While conventional medicine continues to pour billions of dollars into synthetic drug discoveries that are laden with dangerous side effects, nature already provides some of medicine’s most potent healing weapons.
That’s the case for an herb called horsetail, which is older than many other natural remedies, and is believed to be a descendant of huge trees that lived some 500 million years ago. Any plant with that kind of longevity is worth investigating. It knows something about survival.
Nutrient-packed “living fossil” mistaken as pest
Horsetail is the common name for grass-like plants that are part of the Equisetum arvense plant group. These plants have fused whorls of leaves sprouting from each node, often into stems. Grouped together, they look like the long, combed tail of a horse.
Because this plant family dates back to the Palaeozoic Era, before dinosaurs walked the earth, Equisetum plants are considered living fossils. Some of the extinct members of the family grew as high as 300 feet!
Scientists believe they started growing in what is now the Pacific Northwest before spreading throughout the world. In fact, the plant spreads so quickly many farmers treat it like a weed that’s nearly impossible to get rid of. If you’re a farmer, horsetail is a nuisance, but for natural healers it’s good medicine.
Medicinal history of horsetail
Early Greek and Roman civilizations favored horsetail in the treatment of ulcers, kidney problems, and wounds. For wound healing, the plant was made into a salve to help stop bleeding. The kidney assistance stems from the plant’s diuretic effect, helping to get rid of extra fluids and salt.
In these cases, early doctors used the part of the plant above the ground.
Today, scientists are investigating horsetail’s benefits against a number of health concerns, including cancer.
Horsetail as a cancer killer
Researchers are studying horsetail for potential effects on skin cancer, lung cancer and cancers of the blood. They report that the antioxidants and zinc in horsetail may play a role in cancer prevention, possibly even killing cancer cells.
In one study, researchers tested a horsetail extract against lung cancer cells. They found that horsetail increased apoptosis (programmed cell death) and decreased the ability of lung cancer cells to grow and spread. Researchers concluded that horsetail is a “potential biological resource with pharmacological significance.”
Some scientists hypothesize that horsetail works against cancer because it contains a rich store of antioxidants including flavonoids and saponins. Readers of this newsletter know we frequently talk about the cancer-fighting benefits of flavonoids, such as inhibiting cancer cell growth by stopping angiogenesis along with promoting apoptosis. Saponins have similar anti-cancer benefits.
Horsetail is also rich in chlorophyll, which has been shown in animal studies to prevent and slow the growth of cancer.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found chlorophyll “completely prevented” the effects of cancerous changes in the colon cells of rats fed a diet high in heme (an iron containing compound mimicking red meat). Meanwhile, the group of rats fed heme without chlorophyll experienced a nearly “100 percent increase in proliferation” of colonocytes—cancerous tissue changes — in their colons.
Of course, nearly all green plants contain chlorophyll so horsetail is not unique in that respect.
Protects against side effects of chemotherapy
In another study, this one involving mice, researchers tested horsetail with chemotherapy and made an exciting discovery. When they examined the chromosomal damage that results from chemotherapy, they discovered that horsetail protected the mice against these side effects.
In my opinion, this is a useful finding, since the DNA damage that results from chemotherapy can actually trigger new cancers to grow and form years later.
While the research is still in the laboratory stage, using cancer cell lines and laboratory animals, and has not yet been confirmed in clinical trial, the studies are promising. Researchers believe horsetail should be considered for use as a safe way to reduce the dangerous side effects of chemotherapy.
But this is only the beginning of horsetail’s health benefits.
Horsetail fights aging
In addition to antioxidants, zinc and chlorophyll, horsetail also contains high levels of a number of minerals that help fight many symptoms of aging.
For instance, thanks to high levels of silica found in horsetail, the herb promotes the production of collagen that the body needs to maintain healthy, pain-free joints and smooth, wrinkle-free skin.
One study from the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology even found that an oral supplement of horsetail helped stimulate hair growth for people with alopecia-related hair loss. For these reasons you’ll often find horsetail in supplements for the health of hair, skin and nails.
Those same high levels of silica also help promote bone health. An Italian study even documented increased bone density for women with osteoporosis who took the supplement for one year.
Horsetail is also high in naturally occurring calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It is said to help with the effects of rheumatism and arthritis thanks to promoting improved joint elasticity. Athletes are said to favor it for sprains and torn ligaments for this reason.
Horsetail herb even has natural antimicrobial properties, meaning it stops the growth of microbes like viruses, bacteria, and other parasites. If you can get horsetail herb as an essential oil, it makes an excellent topical antimicrobial agent to use on cuts, scrapes and abrasions. This is probably another reason why horsetail salve was such effective medicine in early Greek and Roman civilizations.
Easy to find and take
Horsetail herb isn’t hard to find, as it’s already carried in most natural health food stores as a tea or a supplement. You can easily grow it yourself (it does best in moist soil) and then harvest and dry it for storage in glass jars.
You can fix horsetail herb into a tincture or consume it as a dried herb. If you want to make your own tea, you simply need two or three teaspoons of either fresh or dried horsetail herb, which you steep in boiling water for ten minutes and then strain.
You can also find horsetail in plant-based collagen powder blends and on its own in supplement capsules. Most supplements have 300 milligrams of dried extract per capsule, which you can take usually three times a day.
Possible side effects are small, ranging from an upset stomach to diarrhea if it doesn’t agree with you. So it’s like any other herb where you’d want to mention it to your doctor if you’re on other medicines, before beginning with small amounts.
It’s especially worth mentioning to your healthcare provider if you have diabetes, since preliminary evidence shows that horsetail herb can lower blood sugar.
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- “Flavonoids and Cancer.”By Andrea S. Blevins Primeau, 9 August 2019.
- “Horsetail herb is one of the oldest remedies on Earth—here’s exactly how to use it.” By Erin Bunch, December 25 2019.
- “Horsetail May Help Improve Your Skin and Bone Health.” For Dr. Mercola, May 09, 2019.
- “Horsetail: The Herb that Supports Skin, Nail, Hair & Joint Health.” By Annie Price, CHHC, August 5, 2018.
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