Horsetail: New Uses to a Folk Remedy for Your Herb Garden

An Ancient Herb for a Modern Garden

| October/November 1995

For years, a friend of mine called my clump of horsetail “asparagus”. When she spoke of it, we were always sitting in rockers on the curving herb porch, looking out over the culinary and medicinal herb beds. She would point and say, “Jim, your asparagus always looks perfect. What do you do?”

Finally, one day, as we walked along the path between the culinary and medicinal beds, she stopped beside the horsetail and said, “I think your asparagus is fake. It always looks the same regardless of the time of year I visit.” From the herb porch, in a straight line with the asparagus bed but much nearer, is my stand of horsetail. All those years when she complimented my asparagus, she was seeing horsetail.

Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), also known as shavegrass or scouring rush, is an ancient herb. Herb references say that this plant hasn’t changed in eons and probably looked in the time of dinosaurs just as it does today.

I had noticed for years that horsetail was listed as a folk treatment for kidney disorders; however, in Field Guide to Medicinal Plants: Eastern and Central North America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), Steven Foster and James A. Duke list it as toxic to livestock and questionable for humans because it disturbs thiamine metabolism. Not a good recommendation for using an old folk remedy today!

But I had also noted in several sources that horsetail is useful as a natural fungicide. I’ve used it successfully as a treatment for black spot and powdery mildew on roses and noticed this year that a few organic supply companies are offering horsetail for that purpose. I add 1 cup of chopped horsetail to 6 cups of boiling water, boil for 5 minutes, then allow the tea to cool overnight. I strain it well and put it in a spray bottle. In damp weather, I spray the roses about every three days.

I surmised that if horsetail is a good plant fungicide, it might also be useful on skin. I first tested it on myself to see what effect it would have on athlete’s foot. I’ve used almost every product on the market only to have the athlete’s foot fungus go away for a while and then return, more bothersome than before.

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