin, kaempferol, and other flavonoids that eliminate free radicals from your bloodstream (3).

Boil the horsetail stems and wash your hair with it (after cooling). This may help prevent hair infections (4).

Above all, horsetail extracts do not cause any irritation to your hair follicles and dermal papilla cells (3).

2. Treats Kidney Stones And Diarrhea

Kidney stones (calculi) form when your urine has very high levels of calcium and oxalate. If they are small (<5 mm), the stones can be washed out in the urine with hydration and medicines. Many herbs can increase urine output (diuresis) (5).

Horsetail can be used to make potent diuretic preparations. Horsetail, dandelion, and uva ursi teas are licensed as standard medicinal teas to stimulate diuresis. They increase the excretion of calcium, potassium, oxalate, and citrate ions from your body (6).

You can also use this weed-stem to manage diarrhea and edema. But the dosage is key. Herbs like horsetail might worsen chronic kidney disease and cause kidney injury (6), (4).

3. Strengthens Nails And Heals Wounds

Applying horsetail extract/ointment aids wound healing. Its anti-inflammatory effect reduces pain intensity. The stems have free/unbound silica that stimulates tissue regeneration at the site of injury (7), (8).

Horsetail has good amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and phenolic compounds that may exhibit antiseptic properties. The plant can also be used to strengthen brittle nails (7).

Deficiency of iron in women causes wrinkling and splitting of nails (onychoschizia). Experiments involving horsetail extracts in subjects showed 80% improvement in their nail strength (7).

4. Promotes Bone Health

This plant is one among the few that have both calcium and silicon. Along with calcium and vitamin D, silicon is essential for the formation and reconstruction of bones. A proper diet/food is the best source for supplying this trace element (9).

Having boiled horsetail tea can be helpful in the early stages of bone fracture. It might also help in reducing the severity of osteoporosis.

Traditional medicine uses this herb to heal connective tissue injuries too. The silica in horsetail helps in the absorption of calcium, which, in turn, aids collagen synthesis. Collagen strengthens the connective tissue as well as reconstructs healthy tissue around wounds (10), (11).

5. Has Antimicrobial Activity

As per recent research and traditional medicine, horsetail extracts have excellent antimicrobial activity. Around 50 mg/ml of it may kill bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae (that causes pneumonia) (12).

Several active molecules were identified in this weed-plant. They include inorganic acids, phenolic acids, flavonoids, alkaloids, and volatile components (13).

Certain species of Equisetum also showed antifungal properties. Their extracts could inhibit the growth of Aspergillus species. Using horsetail-based preparations can heal bacterial/fungal infections and the inflammation caused by them (14).

6. Prevents Blood Clotting

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Horsetail is believed to decrease platelet aggregation. It prevents the formation of blood clots in your body (15).

You can use it to treat/prevent external hemorrhages, nosebleeds, and bleeding wounds. It can reduce the coughing up of blood and the occurrence of menstrual clots (16).

7. Reduces Inflammation And Pain

It is a long tradition to use horsetail preparations for managing inflammatory disorders. Flavonoids, phenolic acids, triterpenoids, and the high levels of silica in the plant carry out this activity (17), (18).

They suppress the activation of pro-inflammatory compounds in your body. Animal studies prove the positive effects of horsetail on rheumatoid arthritis and have reported no toxicity (18), (19).

The plant’s active chemicals also block the production of pain-inducing chemicals (prostaglandins). That is why horsetail has been employed to heal inflammation of the kidneys, prostate, urinary tract, and the stomach lining (ulcers).

Topical application of its extracts has excellent pain-relieving effects. It works best on wounds and sores (antinociceptive effect) (17), (19), (20).

These health benefits are attributed to a rich phytochemical profile. No wonder the Greeks and Romans loved this weed-herb!

Don’t you want to know what’s inside those thin stems of horsetail?

Read the next section!

What Are The Active Components Of Horsetail?

The stems of most horsetail species have flavonoids, including quercetin, isoquercetin, apigenin, and kaempferol. Sterols like ß-sitosterol, campesterol, and isofucosterol are also present (20).

 Cinnamic acids, caffeic acid, caffeoyl shikimic acids, ferulic acid, and equisetolic acid are a few phenolic acids present in the plant (20).

Above all, horsetails are abundant in silicic acid and potassium salts (20).

Due to these elements in their stems, horsetails have considerable medicinal value (unlike other weeds).

How do you put these active molecules to use? Either ingest or apply horsetail preparations.

Find out the various options below.

How To Use Horsetail

  • The simplest (but not the safest) option to use horsetail would be eating the tender/young shoots. This is an ancient However, not many scientists agree with this option.
  • You can try having dried horsetail capsules. They are also a rich source of silica. Buy them here.
  • Alcohol-free liquid extracts are worth giving a shot. You can add a few drops of this tincture to water, tea, and juice. Follow the medical instructions on the bottle. Buy them here.
  • The safest and most explored preparation is horsetail tea. You can make it from fresh/dried horsetail stems or ready-to-brew loose Buy the loose tea here.

Follow the instructions and make a small batch of this high-on-silica tea. Scroll down!

A Simple Way To Make Horsetail Tea/Infusion

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What You Need
  • Dried stems of horsetail: 2-3 teaspoons/cup or loose tea (use suggested quantity)
  • Water: 3-4 cups (1 cup=250 ml)
  • Teapot/kettle: small-medium sized
  • Sweetener of your choice: to taste
Let’s Make It!
  1. Set water to boil in a kettle/vessel.
  2. Add horsetail (1 teaspoon for every cup of water; 1 cup = approx. 250 ml) to an empty teapot.
  3. Once the water is ready, pour it on the herb.
  4. Let it steep for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Strain the tea into serving cups.
  6. Add the required amount of the sweetener.
  7. Enjoy on a cold winter day!

You could use nettle along with these stems to enhance the therapeutic quotient.

Note: Ingest horsetail extract only under medical supervision or medical consent. Overdose may be lethal.

How much of this tea should you have in a day? Is there a set limit to horsetail consumption? Read on.

What Is the Recommended Dose For Horsetail?

A 900 mg/day split dose of dried horsetail supplement for four days showed no harmful effects, according to research (16), (21).

It is recommended to have a ‘wash-out’ period of a few days while taking horsetail. Otherwise, you may experience an imbalance in your body’s electrolyte levels.

There is a need for in-depth research to ascertain the safety of this dose. As reports are contradicting, consume horsetail with caution. Read the next section before taking the plunge.

What Are The Risks And Adverse Effects Of Horsetail?

The biggest drawback of having horsetail is that it contains a protein called thiaminase. The enzyme breaks down thiamine (vitamin B1). This causes thiamine deficiency and triggers corresponding complications (16).

Horsetail is thought to have traces of nicotine. If you are allergic to tobacco smoke, you could develop skin rashes and seborrheic dermatitis (22).

There is insufficient information about the safety of horsetail in pregnant or lactating women.

Moreover, there are possible herb-drug interactions with:

  • Antidiabetic drugs
  • Diuretics
  • Kidney/urinary tract infection drugs

However, there is less research in this regard. Please consult your doctor if you are taking any of these medications.

Due to these issues, taking horsetail orally is considered to be toxic.

Unless advised by your healthcare provider, it is best to choose either a topical formulation or an alternative, safer herbal/synthetic remedy.

In Summary

Horsetail is a unique plant that has characteristics of a weed and an herb. It has high levels of silica, potassium, flavonoids, and phenolic acids and contains other volatile molecules.

They synergistically offer anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, hair and nail strengthening, and diuretic benefits. Making horsetail a part of your herbal remedy kit is not a bad idea. However, consult a medical practitioner before doing so.

If advised, you can choose between horsetail supplements and brewed tea. Try our simple recipe to experience the magic of this living fossil. Share your feedback and queries in the section below. We’ll get back to you soon!

13 sources

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Swathi Handoo

Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.
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