Eating Prehistorically – Horsetail for Supper

Young horsetail shoots ready for eating. Photo by Suzannr Crocker.

The foraging season is now in full force!   New edible plants are popping up daily. Many of them are only edible when they are young, so the window for a tasting opportunity is short!

Horsetail, equisetum arvense, is one such example.  Horsetail is a relative of a prehistoric plant that grew to over 15 meters high 400 million years ago.

Horsetail is eaten by caribou, moose, sheep and bears and, when young, can be eaten by humans too. The young, male horsetail shoots are edible when the fronds are pointing up.  When the fronds start to point outwards or downwards, then they should no longer be eaten as oxalate crystals will be building up inside the stem.

A Patch of young horsetail plants. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

If you catch them early, the young shoots can be eaten raw or steamed as a wild vegetable.  Or they can be dried and used as a tea.  They are rich in antioxidants and high in minerals including calcium, magnesium.

Of note – long-term regular ingestion or horsetail can deplete thiamine levels (Vitamin B1).  Also to be avoided in folks with edema, gout, heart and kidney disease.

If you don’t catch them young, horsetail make good pot scrubbers while camping.   Horsetail is high in silica and when dried and steeped in hot water apparently makes a great foot soak or hair rinse.

Look for horsetail in damp open woods, meadows, dry sandy soil and disturbed areas.

Research for this post thanks to Beverley Gray and the The Boreal Herbal.

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