Horsetail – proven health and beauty benefits, uses

Horsetail

The scientific name of the horsetail is Equisetum arvense Linn. It is also known as Bottle-brush, Common horsetail, Field horsetail, Horse pipes, Mare’s tail, Paddock pipes, Scouring rush, Shavegrass, and Snake grass.

Other names include

CHINESE: Tu ma huang, Bi tou cao.
FRENCH: Prele des champs.
GERMAN: Akerschachtelhalm
JAPANESE: Sugi-na, Tsukushi.
SPANISH: Cola del caballo.

Horsetail belongs to a species of a primitive nonflowering plant in the genus Equisetum, most common of which are E. hyemale and E. arvense. Another, E. palustre, contains a toxic alkaloid, palustrine, and should be avoided.

Horsetail is an herbal remedy used in ancient Roman and Greek medicine. Equisetum is Latin rooted, equus meaning “horse,” and seta meaning bristle.

Horsetail is a ferny perennial cryptogam with jointed rootstocks. Sterile stems are hollow, simple and erect, smooth and regularly striated, up to 60 centimeters tall, rarely up to 40 inches tall, 3-5 millimeters, branched, usually without sub-branches. Inconspicuous scalelike leaves occur in whorls at the nodes and connected at the bases. Rhizome looks like a string of beads, branched and creeping, similar to aerial stems except they are not hollow, extending to a depth of 100 centimeters or more.

Distribution

– Difficult to eradicate once cultivated and established.

– Often toxic to surrounding vegetationn due to its high level of alkaloids. (see study)

– Used for erosion control by sides of ponds.

– Popular for ornamental or landscaping use.

Constituents

– Phytochemical screening yielded flavonoids, alkaloids, terpenoids, saponins, phytosterols, and amino acids. (see study)

– Pharmacognostical studies on sterile stems showed the presence of xylem vessels, cortex, parenchyma, stomata, and silica granules. Volatile oil content was 1.5%, moisture 15%.

– Yields benzoic acid derivative hippuric acid and quercetin derivative homovanillic acid as metabolites.

– Yields sterols: beta-sitosterol, campesterol, isofucosterol, and trace amounts of cholesterol.

– Horsetail contains silicon; considered as a natural supplement for osteoporosis.

– Also, has a high silica content. which accounts for its use as a natural scouring or sanding pad.

– Flavanoids probably responsible for its diuretic action.

Rich in nutrients and minerals: calcium, potassium, magnesium.

– Study of volatile constituents of sterile stems yielded major constituents of hexahydrofarnesyl acetone (18.34%), cis-geranyl acetone (13.74%), thymol (12.09%) and trans-phytol (10.06%). (see study)

– Study of extracts for phenolic acid identification yielded isoquercitrin, apigenin 5-0-glucoside, kaempferol 3-O-glycoside, di-E-caffeoyl-meso-tartaric acid, phenolic acid 1 and phenolic acid 2. (see study)

– Nutritive components of fresh aerial parts as percentage of dry weight are:

Dry matter 100, ash 18.5, crude fiber 23.5, ether extract 2.4, nitrogen free extract 50.3, protein (nitrogen x 6.25) 5.3, digestible protein for cattle (2.4) goats (1.5) horses (2.0) rabbits (2.8) sheep (1.9). (see study)

Medicinal Properties of horsetail

– Considered anodyne, antiseptic, cardiac, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, galactagogue, vulnerary.

– Considered astringent, a good clotting agent, stopping epistaxis.

– Considered excellent genitourinary astringent.

– Styptic effect, strengthening and regenerating to the connective tissue.

Part utilized

Stems

Uses
Culinary

Young shoots can be eaten boiled.

Folkloric traditional medicine benefits, uses and remedies with horsetail 

– Decoction used for kidney problems, rheumatism, gout, venereal diseases.

– Used for sprains, eczema, hair rinse.

– Used for wounds. Never apply topically to open wounds!

– Traditionally used in Europe as a herbal diuretic for edema and fluid retention.

– Considered for osteoporosis, nephrolithiasis and wound healing.

– Used for cholelithiasis, liver problems, hyperuricemia, diarrhea.

– Used externally, to facilitate wound healing.

– Decoction used for bleeding wounds and wound healing.

– Decoction added to herbal baths to facilitate healing sprains and skin conditions.

– In Serbian traditional medicine, used for infections of the urinary tract.

– In Europe traditionally used as a diuretic for the treatment of edema. Approved by the German Commission E for this indication. Also, occasionally used for osteoporosis, kidney stones, urinary tract inflammation, and wound healing.

Other uses

– Ornamental: stems used for flower arrangements.

– Scouring and sanding from its high silica content.

– Dye: Yields a yellowish green color when mordanted with alum; deeper green with iron.

– Used in cosmetics and shampoos.

New formulations with horsetail herb

• In Italy, a horsetail-calcium formulation used for treatment of osteoporosis and fractures.

• Silica: Silica extracted from horsetail is utilized for manufacture of remineralizing and diuretic medicinal products. Other potential uses of biogenic silica include industrial applications (abrasives, toothpaste, protective clothing, optical fibers, paint thickeners, etc.), detergents, and cleaners. (see study)

Hair loss: The silica content together with its other minerals and elements (flavonoids, alkaloids, sterols, etc) are common ingredients in commercial products being touted in the treatment of hair loss.

Scientific proven benefits and uses of horsetail 

Essential Oil / Antimicrobial Activity:

Study on the volatile constituents of the stems of EA identified 25 compounds. The major constituents were: hexahydrofamesyl acetone, cis-geranyl acetone, thymol and trans-phytol. The 1:10 dilution of the essential oil showed broad spectrum of strong antimicrobial activity against all tested strains.

Anti-Diabetic:

Effect of Equisetrum arvense in Histological Changes of Pancreatic B-cells in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Rats: Study showed the methanolic extract of EA produced significant antidiabetic activity.

Herbal Radiomodulator:

A study was done to identify nontoxic and effective radioprotective compounds that can reduce the adverse effects of radiation. E. arvense, together with other medicinal plants, was examined in vitro on cultured human peripheral blood lymphocytes. Equisetum arvense yielded the saponoside equisetonin, with small amounts of vitamin C, malic acid, oxalic acid, linoleic acid and oleic acids. Extract of E arvense significantly enhanced the incidence of micronuclei compared to control.

Hepatotoxicity Study:

A study in rats evaluating the acute hepatotoxicity of E arvense failed to produce hepatic changes.

Sedative / Anticonvulsant:

A study on the hydroalcoholic extract of E arvense showed anticonvulsant and sedative effects. It increased latency, decreased severity, reduced incidence and protected animals from death. Phytochemical analysis detected tannins, saponins, sterols and flavonoids.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM):

MSM, a dimethyl sulfone, has been isolated from plants like Equisetum arvense. MSM has shown therapeutic promise in animal studies. It has been proven to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Wound Healing:

A study using wound closure ratio and histopathologic studies showed E. arvense ointment exhibited significant wound healing activity in rats.

Study in rabbits showed a positive effect on wound contraction which was attributed to silica, silicic acid, silicon and saponins in EA.

Sedative / Pre-Anesthetic / Anti-Anxiety / Anticonvulsant Effects:

A study showed an E. arvense extract to have sedative, pre-anesthetic and anti-anxiety effects. Results showed increase in sleeping time, increase in first-convulsion latency and decreased severity of seizures.

Diuretic:

Studies have shown a mild diuretic effect, without an increase in the excretion of electrolytes. It is considered particularly suited for metabolic and hormonal edema of menopause. Diuretic action has been attributed to flavonoids and saponins.

Subchronic Dietary Toxicity Study / Functional Food Ingredient Potential:

Administered in various dietary doses in rats, no toxicity was detected with reference to clinical signs, body weight, urinalysis, hematology, blood chemistry, and organ weights.

Pro-Apoptotic:

Study of water extract from sterile stems showed dose-dependent cytotoxic effects on human leukemic U 937 cells. Also noted were DNA fragmentation, externalization of phophatidilserine, mitochondrial transmembrane potential collapse. Results suggest the the cytotoxicity was due to apoptosis.

Cognitive Enhancement:

Study aimed to verify if chronic administration of the hydroalcoholic extract of stems from EA reverses the cognitive impairment in aged rats. Results showed both short- and long-term retention of inhibitory avoidance task and ameliorated cognitive performance in reference and working memory. Assays showed diminished thiobarbituric acid reactive substances as well as nitrite formation. The cognitive enhancement effects was attributed, in part, to its antioxidant action.

Effects on RBC Membrane Stability:

Study evaluated the effects of hydroalcoholic stem extract on male rat RBC membrane stability. Results showed anti-stabilizing activity on RBC membrane stability to which the inflammatory effects of horsetail can be partly attributed to.

Acute Diuretic Effect:

In a double-blind, randomized clinical trial of 36 healthy male volunteers, a standardized dried extract of E. arvense produced a diuretic effect equivalent to that of hydrochlorothiazide without causing significant electrolyte changes. Findings also suggested the drug is safe for acute use.

Antimicrobial / Essential Oil:

Study of the essential oil of stems for antimicrobial activity showed a broad spectrum of very strong antimicrobial activity against all tested strains, viz., Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, K. pneumonia, P. aeruginosa, S. enteritidis, Aspergillus niger and C. albicans.

Antioxidant / Herbal Gel:

An herbal gel formulated from a methanolic extract showed dose dependent scavenging of free radicals in various methods, viz., DPPH radical scavenging, H2O2 assay and NO assay methods.

Antibacterial / Urinary Tract Pathogens:

Study on ethanolic and aqueous extracts of EA showed antibacterial activity against all selected urinary tract pathogens, viz., E. coli, K. pneumonia, P. mirabilis, P. aeruginosa, S. aureus, S. saprophyticus and E. faecalis. The ethanolic extract showed higher degree of activity.

Silica Souce / Osteoporosis:

Horsetail is one of the richest plant sources of sislica known to mankind. Silica gives bo ne strength and prevents wrinkling. Collagen, which provides elasticity to skin, is made of silica. Silica is found in almost all herbal kidney and bladder cleansing formulations and tinctures.

In a study of 122 Italain women who took horsetail dry extract of Osteosil calcium 270 mg twice daily (a horsetail/calcium combination used in Italy for osteoporosis and fractures), results showed improved bone density. However, the study was criticized for being poorly designed.

Toxicity and concerns !

• Toxic in large amounts. Horsetail growing in highly fertilized areas draw selenium and nitrates from the soil. Children using the hollow stems as blowgun may also be at risk.

• Diuretic effects may enhance toxic effect of certain medications, such as digoxin (heart failure), phenytoin (anticonvulsant), anticoagulants.

Availability

Cultivated

Tea bags (Horsetail Herbal Tea) and powdered extract in the market.

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