Ben Franklin was chockful of advice; in one famous saying, he encouraged behavior that would make us healthy, wealthy and wise.
Early to bed and early to rise is not the only way to get there. One could alternately seek out the water-loving plant, horsetail, which fills the bill on all three counts.
It is a hearty and healthy species — longevity is in its roots (and stems). Horsetail is a living fossil, a species even older than dinosaurs. It has been found in sediment deposits from the Carboniferous Period, which was over 325 million years ago. This plant has those dinosaurs beat by a long shot, since dinosaurs appeared in the Triassic Period, some 208 to 245 million years ago. Use that brainpower to do the math: Horsetails predate dinosaurs by about one hundred million years!
Health, too, can come from horsetails. Though known to be poisonous to livestock, some sources insist that horsetail is both edible and healing to humans. Drink it as a tea to maintain strong bones, nails, and teeth, and use a poultice to treat sprains and severed tendons.
Besides the promise of disease-fighting capabilities, horsetail is believed to help with a few other issues of hygiene. This plant is thought to be effective against sweaty feet, to eliminate dandruff (simply wash your flaky locks with an infusion of horsetail and then massage with olive oil to rid yourself of those pesky flakes), and even to reduce hair loss!
Some may view these properties alone as the plant’s wealth. But that’s not all: If, as Alan Greenspan says, gold and economic freedom are inseparable, then you will definitely want to know this odd little plant better.
Horsetail is worth its weight in gold to lovers of nature, but also to lovers of gold. Like a wise old investor, this ancient plant accumulates metals, including cadmium, copper, lead, zinc, and, best of all, gold. Horsetails can absorb 4.5 ounces of gold per ton of fresh plant material, and is used as an indicator of the presence of this precious mineral.
Before you go looking to run a ton of horsetails through a mulcher, though, you have to find this unusual plant. Look to stream banks and wetlands to find common horsetail (which means you probably can’t find a ton, and it’s probably on protected wetlands anyway). It has a strange look, resembling a miniature bamboo-type succulent. True leaves are absent, but its hollow, coarse stem might give a hint to its identity.
So, what about wise? Wise indeed is one who is not only healthy and wealthy, but finds function too. Horsetail’s aliases are clues to its usefulness: They include bottle brush, horse pipes, jointed rush, fresh pipes, devil’s guts, and scrub grass. Its stems are naturally coated with abrasive silicates, making this plant handy for scouring and cleaning. Sandpaper has nothing on horsetail. In Japan and other places, horsetail is employed as a finish polish for woodcraft, leaving behind a smoother finish than sandpaper.
Frugal as Ben was known to be, he certainly would have valued horsetail after learning about all of its beneficial uses. Franklin put it most eloquently when he said that “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.