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An ancient ancestor and a daily tonic

| 01 Mar 2016 | 01:48

No, it’s not asparagus. These look-alike shoots are descended from huge, tree-like plants that thrived 400 million years ago during the Paleozoic era. Meet horsetail, a cousin of the fern.

It contains spores, which tells us that this plant came onto the evolutionary scene after mushrooms and before pollen bearing plants such as pine. This is long before flowering plants, which developed seeds, likely in association with mammals coming onto the scene.

Look for this common road and streamside perennial in riparian and drainage areas, or where water is known to pool. (Because horsetail likes to live in drainage areas, there’s potential for the uptake of toxins such as heavy metals and PCBs. This is similar, though, to most conventional food in the grocery stores that we have become so used to buying without thinking.)

Horsetail and its relatives come in two forms: fertile stems (light colored due to lack of chlorophyll), which appear earlier in the spring, and sterile stems, which are green. The green, sterile plant is what we want to harvest. Once you’ve identified the plant, take no more than 30 percent of the patch, to allow it to re-grow.

Medicinally, horsetail is deeply rich in minerals. The best time to harvest is before the stems drop to a 90-degree angle to the stalk. After that phase, the plant gets very tough and is reported to cause issues in the kidneys. The green stems are diuretic and help to remineralize the body, especially in the case of wasting conditions or malabsorption, which can be seen by a skilled practitioner in tongue, facial, eye, hair, and nail diagnosis.

Dried, and powdered in a coffee grinder, you can consume up to a teaspoon of horsetail powder a day by adding a little hot water and drinking. It will strengthen bones, nails, and hair. You’ll notice differences within a month.

There is some debate whether the good stuff (mainly silica) in horsetail is extracted in an alcohol tincture. To get around this you could make an acetate tincture – a mixed tincture of alcohol and vinegar. You can also extract horsetail in apple cider vinegar by chopping finely or powdering the plant, then adding to vinegar, stirring every few days, and straining in two weeks to two months.