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Common Name: Wood Horsetail
Equisetum sylvaticum is a perennial plant that can grow up to 0.60 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food, medicine and source of materials.
Large quantities of the plant can be toxic. This is because it contains the enzyme thiaminase[
], a substance that can rob the body of the vitamin B complex[
]. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase[
The plant also contains equisetic acid - see the notes on medicinal uses for more information[
Temperate regions of Europe, including Britain, N. America and Asia.
Damp woods on acid soils, moors etc[
Prefers a moist soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5[
Plants are hardy to about -30°c[
Plants have a deep and penetrating root system and can be invasive. If grown in the garden they are best kept in bounds by planting them in a large container which can be sunk into the ground[
Strobil (the fertile shoots in spring) - cooked[
]. An asparagus substitute, though it is neither very palatable nor very nutritious. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
Roots - cooked. A source of starch[
]. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.
Horsetails have an unusual chemistry compared to most other plants[
]. They are rich in silica, contain several alkaloids (including nicotine) and various minerals[
]. The plant is astringent, diuretic and styptic[
]. The barren stems are used, they are most active when fresh but can also be dried and sometimes the ashes of the pant are used[
]. The plant is a useful diuretic when taken internally and is used in the treatment of kidney and bladder problems, internal bleeding[
]. A decoction applied externally will stop the bleeding of wounds and promote healing[
The stems can be used for scouring and polishing metal and as a fine sandpaper[
]. The stems are first bleached by repeated wetting and drying in the sun[
]. They can also be used as a polish for wooden floors and furniture[
The infused stem is an effective fungicide against mildew, mint rust and blackspot on roses[
]. It also makes a good liquid feed[
]. Used as a hair rinse it can eliminate fleas, lice and mites[
A light pink dye is obtained from the stem[
Spores - best collected as soon as they are ripe in the spring and surface-sown immediately on a sterile compost. Keep moist and pot up as soon as the plants are large enough to handle. Very difficult[
Division. The plants usually spread very freely when well sited and should not really need any assistance.