Some comfort perhaps for those who are dealing with horsetail in their gardens and allotments … at least it is useful!
Last autumn I gathered armfuls of horsetail (also known as marestail, Equisetum arvense) from nearby wild spaces to dry in order to make a natural garden potion for my polytunnel this summer.
Fortunately I don’t have any horsetail growing in my own garden, but have experience of growing with this highly invasive plant when I worked at Stavordale priory. The area where the polytunnels are was completely infested, a situation made worse by a previous head gardener there rotovating the site, increasing its spread. I subdued much of it with a double layer of permeable membrane where I was not growing anything, but inside the polytunnels I had to learn to live with it. A deep mulch of compost helped, as did a weekly weeding – time consuming work but it did mean that I could grow everything I wanted to without the horsetail getting overwhelming.
This plant is very determined – here it has grown through a double layer of mypex and the bottom of this planter to join the pepper…
Horsetail is a beautiful, highly invasive and incredibly resilient plant; a great survivor. With roots growing 10 feet and more into the earth and a history of survival stretching back over millions of years to the time of the dinosaurs, it is extremely difficult to erradicate so I never have living plants in my own garden and dispose of any roots with caution.
Horsetail is a powerful plant, rich in minerals, alkaloids and silica, used in some biodynamic preparations as well as extensively in herbal remedies. A natural fungicide, horsetail ‘tea’ is used to treat fungal problems including powdery mildew and black spot and makes a magnesium rich spray which can be applied directly to plants and as a soil feed. The spray helps to prevent damping off, rust, treats mildew on roses, make a root dip,is used to treat peach tree leaf curl and is an effective, purifying cleaner for greenhouses and cold frames.
During the horsetail growing season I gather as much as I can to make potions for the garden and my home (it is great for cleaning potions and your body too), using it fresh or drying for winter/spring use.
To dry, hang bunches to in paper bags in an airy place for a few weeks. Horsetail becomes brittle when dry and easily crumbles, so hanging it in bunches without the bags can result in bits falling all over the place. Alternatively, dry on lined drying racks or stackable blue mushroom trays (use tea towels or kitchen paper to line them). I store it in old sacks in a dry place.
Be careful handling dried horsetail as the silica can stick into your fingers – not much of a problem for me with gardener’s hands, but those with softer skin may need to wear gloves as a precaution.
Is it “Mare’s tail” or “Horsetail”?
Like many gardeners, I use both words to describe the same plant, but technically mare’s tail is a different plant, Hippuris vulgaris, a widespread aquatic plant. Like horsetail, it is invasive and has many uses in herbal medicine.
For more potions, follow the link in this blog post for a podcast of me giving a potions talk.
Here is a recipe for making horsetail solution, which can be adapted for use as a garden potion, for your hair and for the home.
Horsetail Garden ‘Tea’
On Monday I am going to be making a huge batch of the potion for my greenhouse and polytunnel plants, in particular the cucumbers and melons which were serious affected by downy mildew last – it is a natural fungicide – and also a peach and nectarine tree in my garden which seem to have peach leaf curl. I am hopeful that this will help. As it is also a great soil conditioner and feed, I’ll be watering it onto the soil too as a general tonic.
Horsetail is growing abundantly in the hedgerows and wild spaces again, so why did I decide to save a couple of sacks of it last year and not just go out and pick fresh? June is a bonkers time, so busy for exciting reasons, there is so much to pick, abundance everywhere! I knew I wouldn’t have the time to forage for it now, especially as it is elderflower harvesting time, so anticipating this, made life a little easier for myself.
I’ll be making mine in a large pan (several large pans actually!) using this recipe. I have a lot so will use the ratio 1 part dried horsetail to 10 parts water.
Here is a recipe for a smaller quantity which can be increased as you wish.
2 cups fresh horsetail or 1 cup dried
10 cups water
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes with the lid on. Leave to cool overnight – you may want to pop it outside as it isn’t the nicest of smells and can make the kitchen smell a bit peculiar, not quite what you need first thing in the morning!
Strain through a sieve or colander lined with muslin and pour into labelled bottles. Store in a cool place for about a month. Pour any leftover potion into a compost heap.
To use as a foliar spray or soil feed, dilute 1 part horsetail ‘tea’ to 4 parts water.
There’s more about using horsetail including recipes for other uses in our book, No Dig Organic Home & Garden.