What Is Horsetail?

Horsetail dried herb, capsules, liquid

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is a perennial herb in the Equisetaceae family of plants. Perennial means a plant returns every year and usually lives at least two years. Considered a weed, the horsetail plant is invasive and can spread through an area of land quickly, thus making it hard to get rid of once it is in your garden. 

The horsetail plant is like a fern. It has hollow, pointed stems and scaly leaves. Horsetail grows to be about 1 foot tall (12 inches).

Typically the green fern-like part of the plant (i.e., the aboveground part) is used for medicinal purposes. 

People have been using horsetail since ancient Greek and Roman times. The plant has been used as a medicinal herb to treat weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis), tuberculosis, and kidney problems. Some have claimed that horsetail can help relieve fluid retention (edema), stop bleeding, and heal wounds.

Certain chemicals in horsetail are thought to lower inflammation. They might also help the body make more substances that boost the immune system (antioxidants). Horsetail also has silica and silicon in it. These minerals work together to strengthen the hair and nails. They also help the body make healthy bone tissue.

While it has been used for a long time, there is no rigorous research on how well horsetail works or how safe it is for humans. This article discusses the potential uses of horsetail, its side effects, and precautions.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF.

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and to check in about any potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active ingredient(s): Horsetail, isoquercitrin,, silica, kynurenic acid
  • Alternate name(s): Equisetum arvense, Bottle Brush, Field Horsetail
  • Legal status: In the United States, horsetail is considered an over-the-counter herbal supplement and is not approved by the FDA. The German Commission E approved the use of horsetail for fluid retention, bacterial infections, and lower urinary tract inflammation.
  • Suggested dose: The specific dose and dosage forms vary depending on the condition that horsetail is being used for. For example, the dose appears to be capped at 900 milligrams per day in a study evaluating the blood pressure lowering effect of horsetail in people with stage I hypertension.
  • Safety considerations: Consult with your healthcare provider, especially if you have alcohol use disorder, vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency, pregnancy or breastfeeding, diabetes, low potassium, or taking prescription drugs or other supplements, especially those that affect blood pressure.

Uses of Horsetail

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Horsetail has been studied in the settings of osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and hair growth.

Promotes Bone Formation

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes softening or thinning of the bone tissue, which can weaken the bones and cause them to break easily. It may occur in people going through menopause due to decreased estrogen levels. Fast bone loss occurs in about 25% of postmenopausal women.

Although there is a lack of human clinical study on the effect of horsetail on osteoporosis, one animal study found that the addition of E.arvense (horsetail) to the formulated mixture of basic bone mineralizing nutrients containing L-lysine, L-proline, L-arginine, and L-ascorbic acid increases bone formation in rats with ovaries removed, a condition which mimics menopause. However, it’s challenging to know the effect of horsetail alone.

Furthermore, in an experimental study done in rats, the mandibular (the bone of the lower jaw) bone mineral density in the 120 mg/kg E. arvense group was higher than the control group based on radiography.

It’s important to highlight that the two studies above were conducted in rats. We cannot say that these effects will even happen in humans. More high-quality studies using horsetail would need to be done with humans before further conclusions about the effectiveness of horsetail for osteoporosis may be made. 

Decreases Inflammation

A randomized controlled trial of 60 people with rheumatoid arthritis showed that the experimental group (horsetail mixture plus methotrexate and diclofenac sodium) was superior to the control group (methotrexate plus diclofenac sodium). Moreover, the horsetail mixture has decreased TNF-α (inflammatory marker) levels and increased IL-10 levels (anti-inflammatory marker).

The anti-inflammatory effect of horsetail has also been shown in an in vitro (test-tube) study on human primary lymphocytes (white blood cells).

Lowers Blood Pressure

In a double-blind, randomized clinical trial of 58 people with stage I hypertension, the E. arvense group demonstrated a significant decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure comparable to Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide).

Further studies, including more people, are warranted to determine the clinical potency of horsetail in high blood pressure.

Lowers Blood Sugar

Despite the lack of human clinical study on horsetail's effect on blood sugar, a study done in drug-induced diabetic rats showed that horsetail extract had a beneficial effect on blood sugar and insulin resistance. However, further investigation is needed to determine the exact mechanisms behind the effects.

Of note, as the study was conducted in rats, it is unclear if the results can be applied to humans with diabetes.

Promotes Hair Growth

Horsetail contains silicon, and it is suggested that hair strands with higher silicon content tend to have a lower falling rate and higher brightness. Additionally, silicon is essential for optimal collagen synthesis, improving skin strength and elasticity.

In addition to the potential health benefits listed above, other purported uses of horsetail, some of which lack clinical data demonstrating the efficacy of horsetail for said uses, include the following:

  • Bleeding 
  • Gout 
  • Frostbite 
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Inability to control the bladder (incontinence)
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Osteoarthritis: Horsetail contains kynurenic acid, which has an anti-inflammatory effect. However, the level of kynurenic acid was lower in human subjects with rheumatoid arthritis than those with osteoarthritis.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI): A lab study suggested that Equisetum arvense extract had antibacterial activity. However, the results need to be confirmed with clinical trials before recommending horsetail to prevent and treat UTIs.
  • Wounds: According to a randomized placebo-controlled trial, three-percent horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ointment applied for 10 days promoted wound healing in 108 people who had surgery to cause childbirth.

What Are the Side Effects of Horsetail?

Despite its potential uses, horsetail may have side effects. These side effects may be mild or severe.

Common Side Effects

  • Increased urination: A double-blind, randomized clinical trial of 36 healthy male volunteers has shown that E. arvense extract produced a diuretic (fluid-flushing effect) effect comparable to the water pill Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide).
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency: Since horsetail contains thiaminase, an enzyme that breaks down thiamine, taking it for a prolonged period may increase your risk of thiamine deficiency.

Severe Side Effects

Severe side effects may occur when too much horsetail is taken or when horsetail is taken with certain prescription drugs that can worsen such side effects.

Seek medical attention if you experience palpitations.

Avoid horsetail if you have an allergy to it or members of the Equisetaceae family. Stop taking horsetail immediately if you experience any signs of allergic reaction.

Precautions

Horsetail has several known precautions. Exercise caution if any of the situations listed below apply to you. 

  • Alcohol use disorders: Chronic alcohol use can cause vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. Since horsetail can lower vitamin B1 levels as well, taking horsetail in the setting of heavy alcohol use may worsen vitamin B1 deficiency.   
  • Thiamine deficiency: Due to the enzyme thiaminase in horsetail that breaks down thiamine, taking horsetail may worsen thiamine deficiency. Your provider might want you to take a B complex or multivitamin daily if you use horsetail regularly to help prevent a thiamine deficiency.
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding: There is insufficient research on the safety of horsetail use when pregnant or breastfeeding. 
  • Diabetes: Horsetail is thought to cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Low blood sugar levels can be life-threatening if not treated appropriately. 
  • Low potassium (hypokalemia): Horsetail has a "fluid-flushing" effect, also known as the diuretic effect. When you lose a lot of fluid from your body, you also lose a vital nutrient called potassium. Low potassium levels can be dangerous because they can cause irregular heartbeat.
  • Carrot allergy: If you have an allergy to carrots, you might also have an allergy to horsetail. 
  • Nicotine allergy: Since horsetail contains a small amount of nicotine, you might also have an allergic reaction to horsetail if you have an allergy to nicotine.

Dosage: How Much Horsetail  Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

Here are a few examples of how much horsetail might be used for different conditions. However, it would help if you talked to your healthcare provider about the dose that will be right for you.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: One randomized controlled trial showed a horsetail mixture (15 milliliters three times per day) along with methotrexate (7.5 milligrams once a week) and diclofenac sodium (25 milligrams three times per day) to be superior at decreasing inflammation compared to western medicine therapy alone.
  • High blood pressure: Horsetail extract at a daily dose of 900 milligrams (capsule) was found to have a similar blood pressure lowering effect as hydrochlorothiazide at a daily dose of 25 milligrams (capsule) in people with stage I hypertension.
  • Wound healing: A double-blind clinical trial on 108 postpartum (following childbirth) nulliparous women showed the application of three-percent E. arvense ointment to the incision site twice a day for 10 days promoted wound healing and relieved pain after episiotomy.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Horsetail?

An overdose can occur if you take an amount larger than recommended. For horsetail, the maximum recommended dose is 900 milligrams per day.

  • If you experience irregular heartbeat (due to low potassium level) or symptoms of nicotine overdose (of note, horsetail contains a small amount of nicotine), you may have taken too much horsetail.

In terms of toxicity, it is essential to note that another horsetail species, Equisetum palustre, was poisonous to horses.

Interactions

If you are taking certain medications or other supplements, horsetail could affect how they work. You should talk with your healthcare provider before using horsetail, especially if you are taking: 

  • Antidiabetic drugs: Because horsetail might lower your blood sugar levels, Actos (pioglitazone), Amaryl (glimepiride), Avandia (rosiglitazone), Diabeta (glyburide), Glucotrol XL (glipizide), insulin, and other medicines used to treat diabetes should not be taken with horsetail. Taking it with insulin or additional blood sugar lowering drugs, you could get dangerously low blood sugar levels. 
  • Diuretics: Medications (sometimes called "water pills") that "flush" fluid from your body can also decrease your potassium levels. Examples of these medications are Diuril (chlorothiazide), Lasix (furosemide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide), and Thalitone (chlorthalidone). As horsetail is known to have a fluid-flushing effect, using horsetail with another fluid-flushing medication may cause your potassium levels to drop too low.
  • Lithium: Horsetail may decrease your body's ability to eliminate lithium, increasing the risk of lithium build-up in the body and severe side effects.  
  • Lanoxin (digoxin): Horsetail acts like a "water pill" and thus theoretically can lower your potassium levels. Low potassium levels can affect the beating of your heart and increase the risk of digoxin toxicity. Nevertheless, a randomized, double-blind clinical trial showed that potassium was not significantly eliminated from human urine after horsetail treatment. Thus, more studies are required to clarify the action of horsetail concerning potassium.
  • Nicotine patches or nicotine gum: Since horsetail contains a small amount of nicotine, you should not use it if you use nicotine gum or nicotine replacement patches.
  • Nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs): This medication class is used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Taking horsetail with NRTIs may reduce the effects of these drugs. 

It is essential to carefully read a supplement's ingredient list and nutrition facts panel to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

How to Store Horsetail

Like many prescription medications, herbal products need to be stored properly to make sure they keep working. All preparations of horsetail should be kept in a sealed dark container, away from direct sunlight. Discard as indicated on the packaging. 

Horsetail dried herb
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Similar Supplements

Listed below are some supplements that may have similar effects and properties to horsetail.

Not only can horsetail lower blood sugar levels, but aloe, bitter melon, cinnamon, chromium, prickly pear cactus, and bilberry can also do so. Therefore, it is best not to combine horsetail with such supplements to prevent blood sugar levels from dropping too low. 

Furthermore, since horsetail contains chromium, taking horsetail with chromium-containing supplements such as brewer's yeast and cascara sagrada can increase the risk of chromium poisoning.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the significance of the name horsetail?

    Equisetum is derived from the Latin root equus, meaning “horse,” and seta, meaning “bristle.” Hence, the name horsetail. Horsetail is also called “bottle-brush”.

  • Does horsetail help with hair growth?

    Horsetail is able to accumulate silica and thus is a source of silica, which is known to help promote hair growth. Of note, taking horsetail with silicon supplements may increase the risk of side effects from silicon.

  • How does horsetail affect my potassium level?

    Horsetail acts like a water pill and has a fluid-flushing (diuretic) effect. It is unclear whether the fluid-flushing effect decreases potassium levels. Also, horsetail is an herb that contains potassium. Thus, caution should be exercised before starting horsetail, especially in those with chronic kidney disease.

Sources of Horsetail & What to Look For

Horsetail is available as a supplement in various forms, including liquids, tinctures, capsules, topical ointment, or tea. You can make horsetail tea by using teabags or a loose herb. 

In general, opt for products that have good manufacturing practices (GMP) or third-party lab-tested certifications.

Horsetail Supplements

While some horsetail products are labeled “thiaminase-free,” it is unclear what the side effects might be.

Summary

Horsetail is a plant that has been used for thousands of years. Research has shown that horsetail may play a role in promoting bone formation, decreasing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar, and promoting hair growth.  However, more human studies are needed to clarify the efficacy and safety of horsetail. 

31 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Washington State University. Horsetail.

  2. Costa‐Rodrigues J, Carmo SC, Silva JC, Fernandes MHR. Inhibition of human in vitro osteoclastogenesis by Equisetum arvenseCell Proliferation. 2012;45(6):566-576. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2184.2012.00848.x‌

  3. MedlinePlus. Horsetail.

  4. Gründemann C, Lengen K, Sauer B, Garcia-Käufer M, Zehl M, Huber R. Equisetum arvense (common horsetail) modulates the function of inflammatory immunocompetent cells. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;14(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-283

  5. Boeing T, Tafarelo Moreno KG, Gasparotto Junior A, Mota da Silva L, de Souza P. Phytochemistry and Pharmacology of the Genus Equisetum (Equisetaceae): A Narrative Review of the Species with Therapeutic Potential for Kidney Diseases. Granica S, ed. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2021;2021:1-17. doi:10.1155/2021/6658434

  6. Mimica-Dukic N, Simin N, Cvejic J, Jovin E, Orcic D, Bozin B. Phenolic Compounds in Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense L.) as Natural Antioxidants. Molecules. 2008;13(7):1455-1464. doi:10.3390/molecules13071455

  7. Zgrajka W, Turska M, Rajtar G, Majdan M, Parada-Turska J. Kynurenic acid content in anti-rheumatic herbs. Annals of agricultural and environmental medicine: AAEM. 2013;20(4):800-802.

  8. Dragos D, Gilca M, Gaman L, et al. Phytomedicine in Joint Disorders. Nutrients. 2017;9(1):70. doi:10.3390/nu9010070

  9. PubChem. Horsetail.

  10. American Botanical Council. Horsetail.

  11. Carneiro DM, Jardim TV, Araújo YCL, et al. Antihypertensive effect of Equisetum arvense L.: a double-blind, randomized efficacy and safety clinical trial. Phytomedicine. 2022;99:153955. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2022.153955

  12. Yong E, Logan S. Menopausal osteoporosis: screening, prevention and treatment. Singapore Medical Journal. 2021;62(4):159-166. doi:10.11622/smedj.2021036

  13. Kotwal S, Badole S. Anabolic therapy with Equisetum arvense along with bone mineralising nutrients in ovariectomized rat model of osteoporosis. Indian Journal of Pharmacology. 2016;48(3):312. doi:10.4103/0253-7613.182880

  14. Arbabzadegan N, Moghadamnia AA, Kazemi S, Nozari F, Moudi E, Haghanifar S. Effect of equisetum arvense extract on bone mineral density in Wistar rats via digital radiography. Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine. 2019;10(2):176-182. doi:10.22088/cjim.10.2.176

  15. Jiang X, Qu Q, Li M, Miao S, Li X, Cai W. Horsetail mixture on rheumatoid arthritis and its regulation on TNF-α and IL-10. Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 2014;27(6 Suppl):2019-2023.

  16. Gründemann C, Lengen K, Sauer B, Garcia-Käufer M, Zehl M, Huber R. Equisetum arvense (common horsetail) modulates the function of inflammatory immunocompetent cells. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;14(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-283

  17. Hegedűs C, Muresan M, Badale A, et al. SIRT1 Activation by Equisetum arvense L. (Horsetail) Modulates Insulin Sensitivity in Streptozotocin Induced Diabetic Rats. Molecules. 2020;25(11):2541. doi:10.3390/molecules25112541

  18. Araújo LA de, Addor F, Campos PMBGM. Use of silicon for skin and hair care: an approach of chemical forms available and efficacy. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 2016;91(3):331-335. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20163986

  19. Wojnicz D, Kucharska AZ, Sokół-Łętowska A, Kicia M, Tichaczek-Goska D. Medicinal plants extracts affect virulence factors expression and biofilm formation by the uropathogenic Escherichia coli. Urological Research. 2012;40(6):683-697. doi:10.1007/s00240-012-0499-6

  20. Asgharikhatooni A, Bani S, Hasanpoor S, Mohammad Alizade S, Javadzadeh Y. The Effect of Equisetum Arvense (Horse Tail) Ointment on Wound Healing and Pain Intensity After Episiotomy: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal. 2015;17(3). doi:10.5812/ircmj.25637

  21. Carneiro DM, Freire RC, Honório TC de D, et al. Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial to Assess the Acute Diuretic Effect of Equisetum arvense (Field Horsetail) in Healthy Volunteers. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;2014:1-8. doi:10.1155/2014/760683

  22. Devaraj S, Yimam M, Brownell LA, Jialal I, Singh S, Jia Q. Effects of Aloe vera Supplementation in Subjects with Prediabetes/Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. 2013;11(1):35-40. doi:10.1089/met.2012.0066

  23. Kim SK, Jung J, Jung JH, et al. Hypoglycemic efficacy and safety of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2020;52:102524. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102524

  24. Zare R, Nadjarzadeh A, Zarshenas MM, Shams M, Heydari M. Efficacy of cinnamon in patients with type II diabetes mellitus: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Clinical Nutrition. 2019;38(2):549-556. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2018.03.003

  25. Farrokhian A, Mahmoodian M, Bahmani F, Amirani E, Shafabakhsh R, Asemi Z. The Influences of Chromium Supplementation on Metabolic Status in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Coronary Heart Disease. Biological Trace Element Research. 2019;194(2):313-320. doi:10.1007/s12011-019-01783-7

  26. Gouws CA, Georgousopoulou EN, Mellor DD, McKune A, Naumovski N. Effects of the Consumption of Prickly Pear Cacti (Opuntia spp.) and its Products on Blood Glucose Levels and Insulin: A Systematic Review. Medicina. 2019;55(5):138. doi:10.3390/medicina55050138

  27. de Mello VD, Lankinen MA, Lindström J, et al. Fasting serum hippuric acid is elevated after bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) consumption and associates with improvement of fasting glucose levels and insulin secretion in persons at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2017;61(9):1700019. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201700019

  28. Yin RV, Phung OJ. Effect of chromium supplementation on glycated hemoglobin and fasting plasma glucose in patients with diabetes mellitus. Nutrition Journal. 2015;14(1). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-14-14

  29. MedlinePlus. Cascara Sagrada.

  30. Sola-Rabada A, Rinck J, Belton DJ, Powell AK, Perry CC. Isolation of a wide range of minerals from a thermally treated plant: Equisetum arvense, a Mare’s tale. Journal of biological inorganic chemistry: JBIC: a publication of the Society of Biological Inorganic Chemistry. 2016;21(1):101-112. doi:10.1007/s00775-015-1320-0

  31. Długaszek M, Kaszczuk M. Assessment of the nutritional value of various teas infusions in terms of the macro- and trace elements content. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. 2020;59:126428. doi:10.1016/j.jtemb.2019.126428

Additional Reading

By Trang Tran, PharmD
Trang Tran, PharmD, is a pharmacist who is passionate about integrative health.