I’ve been using herbs and herbal preparations for years now to treat mild issues at home. Horsetail (also called shavegrass) is an herb that I always keep in the herb cabinet (which is what I have instead of a medicine cabinet!). It has been my go-to for hair, skin, and nail health but I am still learning that there are even more benefits and uses of horsetail herb.
What Is Horsetail?
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a medicinal plant used for remedies that dates back to ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. But it has been around much longer, as early as before the dinosaurs. Prehistoric horsetail was much taller, the size of a tree, but today’s horsetail reaches just about 4 feet tall. Horsetail is thought to be the most abundant source of silica in the plant kingdom. Because of this, it has been used in the past to polish metal.
The above-ground part of the plant is what is used for herbal medicine. It has been used traditionally for many ailments and to support natural health:
- Hair, bone, nail, and skin health
- Mouth and throat health
- Healing wounds
- Viral infections
- Digestion help
- Cardiovascular and respiratory ailments
- Bladder problems (including bed-wetting)
- Bleeding issues
- Immune system support
While herbalists have used horsetail for traditional remedies for many years, there isn’t a lot of scientific data to support its use. However, the small amount of research that is available is promising and makes a case for further research.
Horsetail has many uses in traditional herbal medicine. Science is also beginning to back up these claims. Here are some of the most common benefits of horsetail:
High in Nutrients and Antioxidants
One of the most interesting benefits of horsetail is how nutrient dense it is. Horsetail contains the following nutrients:
- Vitamin C
- B vitamins
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Electrolytes like potassium, calcium, and magnesium
Horsetail also contains Kynurenic acid, which reduces inflammation and pain, as well as silica, which supports collagen production. It also contains chlorophyll, known to fight cancer by preventing the cytotoxic and hyperproliferative effects of iron metabolism.
Additionally, research suggests that horsetail has antioxidant properties and may even inhibit cancer cell growth because of this.
Promotes Bone Health
The high level of silica in horsetail is one of its main health benefits. Silica is important for bone and teeth health among other things. In a 1999 study, post-menopausal women with osteoporosis regained significant bone density after 1 year of supplementation of horsetail.
Fights Illness and Infection
Traditional herbalists use horsetail on wounds, especially boils and carbuncles. It turns out this use is scientifically backed. Horsetail has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that help with disease and infection. One 2006 study tested horsetail essential oil on a number of bacteria and fungi like Staph, Salmonella, and Candida. It was found to have a broad spectrum effect on all strains tested.
Has Diuretic Properties
Horsetail has been used traditionally as a diuretic and to treat bladder issues for centuries. A 2014 study found that horsetail works as well as a conventional diuretic medicine (hydrochlorothiazide) without side effects such as significant changes to liver or kidney function or electrolyte balance.
Additionally, many diuretic drugs cause electrolyte issues but this study found that horsetail does not cause the same issues. This may be because horsetail is also a good source of electrolytes.
Supports Hair, Skin, and Nail Health
Horsetail has also been used traditionally for hair, skin, and nail health. It’s thought that the high silica content of horsetail is the reason why it works. Silica helps boost collagen production which is important for healthy hair, skin, and nail.
Science backs this up too. A 2016 study found that hair with high amounts of silica was less likely to fall out and was also more lustrous than hair with lower levels of silica.
Horsetail can even help regrow hair after hair loss. According to this 2012 study, significant hair growth occurred after 90 and 180 days of supplementing with horsetail herb.
One study published in the Journal of Plastic Dermatology found that using horsetail topically on nails reduced splitting and fragility of nails as well as reduced longitudinal grooves.
Additionally, a 2015 study found horsetail ointment helped heal episiotomy wounds and reduced pain associated with it.
I often use this herb, especially in external preparations due to its skin/hair supportive high silica content:
- Increase bone density – Take a supplement of horsetail with calcium daily.
- As an herbal hair rinse – I brew a strong herbal tea (1/2 cup horsetail to 1 cup water), steep for an hour, strain and use as a hair rinse in the shower.
- For boils and blisters – I grind the dried herb with plantain and add enough water to create a paste and then pack on to boils or blisters and cover with gauze to speed healing.
- For nails – Use horsetail oil on nails to improve strength and reduce breakage and splitting.
- As diuretic – Drink horsetail tea to remove excess water.
- Sore throat – For sore throat, I make a gargle with a strong horsetail infusion (steeping horsetail in boiling water and then cooling) with sea salt and lemon juice and then gargle with this mixture a few times a day while symptoms persist.
- Bedwetting/bladder problems – A capsule of horsetail extract two or three times daily may be helpful for alleviating some of the symptoms of bladder and urinary tract infections (although not necessarily solving the problem, see this post on UTIs), incontinence, and even bed wetting because it can relieve the urge to urinate. Or try a bath in horsetail tea (steep dried horsetail in a quart of boiling water for 10-15 minutes and then strain and add to bath).
Is Horsetail Safe? Additional Notes
I avoid this herb when pregnant or nursing (so my whole married life!) but use it externally for hair or skin if needed.
Precautions for using horsetail include:
- Drink lots of water while taking horsetail
- Don’t take if you have a kidney problem
- Check with your doctor if you take medications as some may interact with horsetail (including causing potassium imbalance)
- Horsetail may lower blood glucose so diabetics should check with their doctor before use
- Because it contains traces of nicotine, horsetail is not recommended for children
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid horsetail as there aren’t any safety studies
- Choose a thiaminase-free formula as thiaminase can block absorption of thiamine
Otherwise, horsetail is generally considered safe when taken in short-term use.
Where to Buy Horsetail
There are many places you can purchase it from online, and possibly even locally, but I typically buy it and make it as a tea. This powdered version is a little more convenient you don’t have to steep or strain it. You can also try capsule form, although I haven’t personally.
You can also grow your own horsetail. If you want to try it, start with it in a container since it spreads very easily and may take over your garden!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Lauren Jefferis, board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Have you ever used horsetail? How did you use it? Tell me below!
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