Equisetum arvense : Field Horsetail


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae


Class: Equisetopsida (Horsetail class)

Family: Equisetaceae (Horsetail Family)

Genera: Equisetum (Horsetails) (Lat. equis = horse + seta = hair, alluding to the resemblance of some species to a horses' tail.)

Species: arvense (Lat. arvus = ploughed, a field)

English Name(s):

Field Horsetail,

First Nation Names:

Kheh dye' or Kheh di' (goose food)



  • Fertile stems lacking chlorophyll, brownish, short-lived in the spring, lacking branches, 6-30cm tall.
  • First segment of a branch is longer than the corresponding stem sheath.
  • Plants very variable.
  • Sterile stems green, erect or ascending, 10-50cm tall. Very variable, much branched. Grow throughout the summer; generally taller than fertile stems. Central cavity 1/3-2/3 diameter of stem.


  • Sheaths with 4-14 teeth. (All Equisetum spp. leaves have been reduced to sheaths around the stems and branches.)

Reproductive Parts:


Not to Be Confused With:

  • Can be distinguished from those similar Equisetums by looking at the first segment of the branches. If the first segment of a branch is longer than the corresponding stem sheath it is E. arvense. If not, it is one of the other species.
  • The other branching Equisetum spp. especially E. palustre, and E. pratense.



  • Horsetails (Equisetum spp.) bioaccumulate zinc.
  • The elaters (4 spirally-wound filaments) of each spore, respond to humidity by expanding suddenly and throwing the spore out of the strobilus (spore cone).

Life Cycle:

Seasonal Cycle:

  • Above ground stems deciduous.
  • Fertile stems appear in early spring, spores shed by late May, stem then withering.
  • Sterile stems come up soon after fertile stems appear and grow throughout the summer.


Animal Uses:

  • Caribou, moose, sheep and grizzly bear all eat this plant.
  • Favorite food of geese and other waterfowl.
  • Horses reported to eat the plant and possibly eaten by muskrat as well.
  • It is the main food of grizzlies in June on the Mackenzie Mountain Barrens.


  • Grows well so long as soil is not excessively dry.
  • Variable in habitat. Very common in many environments.




  • Plants used for dyeing yarn. This is done by layering wool or yarn with Horsetail (Equisetum spp.), with about a 10:1 ratio of Horsetail:yarn, boiling 30 minutes, then drying in the shade.
  • The coarse green are stems used to scrub pots and clean dishes.


  • Green plants, because of their silica content, are used for eye treatments and skin disorders.
  • Sterile plants can be used to make an infusion that is said to be effective in combating offensive odour.
  • They are also taken internally, 1 mouthful 4 times daily, to relieve painful or difficult urination or bleeding of the stomach or intestinal tract.


  • Sterile stems are dried, ground to a powder, and used for thickening or to make a mush.
  • This powder has also been used to make a tea and is sold in some grocery stores.

Traditional Gwich'in:



    • The coarse green stems are used to scrub pots and clean dishes.


    • The leaves and stems can be steamed for nasal congestion, colds, and stomach ailments.


    • The root tubercles can be eaten raw.

    Traditional Other:


    • The Aleut fed a decoction of these plants to a hated guest as a magical poison.



      • Ash of the stems of horsetails (Equisetum spp.) was used alone or with grease as a poultice on burns or sores.
      • Bruised stems were used as a poultice for treating blood poisoning and to stop the swelling of eye lids.
      • Plant decoction was used as a contraceptive, to initiate abortion, to stimulate menstruation and to relieve bladder problems.
      • Roots were heated and placed against aching teeth.
      • Sterile stalks were used as an astringent to stop the spitting of blood.
      • Underground stems and roots are collected in the spring by water and are sweet and juicy then, much relished as the first fruit of the season.
      • Underground stems and roots are eaten raw, with or without lard, and are sometimes put in "Indian ice cream".



        Sterile stems and fertile stem sprouting.

        Many fertile stems sprouting.

        Plant in spread-out ascending form

        Illustration from: Illustrated Flora of BC

        Range Maps

        World Range: Circumpolar, in N.A. from Greenland to Alaska, south to Alabama, Texas, and California.

        Prov/State Abrev. List

        In Yukon: Found throughout the territory.

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