Equisetum fluviatile : Water 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: fluviatile (Lat. fluviatilis = river)

English Name(s):

Water Horsetail,

First Nation Names:



  • Branches (if branched) have first segment shorter than the corresponding stem sheath.
  • Plant unbranched, or with branches occurring sporadically, or in complete whorls.
  • Stems up to 1 metre long, usually shorter. Central cavity about 4/5 diameter of stem.


  • Sheaths snug around stem with 15-20 teeth.

Reproductive Parts:

  • Strobilus (pl. strobili) (spore cone) 2.5 cm long, yellow to brown, at top of fertile stem.


  • Spores having elaters (4 spirally-wound filaments).

Not to Be Confused With:



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

Life Cycle:

Seasonal Cycle:

  • Deciduous, shedding spores from May-August depending on location.


Animal Uses:

  • Equisetum spp. are favorite food of geese and other waterfowl.
  • Possibly eaten by muskrat as well.


  • Quiet shallow waters of lakes, rivers, ponds, wet shores and ditches.




  • 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 stems are 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 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.
        • 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.
        • Stems bruised were used as a poultice for treating blood poisoning and to stop the swelling of eye lids.
        • Sterile stalks were used as an astringent to stop the spitting of blood.


        • Underground stems and roots are eaten raw, with or without lard and are sometimes put in "Indian ice-cream".
        • Underground stems and roots are food for some aboriginal groups. They are collected in the spring by water and are sweet and juicy then.


        Sporadic branches

        Typical Plants

        Young stems growing among last year's dead stems

        Illustration from: Illustrated Flora of BC

        Range Maps

        World Range: Circumpolar, In N.A. from Labrador to Alaska, south to New England, Indiana, Wyoming and Oregon.

        Prov/State Abrev. List

        In Yukon: Found north to the arctic costal plain.

        To Top Of Page