Equisetum arvense, f. hyemale Equisetaceae

The forests where dinosaurs once roamed were full of giant horsetails, some the height of large trees, hut the few that remain 350 million years later are small by comparison. An excellent source of silica, they were once used to scrub pots

Other common names Pewterwort, scouring rush Part used Sterile stems

Horsetails have slender, hollow, jointed stems with leaves that are reduced to scales. The plants have a deep root system and can spread by rhizomes. Horsetail produces spores in clublike terminal structures, reproducing by cell division of the fallen spores. Occasionally, livestock are poisoned after long-term grazing on horsetail, a condition known as equisetosis.

Horsetails are divided botanically into two major groups: the horsetails, which have whorled branches, and the scouring rushes, which are unbranched. • Varieties The field horsetail, bottle-brush or shave grass (£. arvense) grows to about 2.5 ft. (80 cm) and the sterile stems have whorled branches. The rough horsetail or Dutch rush (£. hyemale) produces upright unbranched stems to waist height.

Scouring ru&h/

Rich in silica, horsetails were once every cook's blessing. The hardened longitudinal siliceous ridges on the stems were utilized in ancient Roman times through to the 18th century for scrubbing pots and pans. Horsetail stems were found lo be particularly effective for cleaning and polishing pewterware. hence one of the plant's common names — pewterwort. Silica also provided a natural type of nonstick coaling for cookware.

• Position Horsetails are primarily located around water sources, but the rhizomes allow them to move into drier areas. They prefer full sun to part shade and are fully cold-hardy.

• Propagation You can grow horsetails in moist soil from small pieces of rhizome or divisions in spring; however, it can be a very invasive weed that is both difficult to control and resistant to herbicides. It is a prohibited weed in Australia where it is under statutory control.

• Maintenance None required.

• Pests and diseases None of note

• Harvesting and storing Harvest the sterile stems in mid- to late summer and dry them.

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