I have a medicinal garden with over 70 plants, which I harvest to make many of my own medicines. I have just wandered in through the arch of prayer flags to be confronted by Boris, my often annoyed Buff Orpington cockerel with Horsetail caught up in his feet.
Horsetail is also known as Equisetum arvense, and is a seldom used medicinal plant, more often considered a nightmare weed than valuable medicine. Indeed they say that once you have horsetail it never leaves you. It is prolific, and it seems to love every kind of soil. It even follows you if you move. I have it in my own garden, and I have had to accept it as a friend. Indeed as a Herbalist, I recognise that whatever we need is often growing around us, so whenever I make up a medicinal prescription for myself it is always there.
Horsetail is a member of an ancient and primitive family of plants from the dinosaur period. The barren stems or tops have been used for thousands of years as a remedy for bleeding and healing ulceration, in modern times herbalists use it for its powerful effect on connective tissue, particularly for the bladder (such as in chronic cystitis) and in restoring the lungs (particularly where damaged by allergies).
You will see that the stalk resembles joints, which follows the 'Doctrine of Signatures', telling us how it may benefit the body. In fact we now know from modern research that the plant is extremely high in silica which preserves elasticity in connective tissue. There are many other qualities to this remedy. It is a gentle diuretic, astringent and styptic (hence healing wounds), and is used to dry damp conditions/constitutions.
Apart from ensuring that you have correctly identified the plant, you must also ensure that the other actions are appropriate for you to use it. This is wholistic medicine. Rather than just treating presenting symptoms, if you look at what is going on in your whole body - you are more likely to get to the root of the problem and find the right remedy or combination of remedies. Try not to use herbal remedies as if they were conventional drugs (ie. allopathically, by treating opposites such as anti-inflammatories for inflammation) and you will get the best out of natural medicine. The more chronic a 'disease' is, the more important this process is. There are no contra-indications for this remedy (although it has an emmenagogue action in strong decoction, so avoid in pregnancy). In any event you would only wish to use this remedy if all of the indications were appropriate. In this way there will be no side effects.
You can use it as a tea, fresh is best. When harvesting, pick only the tops of the young stems mid summer and make a tea by pouring on boiling water and infusing for 15 minutes. The stems don't need to be dried. Some herbalists even suggest actually boiling the herb for much longer periods of time to get the most of the silica.
Jackie is a medicinal herbalist based in Cumbria. To learn more from Jackie visit her website at: www.talkinherbs.co.uk