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Botanical Name: Equisetum
Synonyms: Shave-grass. Bottle-brush. Paddock-pipes. Dutch Rushes. Pewterwort.
Common Names:horsetail, snake grass, puzzlegrass, Arvense and Hyemales
Habitat :The flora of the riverside contains species that trace their lineages back to the Carboniferous or the Age of Amphibians, over 300 million years ago. These plants, known as horsetails or scouring rushes, are members of the genus Equisetum. This genus consists of 25 species and is the only living representative of what was once a large and significant component of the coal age or Carboniferous swamp forests. They are chiefly distributed in the temperate northern regions: seven of the twenty-five known species are British, the most frequent being Equisetum arvense, E. sylvaticum, E. maximum and E. hyemale. E. arvense, the CORN HORSETAIL, is a very troublesome weed, most difficult to extirpate from cultivated land. Many of the species are very variable. The genus Equisetum is near-cosmopolitan, being absent only from Antarctica.
They are perennial plants, either herbaceous and dying back in winter as most temperate species, or evergreen as most tropical species and the temperate species rough horsetail (E. hyemale), branched horsetail (E. ramosissimum), dwarf horsetail (E. scirpoides) and variegated horsetail (E. variegatum). They typically grow 0.2-1.5 m tall, though the “giant horsetails” are recorded to grow as high as 2.5 m (northern giant horsetail, E. telmateia), 5 m (southern giant horsetail, E. giganteum) or 8 m (Mexican giant horsetail, E. myriochaetum), and allegedly even more
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Equisetum is a “living fossil” as it is the only living genus of the entire class Equisetopsida, which for over one hundred million years was much more diverse and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests. Some Equisetopsida were large trees reaching to 30 meters tall. The genus Calamites of the family Calamitaceae, for example, is abundant in coal deposits from the Carboniferous period.
A superficially similar but entirely unrelated flowering plant genus, mare’s tail (Hippuris), is occasionally misidentified as “horsetail”.
It has been suggested that the pattern of spacing of nodes in horsetails, wherein those toward the apex of the shoot are increasingly close together, inspired John Napier to discover logarithms
In these plants the leaves are greatly reduced and usually non-photosynthetic. They contain a single, non-branching vascular trace, which is the defining feature of microphylls. However, it has recently been recognised that horsetail microphylls are probably not ancestral as in Lycopodiophyta (clubmosses and relatives), but rather derived adaptations, evolved by reduction of megaphylls. They are, therefore, sometimes actually referred to as megaphylls to reflect this homology.
The leaves of horsetails are arranged in whorls fused into nodal sheaths. The stems are green and photosynthetic, and are distinctive in being hollow, jointed and ridged (with sometimes 3 but usually 6-40 ridges). There may or may not be whorls of branches at the nodes.
The spores are borne under sporangiophores in strobili, cone-like structures at the tips of some of the stems. In many species the cone-bearing shoots are unbranched, and in some (e.g. field horsetail, E. arvense) they are non-photosynthetic, produced early in spring separately from photosynthetic, sterile shoots. In some other species (e.g. marsh horsetail, E. palustre) they are very similar to sterile shoots, photosynthetic and with whorls of branches.
Horsetails are mostly homosporous, though in the field horsetail smaller spores give rise to male prothalli. The spores have four elaters that act as moisture-sensitive springs, assisting spore dispersal after the sporangia have split open longitudinally.
The astringent, healing stems check bleeding in wounds, nosebleeds, and heavy menstruation. A strong diuretic for urinary tract and prostate disorders, they also tonify the urinary mucous membranes, can control bed-wetting, and help with skin problems. The other main use is for deep-seated damage in lung disease. Horsetail absorbs gold dissolved in water better than most plants, as much as 4 ounces per ton of fresh stalks. The amount of gold in a cup of horsetail tea is quite small, but small amounts of gold are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, and the Chinese used horsetail for this.
Ellingwood suggests the following uses: dropsy, lithaemia, haematuria, gonorrhoea, gleet, irritable bladder, enuresis in children, prostatis, and the ashes for acid dyspepsia. It is often combined with Hydrangea in the treatment of prostate troubles.
This is one of the silica-containing plant drugs where the silica is largely in a water-soluble colloidal form. It is primarily a connective tissue drug, but is also considered a diuretic, though this is true only within limits. The silica is not responsible for a certain diuretic effect, which clearly is not very great and is probably due to saponins. A search has been made for other constituents that might explain the diuretic effect. A close relative of the common horsetail, Equisetum palustre. Animal experiments designed to demonstrate the diuretic properties of the horsetail came up with widely differing results. Some investigators obtained completely negative results, others noted an increase in urinary output by up to 68% in rats, and called the horsetail one of the most powerful diuretics.. Reports on the use of this plant with normal subjects and patients are similarly contradictory. The diuretic effect does not appear to have been very great in this case. Horsetail has the advantage that no harmful effects have been reported.
A more important property of this plants is the general metabolic stimulation it achieves, above all increasing connective tissue resistance. As connective tissues are also involved in rheumatic conditions, this explains the usefulness of the drug in this field. In the use of this plant, emphasis should be placed not so much on the diuretic effect, as has been generally assumed so far, but the antidyscratic and humoral actions. The key indications are therefore more in the metabolic spehre. E.g. edema of the legs tdue to metabolic causes and in many cases of rheumatoid arthritis and arthrosis. Sitz baths with equisetum extract are indicated for functional pelvic disease in women where there is no inflammation such as adnexitis or parametritis, but primarily muscular tensions and changes in muscle tone in the small pelvis that are autonomous in origin.
The silica is relatively easily dissolved out of the herb by making a decoction, 2.0g of the dried herb boiled for three hours in 200ml of water. Extraction is even better if a little sugar is added. The resulting decoction contains 55.5mg of SiO2 and is remarkably stable. Silica greatly accelerates blood coagulation, and horsetail is our best silica drug.
In China, E. hyemale is used mainly to cool fevers and as a remedy for eye inflammations, such as conjunctivitis and corneal disorder
The plant has a long history of medicinal uses, although modern sources include cautions with regard to its use. The European Food Safety Authority issued a report assessing its medicinal uses in 2009. Equisetum telmateia may be a useful source of antioxidants
Known Hazards:Some species of horsetail can be poisonous to grazing animals, including horses. The toxicity appears to be due to thiaminase enzymes, which can cause thiamine deficiency. People have regularly consumed horsetails. The young plants are eaten cooked or raw, but considerable care must be taken. Horsetail is dangerous for individuals with edema. For example, the fertile stems bearing strobili of some species are cooked and eaten like asparagus (a dish called tsukushi) in Japan. The people of ancient Rome would eat meadow horsetail in a similar manner, but they also used it to make tea as well as a thickening powder. Indians of the North American Pacific Northwest eat the young shoots of this plant raw. The plants are used as a dye and give a soft green colour. An extract is often used to provide silica for supplementation. Horsetail was often used by Indians to polish wooden tools. Equisetum species are often used to analyze gold concentrations in an area due to their ability to take up the metal when it is in a solution.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.
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