Mare's Tail (Horsetail)

Equisetum arvense
Other names: Bottlebrush Plant, Cat's Tail, Common Horsetail, Field horsetail, Pipeweed, Shave Grass, Scouring Rush
Family: Equisetaceae

A problem perennial weed which grows in a wide variety of places from boggy ground to sand dunes. It is often called "Mare's Tail", but the latter is Hippuris vulgaris a flowering plant and no relation. There are about thirty species in the world and Equisetum is the only genus remaining in the Family Sphenophyta which has existed for around thirty million years. Some of the earlier species reached up to 30 metres in height. All had the unique straight stems with whorls of branches at regular intervals.

There are two types of growth, in spring brown asparagus-like shoots appear with cones at the tips and these produce spores. Later the more familiar thin green, branched stems appear and these remain until the winter. Both are produced from creeping underground rhizomes which can go down about 1.5 metres. In cross-section the rhizomes have six hollow channels and a fleshy core.

Some of the alternative names come from the use of the plant as a pan scrubber, but I'm not sure if it is much use for shaving, this may refer to its use in polishing wood.

The cells contain silica granules which might account for the toughness of the stems - horsetail has been recommended for treating brittle nails and preventing osteoporosis. It also has a diuretic effect and has been used to stem bleeding. The flavonoids contained in the stems have antioxidant properties.

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