Monday, April 26, 2004

Equisetum arvense

Equisetum arvense, or plain old horsetail is coming up all over the place around here. When I first moved to this area, and I saw these mushroomy looking plants, I thought they were one of the strangest plants I ever did see. A quick check in my Rodales Encyclopedia of Herbs revealed that Horsetails are really really old. These plants were around 200 million years ago! (they once stood like giant fern trees). My horsetail grows about 4-8 inches high. They start out looking like the picture above. Then, inside of a few weeks, these spikes open to into a feathery frond of green. They look like soft little Christmas trees, but gather some in your hand, and they feel oh so scratchy. This is due to the fact that this herb absorbs large amounts of silica from the soil. Because it is so abrasive, I have used it to wash out the water fountains in the chicken coop, and the flats from the greenhouse, but I am told it is a "campers helper". When dried, it may be used to polish copper and brass. This herb also has medicinal and cosmetic uses due to the silica. I have heard of people soaking their fingernails and rinsing their hair with an infusion of horsetail. (WARNING: if you plan to use horsetail in a medicinal manner you should check with your physician) I have other plans for my horsetail. I will use it to yield a nice yellow green dye bath for my wool. If I choose to, I will use an iron mordant and get a deeper green. One thing is certain, I have to use it somehow! Horsetail is like a fern in the sense that it will spore on a windy day. Once it takes hold, it is almost impossible to eradicate because it grows on a thin creeping rhizome. And so, this time of year, it appears all over the place. And I will pick and use it all for something....knowing full well it will return next spring. So what if it looks a little weedy in my iris patch, it is a useful plant with a long history.

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