Horsetails are plants of such ancient ancestry that they belong to a botanical class of their own. They have been used as cleansers from the earliest times as they contain large quantities of silica from the soil which is redeposited in their stems as fine crystals and makes an ideal cleansing agent. Although invisible to the human eye, the crystals are substantial enough to make a horsetail feel like fine sandpaper if one of them is run through the hand.

Throughout the ages horsetails have been used for a variety of purposes. Dairymaids used to scour their milk pails with them and the North American Indians used them to smooth the shafts of their arrows. Knights used them for polishing their armour, and some watchmakers even used them to give an extra smoothness to the works and casing of their watches.

Horsetails were eventually given the common name of pewterwork when they began to be used regularly for scouring household pots and pans as a precursor to wire wool.

Common horsetails can be found on poorly drained land between May and October and are recognisable by their jointed stems and bristly fonds.
Size: 1-3 ft high
Other Names: Scouring rush, Pipes, Joint grass, Foxtails

Horsetails are found primarily in swamps, river banks, or other areas with damp soil.

Since its stems can be used to clean cookware, or as substitute sandpaper, you should know how to identify the plant. Horsetails look a bit like rushes, they have a single stem running straight out of the ground. This stem is divided into sections, smaller branches radiate from the joints. It has a single large cone-like fruit at the top of the stem.

It should be noted that the stems of horsetails are poisonous, do not eat them.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the plant I wrote about was Equisetum hymale. There are over 20 different species of horsetail in the family Equisetaceae. Some species, such as Equisetum arvense are actually diuretic and can be used medicinally. Some species contain nicotine as well. How to go about telling them apart is beyond me. My advice: go to the store and buy a diuretic if you need one, and don't try smoking this thing...

Hall, Alan. The Wild Food Trail Guide. Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston. 1945.,1525,10105,00.html

Horse"tail` (?), n.

1. Bot.

A leafless plant, with hollow and rushlike stems. It is of the genus Equisetum, and is allied to the ferns. See Illust. of Equisetum.


A Turkish standard, denoting rank.

⇒ Commanders are distinguished by the number of horsetails carried before them. Thus, the sultan has seven, the grand vizier five, and the pashas three, two, or one.

Shrubby horsetail. Bot. See Joint-fir.


© Webster 1913.

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