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What is horsetail? What is it used for?

Horsetail is a rather unique-looking herb found in the temperate climate zones of Asia, North American and Europe. It contains two distinct types of stems. One variety of stem grows early in the spring and looks like an asparagus stalk, except that it is brown and has a cone that contains spores. The mature form of the herb, which appears in the summer, has thin, green, sterile stems that look like a tail, helping to give the plant its name.

Horsetail contains large amounts of silicic acid and silicates, which provide the body with silicon. It also contains copious amounts of potassium, aluminum and manganese, along with 15 different bioflavonoids. The bioflavanoids are believed to act as a diuretic, while the high silicon content is purported to strengthen connective tissue and fight arthritis. Anecdotal reports suggest horsetail can strengthen brittle nails; other studies hint that it may be used topically to stop the bleeding of wounds and facilitate healing.

How much horsetail should I take?

The German Commission E monographs recommend up to six grams of horsetail daily for internal use, divided into two or three doses. A tincture can also be taken (2-6ml TID).

What forms of horsetail are available?

Horsetail is available as a tincture or fluid extract. Fresh and dried preparations are also available.

What can happen if I take too much horsetail? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Horsetail is generally considered safe, as long as the correct species (equisetum arvense) is used. There is another species of horsetail (equisetum palustre) which contains toxic alkaloids and has been known to poison cattle.

Several types of drugs may interact with horsetail, including loop diuretics, spironolactone, thiazide diuretics and triamterene.

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  • Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 150—1.
  • Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1991, 219—21.
  • Fabre B, Geay B, Beaufils P. Thiaminase activity in equisetum arvense and its extracts. Plant Med Phytother 1993;26:190—7.
  • Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 306—8.
  • Seaborn CD, Nielsen FH. Silicon: a nutritional beneficence for bones, brains and blood vessels? Nutr Today 1993;28:13—8.


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