Tip of the Week #4: Horsetail for Aluminum Toxicity

While aluminum exposure is problematic year round in modern times, certain scenarios can make it a bigger problem. One of those is precipitation: snow and rain, which many of us are experiencing right now in these winter months of the northern hemisphere.

The reason is that aluminum is an extremely common pollutant in the atmosphere, especially in places like the US and Europe, and while it does come to the ground eventually, storms can drop it more quickly to our level than it would come down otherwise, making it more possible to inhale it as tiny particles and otherwise consume it through contamination of water supplies and unfortunately fun things like eating snow.

This toxicity can contribute to airway symptoms: swollen tonsils, coughing, etc. through inflammation and decreasing tissue vitality sufficiently that infections can take hold, as well as more systemic symptoms related to aluminum toxicity—see the Rain Barrel Analogy and Solutions to Aluminum Toxicity Pt. 1 blog posts for details on why.

While some folks need a lot of focused aluminum support, doing a little bit in a less individualized fashion can make a big difference in the right scenario, and is definitely 1) better than not doing anything at all, and 2) good prevention if you don't seem to currently have illness related to aluminum toxicity. Given the prevalence of the toxic forms of the metal, some docs believe that everyone should be doing a little bit of aluminum detox on a daily basis, indefinitely.

So our recommendation for this Tip of the Week is horsetail tea (Equisetum arvense or another Equisetum species). You can purchase it loose at any trusted herb retailer: Mountain Rose and Starwest Botanicals are commonly used and trusted by professional herbalists; and if you have a local herb shop, run by someone who is loves to their work and is dedicated to treating the plants and their patrons ethically, they probably have it too.

(Skip down to "How to make the tea", if you aren't interested in details of harvesting yourself.) You can also harvest it yourself in the springtime, when the plants have not yet fully matured, and dry it for the rest of the year. In the spring, the silica (which is, to speak simplistically and somewhat inaccurately, the active ingredient that you're looking for when treating aluminum toxicity) is still in a bioavailable liquid form while it is being transported up the developing stems, which are created new from the ground up every year, before being placed in a glass-like lattice that keeps the horsetail plant standing upright even while it is so thin and tall.

You can tell that the horsetail is still relatively young because the top branches of the sterile stems (the fertile ones look different—no branches) are still 45 degrees or less from the main stem that they are folding out and away from, eventually reaching an approximate 90 degrees and attaining the brittleness that gives them another one of their common names: bottle-brush.

If you are an inexperienced wildcrafter, horsetail is a great place to start, but even with this herb, make sure that you understand all of the appropriate ethics and safety concerns with harvesting your own plants, described by excellent herbalists, Jim McDonald and Howie Brounstein, here and here. Further, for details on the how tos and best practices of harvesting, many books are available. A few favorites are Michael Moore's Medicinal Plants of various regions and Scott Kloos' Pacific Northwest Wildcrafting. Even if there isn't a book available for your bioregion, most American/European wildcrafting books will have a section on widely prevalent plants like horsetail.

How to make the tea

This is tremendously basic. Put about 1 tablespoon of loose dry horsetail in a stainless steel or other non-toxic tea diffuser, pour boiling water over the dry herb, and let steep for at least 10 minutes before drinking. Alternatively, you can put a few TB of dry herb in a mason jar at night, pour boiling water over it, loosely cover it and put it in the fridge overnight, then strain and drink throughout the next day (gently reheat or not, as you prefer). Drink 1-2 or more cups/day, maybe indefinitely.

The material above is not meant to be taken as medical advice, nor is the information here complete enough by itself to make accurate or wise treatment decisions. Aluminum toxicity is far from the only reason for airway irritation, coughs, etc. Please talk with an appropriately trained healthcare provider before using horsetail at home.

Photo credit to The Daring Gourmet with another resource, her own blog post on harvesting and storing horsetail.