Equisetum arvense

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Equisetum arvense
Equisetum arvense foliage.jpg
Photosynthetic summer foliage
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pteridophyta
Class: Equisetopsida
Order: Equisetales
Family: Equisetaceae
Genus: Equisetum
Subgenus: E. subg. Equisetum
Species: E. arvense
Binomial name
Equisetum arvense
  • Allosites arvense Brogn.
  • Equisetum arvense fo. arcticum (Rupr.) M. Broun
  • Equisetum arvense fo. boreale (Bong.) Klinge
  • Equisetum arvense fo. campestre (Schultz) Klinge
  • Equisetum arvense fo. ramulosum (Rupr.) Klinge ex Scoggan
  • Equisetum arvense subsp. boreale (Bong.) Á. Löve
  • Equisetum arvense subsp. ramulosum (Rupr.) W.F. Rapp
  • Equisetum arvense var. arcticum Rupr.
  • Equisetum arvense var. campestre (Schultz) Rupr.
  • Equisetum arvense var. ramulosum Rupr.
  • Equisetum boreale Bong.
  • Equisetum calderi B. Boivin
  • Equisetum campestre Schultz
  • Equisetum saxicola Suksd.

Equisetum arvense, the field horsetail or common horsetail, is an herbaceous perennial plant in the Equisetopsida (the horsetails), native throughout the arctic and temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It has separate sterile non-reproductive and fertile spore-bearing stems growing from a perennial underground rhizomatous stem system. The fertile stems are produced in early spring and are non-photosynthetic, while the green sterile stems start to grow after the fertile stems have wilted and persist through the summer until the first autumn frosts.[2][3] It is sometimes confused with mare's tail, Hippuris vulgaris.[4]


The sterile stems are 10–90 cm tall and 3–5 mm diameter, with jointed segments around 2–5 cm long with whorls of side shoots at the segment joints; the side shoots have a diameter of about 1 mm. Some stems can have as many as 20 segments. The fertile stems are of a succulent texture, off-white, 10–25 cm tall and 3–5 mm diameter, with 4–8 whorls of brown scale leaves and an apical brown spore cone 10–40 mm long and 4–9 mm broad.[2] It is found in rich and moist soils, cultivable areas or near streams and is little changed from its ancestors of the Carboniferous period.

E. arvense is a nonflowering plant, multiplying through spores. It absorbs silicon from the soil, which is rare among herbs. It has a very high diploid number of 216 (108 pairs of chromosomes).[2]

The specific name arvense is derived from the Latin arvensis, meaning "from the meadow, field or grassland."

Beneficial uses[edit]

Drawing of a fertile stem of E. arvense, 10 cm as drawn. At the top is the strobilus, which consists of the axis (inside) and 15–20 horizontal circles of about 20 sporangiophores. Lower on the stem are two sheaths of merged microphylls. The stem has many strong lengthwise ridges.

The plant contains several substances that can be used medicinally. It is rich in the minerals silicon (10%), potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus, phytosterols, dietary fiber, vitamins A, E and C, tannins, alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, glycosides and caffeic acid phenolic ester. The buds are eaten as a vegetable in Japan and Korea in spring. All other Equisetum species are toxic.

Fertile shoots, in late April.

In polluted conditions[citation needed], it may synthesize nicotine.[5] Externally it was traditionally used for chilblains and wounds.[6] It was also once used to polish pewter and wood (gaining the name pewterwort) and to strengthen fingernails. It is also an abrasive. It was used by hurdy-gurdy players to dress the wheels of their instruments by removing resin build up.[7]

Equisetum is used in biodynamic farming (preparation BD 508) in particular to reduce the effects of excessive water around plants (such as fungal growth). The high silica content of the plant reduces the impact of moisture.[8]

E. arvense has been used in traditional Austrian herbal medicine internally as tea, or externally as baths or compresses, for treatment of disorders of the skin, locomotor system, kidneys and urinary tract, rheumatism and gout.

Harmful effects[edit]

Sterile stems

Equisetum arvense is toxic to stock, particularly horses.[9]

It was introduced into New Zealand in the 1920s and was first identified as an invasive species there by Ella Orr Campbell in 1949.[10] It is listed on the National Pest Plant Accord, prohibiting its sale, spread and cultivation.[11]


  1. ^ Tropicos
  2. ^ a b c Hyde, H. A., Wade, A. E., & Harrison, S. G. (1978). Welsh Ferns. National Museum of Wales ISBN 0-7200-0210-9.
  3. ^ Flora of North America: Equisetum arvense
  4. ^ Dao-Lan, Xu; Jian-Guo, Cao; Quan-Xi, Wang; Xi-Ling, Dai (November 2015). "Cloning and Characterization of DEAD-box RNA Helicases Gene from the Fern Equisetum arvense". Plant Diversity And Resources. 36 (6): 715–722. doi:10.7677/ynzwyj201414036. 
  5. ^ Bebbington, A. "Toxicity of Equisetum to Horses". Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987); p.159-160
  7. ^ La Vielleuse Habile, Jean-Francois Bouin, 1761, page 19.
  8. ^ Kearny, Peter. "Bio Dynamic Prep 508". Bio Dynamic Prep 208. City Food Growers. Retrieved June 2011.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  9. ^ "Equisetum arvense". Poisonous Plants of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 3 March 2018. 
  10. ^ Clemens, J (2003). "In Memory of Ella O. Campbell, DNZM, FRIH" (PDF). Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture. 6 (1): 2. Retrieved 14 March 2015. 
  11. ^ Howell, Clayson (May 2008). Consolidated list of environmental weeds in New Zealand (PDF). DRDS292. Wellington: Department of Conservation. ISBN 978-0-478-14413-0. Retrieved 2009-05-06. 

External links[edit]