There is no life on earth without silica. All creatures–insects, plants and humans–need silica for structure to stand upright, and for stronger bones, smooth skin, shiny hair and beautiful nails.

Within the plant kingdom, the common herb horsetail is extremely rich in silica. We all have seen this plant that looks like a miniature Christmas tree. It pops up everywhere in spring. The smaller variety, spring horsetail, grows on sandy, clay-rich soil. During my herbal apprenticeship, I picked and dried a lot of horsetail. One of the more popular herbs, it is considered to be of significant importance as a healing herb rich in the organic vegetal silica that was lacking in our diets.

But how can we lack dietary silica when it is the most abundant element on earth, second only to oxygen? Silica is as plentiful as sand on the beach–literally! Yet in its inorganic form, it does not do us much good. Just like any other inorganic mineral such as iron, calcium and magnesium, silica is poorly absorbed by our bodies. Minerals need to be predigested or chelated—that is, changed by plants into an organic flavonoid form to be fully absorbable by humans. This is exactly what horsetail does. It absorbs inorganic crystalline (silica) from the sandy soil, then changes it into organic vegetal silica. The plant-absorbed and transformed silica becomes an organic nutrient that we humans cannot do without.

Organic vegetal silica is a "jack-of-all-trades." It has many important functions in the body. Without silica, we would have brittle bones and be prone to osteoporosis because the renewal of bones and creation of cartilage depend heavily on vegetal silica as a nutrient in combination with calcium. Broken bones heal much sooner when our food intake is high in silica or when supplemented with vegetal silica.

While horsetail is the pinnacle herb for silica content, one of the best food sources for silica is oats. A breakfast muesli made with raw soaked oats eaten daily supplies lots of silica. (Guess why horses fed with oats are so strong and have such shiny coats?) Without silica there would be no lustre to our hair; we would have brittle nails, rough and itchy skin and no elasticity in our connective tissues. Our immune systems would suffer and we would grow old sooner. Pregnant women benefit greatly from adding silica to their diets,
as it prevents stretch marks. For babies, one of the best first additions to mothers’ milk is strained oatmeal. This lays the foundation for strong bone structure.

Silica is also available as a mineral gel, which is basically a colloidal dispersion of ultramicroscopic parts of silica. It can be used internally to help normalize an over-acidic stomach, heal colitis, Crohn’s disease and diarrhea. It is effective even with bladder infections. Silica gel acts like a sieve or filter, as it binds pathogenic agents that cause sickness. It actually activates the phagocytes, which are hungry cells in our bodies that gobble up toxic elements and viruses. Applied externally, silica gel does a lot of repair work to damaged skin, scratches, pimples, acne, sunburn and stretch marks.

Prior to 1990, silica was not even recognized as an essential nutrient by the Health Protection Branch (HPB) of Health and Welfare Canada. It was only when I turned over my collection of silica research material to Klaus Kaufmann to compile it into two easy-to-understand books–Silica: The Forgotten Nutrient, and Silica: The Amazing Gel, both published by alive Books–that HPB listed silica as a nutrient.

Today, with ongoing research, we know that silica is absolutely necessary for a healthy and fully functional body. In Germany, in the area surrounding the city of Daun, there is an extremely low incidence of cancer. In searching out the reasons why the locals should be more fortunate than folks elsewhere, it was discovered that the local water well is unusually high in silica!

Dr Paul Gerhard Seeger, MD, was a respected oncologist and researcher at the famous cancer research hospital Charite in Berlin (at that time East Germany). I had the privilege of corresponding with him. In one phone interview with me, he admitted that with all his experiences in cancer treatments, he would never treat cancer again without integrating silica in basic cancer therapy as a defending and modifying element.

I recommend silica in a wide variety of products: horsetail plant juice, tincture or herbal tea, aqueous extracts of spring horsetail in powder or capsules, and silica gel. In any case, the people in your local health food store will be able to advise what’s best for you. Just one caution: if you pick your own, never ingest raw ground horsetail, either in capsules or powder. Horsetail herb is used as a scouring agent to polish tin and will have an abrasive effect on your stomach lining. However, raw horsetail, dried or freshly picked, can be added to bath water–it is soothing to painful kidneys and a wonderful relief for rheumatic pain.

Horsetail Cooking

Many modern foods are so refined, they no longer contain their original healthful ingredients. We eat white bread and white nice, and we remove the silica-rich skins from almost all of our vegetables. The following table shows the silicic acid content of various unprocessed foods rich in silica that I would recommend for increased silica consumption.

Food (100 g) Silica Content (mg)
Oats 595.0
Millet 500.0
Barley 233.0
Potatoes 200.0
Whole wheat grain 158.0
Jersusalem artichoke 36.0
Red beets 21.0
Corn 19.0
Asparagus 18.0
Rye 17.0

Source: Silica: The Forgotten Nutrient by Klaus Kaufmann (alive Books, 1993).

Proven Herbal Medicine

During the 1800s in Germany, the famous Father Sebastian Kneipp revived the popularity of horsetail as an herbal medicine. In the 1980s, Austrian herbalist Maria Treben resurrected its popular usage. Although its medicinal value seems to be ignored by orthodox medicine, horsetail is recognized for its potent diuretic and astringent qualities. It was used by Dioscorides in ancient Greece and found its way into medieval herb books via Plinius and Albert Magnus. Horsetail has proven useful in lung problems, including tuberculosis (silica stabilizes scar tissue). It promotes regeneration of skin, bone, muscle, cartilage and connective tissue. The juice is good for anemia created by internal bleeding from ulcers, since it promotes blood clotting.

About the Author

Siegfried Gursche is the founder and publisher of alive Magazine, a master herbalist and the author of several books including Fantastic Flax (alive Books, 1999).