Horsetail….A Useful Plant To Some

Picture 882Throughout the years at the nursery, aside from discussing the plants we sell or talking about the ornamentals we grow, we are often asked to identify specific weeds. Next, we are asked for recommendations for eradicating them. A weed is defined as a plant that is considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome and growing where it is unwanted. So there is always some personal perspective to consider. We like to talk about weeds…..for several reasons. In many ways, if the disscussion goes well, learning about the weeds that grow in our gardens ( where we do understand, you may really not want them), can tell us a lot. Weeds are a good indicator of soil types and also nutrient levels. In addition, once identified, many can be appreciated for their medicinal or culinary use. Some may even become beautiful additions to your already existing gardens. I guess it depends on each individuals definition of a weed. Believe it or not, this opinion can really vary.IMG_0278
Once such plant that we hear a lot about…..and then ” how do we get rid of it”, is Equisetum arvense or horsetail. Horsetail is an ancient plant from the Carboniferous Age 230 million years ago. It is native to most of the North American continent thriving in moist soils in sunny areas. Common to roadsides, it does well in gravely or sandy soils. With extensive undergound rhizomes, 2-6′ deep, it can be hard to remove. The rhizomes have tubers along them that store food. After removing the top of the plant, the tubers have enough energy for it to just grow back again. So one of the best ways to kill horsetail is to starve it. First by cutting it off several times to weaken it, and then mulching it with black plastic or some other material to prevent sunlight from getting to the new growth. Eventually it will die out. A neighbor once had it in his lawn, introduced with new loam, and the repeated mowings removed it. This is our most effective method for removing a plant such as horsetail. We don’t use herbicides, but we imagine there are products on the market that can do the job. In most every case, we have been able to manage or get rid of a plant we don’t want by this very method of persistent pulling and starving.
IMG_0281Equisetum arvense has been used medicinally by many of the native tribes…..including the Chinook, Hesquiat, and Saanich. The Passamaquoddy Indians called the plant ahas’soqon, meaning horse’s tail. It has been collected medicinally as an astringent, as a diuretic, and to treat inflamation. Horsetail has been used specifically to treat urinary tract infections, for ulcers, and cystitis, Horsetail has a very high silica content which can help to fix calcium. therefore being useful for osteoporosis.
Friends of ours here in Montville continue to harvest horsetails to use as a wholistic remedy. In addition to sending along some photos of their recent harvest, they’ve allowed us to share a poem ( written by Susan, herself) describing the attributes of this native plant, horesetail.

Harvesting Horsetail
Susan Bakaley Marshall

Awakening with birds, singing the
Sun up the horizon.
It must be before that sky ball of fire
heats up our world that we emerge
baskets in hand to the outdoors.

And once there, last years lavender is placed on the ground,
an offering to the divine, knowing
we would not be here except for our creator.

In gratitude and awe our eyes seek
the buds and stems. Each spring they pop up
amongst crevices of stones, in that wet place by the willow,
there in open field and over here by the maple tree shadow.

Always surprised by our discovery. Yet,
we find exactly what we’re searching for.
This life-force, healer plant offering
strength, endurance, humility
and certainly beauty, gifts
we graciously receive.

In the silence, each clear stem snap
brings us closer to the

Our baskets full, spring green shoots,
tiny pine tree-like only eight inches
Tall and many less pink
stems speaking to us of ancient time past.

Now, our labor begins
Grinding, blending, mashing
to bring forth the earth juice
rich in silica, a fragrant
dark greenish liquid,
squeezing through our hands,
staining, creating dark veins of color.

This is our spring tonic and winter potion-for strong
bones and clean blood.
Each drop ounce by ounce more
Precious then gold.

May 19, 2008

7 comments on “Horsetail….A Useful Plant To Some

    • Why didn’t I add that very useful attribute to the post….thanks Pia! I have not dyed with it, have you? What were the results if you have? Not much wool work happening in my life at the moment…boo hoo. Soon, though…still have some tansy waiting to go into the dye pot.

        • Wow….great! Thanks for sharing this and anyone can now look at some other examples of ‘weeds’ used in the dye pot….another reason to consider the unwanted plants in a garden. Really hoping to get to some wool projects soon…so hard during the summer months and the nursery being open. Dang!

        • Could you do it in small bits? Throw everything into a pot of mordant, really, if you don’t have time to do it all in one day, it can just sit in the cold water for days. Then it’s all ready for throwing a handful of fleece into a dye pot whenever you feel like it. Actually, why not turn it into an attraction for the nursery? Have a little fireplace going with an old enamel pot, boil some weeds, add chunks of wool, nice baskets on display with some of the results? I mean, mostly it looks after itself, just find a “heat setting” that will not boil the wool into a lump even when you don’t watch over it. “Lukewarm dye method”.

  1. Very interesting! I am plagued by a weed/wildflower called helleborine which also has a long tap root. I find it hard to dig up the whole root. Are you familiar with it? Can it be starved?

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Yes, I am familiar with helleborine, we had some at the old nursery for awhile and stayed diligent with this method of picking it and then mulching. I tried picking it as soon as I saw it appear, making sure the plant didn’t grab any energy to feed it’s root system. Good luck and we hope this works! Thank you for visiting the blog.

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