They are not overly common around here, but scouring rushes can add a different texture to a perennial garden. Some people know them as horsetails. The scientific name of Equisetum hyemale has a horse-like ring to it. It’s not by accident. In the wild they usually grow along stream beds.
These unusual plants don’t have flowers or seeds. They also don’t have true leaves. Hollow stiff green stems can sometimes be six feet tall. These stems are jointed and look a little like bamboo without the leaves. Plants do not branch and they’re not related to true rushes at all.
I’ve often thought scouring rush might be used as an ornamental, although until recently I’ve not seen any planted on purpose. Gardeners with poorly drained soils often struggle to grow common landscape plants. These will even thrive in four inches of water. They also tolerate drought.
In addition to their aesthetic value in a perennial be or rock garden, scouring rushes make a great addition to floral designs. They dry well and can be used in dried arrangements too.
One might wonder how these plants reproduce if don’t have flowers or seeds. First of all, they are very successful at it. Scouring rushes are primitive plants that reproduce by spores. Ferns do too. They also spread by aggressive underground stems called rhizomes.
Scouring rush came by its name honestly. The rough textured stems are high in silica. This makes them ideal for scrubbing pots and pans. I’ve even used them like sandpaper to clean dried algae from wood or stone.
Many folks consider them weeds and struggle to control them on pasture land. Livestock will eat them and small amounts aren’t a problem. Large amounts, particularly in winter can be a problem, especially in horses.
Scouring rush contains nicotine and a chemical called thiaminase. This compound inhibits the production of Vitamin B1. This vitamin is necessary for efficient metabolism of carbohydrates, so animals could lose weight. This would stress them and make them more susceptible to other problems.
Eradicating scouring rush from pastures can be a tedious process. The stiff stems have a thick waxy coating. This makes them somewhat impervious to chemical sprays. Often multiple applications are necessary and incorporation of the maximum labeled amount of surfactant should be used. Surfactants are soap-like chemicals used to help pesticides stick to their targets.
Scouring rush has a long history for use as a medicinal herb. When consumed it is a strong diuretic, so it’s often employed to treat kidney stones. Scouring rush increases urine production making it easier for patients to pass stones. Some use it to treat BPH, an inflammation and enlargement of the prostate gland.
As mentioned earlier, these plants are high in silica. Modest amounts can help the body retain calcium. This could be of benefit to those suffering from osteoporosis. Medicinal claims abound for this unique plant.
Proponents of holistic medicines sometimes only tell one side of the story. The other side often doesn’t get published. To a lesser extent this is the same for some pharmaceutical products. Always research as thoroughly as you can and consult your medical professional. Don’t self-medicate.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).