Thursday, May 30, 2013

We Are Devonian: The Scouring Rush

Back in the Paleozoic, when the animals were just getting started and plants had the run of the land, just begining to evolve fancy things like roots and seeds, flora like the horsetail were common. In the primeval swamplands of every state in the union, they still are.

Equisetum hyemale, the scouring rush horsetail, is one of those survivors. In pristine wetlands and roadside bar ditches alike, this ancient (way pre-dinosaur, my friends) green shoots up from the mud and then shoots out spores. The stalk segments can be a source of pure water, if you find yourself thirsty in a swamp, but today my interest is in the properties implied by the common name, the Scouring Rush.

Those same hollow segments that hold water are formed of a tough, silica-rich material that turns out to be a fine (in multiple senses of the word) abrasive. Having been around for hundreds of millions of years before humans, it's abrasive power apparent to any creature with a sense of touch, this horsetail had to have been among the first plants used by hominids, smoothing down anything from a hangnail to a bone tool.

This modern hominid, having tried out the scouring rush on carvings where an absolute burlessness and skin-smooth contact is the goal, has learned that this horsetail is one of the finest finishers available. I am pretty sure it beats a 000 steel wool, maybe even 0000.

Rush, clogged with grease.

But it also turns out to be (surprise!) a fine scouring tool. Gotta clean a skillet or wok? You want this. One or two segments and some warm water is all you need. Skudge skraped free, burnt oil and fat stick to the plant. Rub till it feels smoothe, and you are done.

Other than a few decorative plantings in pots and ponds where the landscape architect didn't have to worry about their invasiveness of simply did not know she was dealing with something so ridiculously common as to be free, the scouring rush is there for the taking. This is a species whose gathering will not upset anyone, kinda like nettles. If you have pots to clean, or carvings to polish, grab a few fistfuls. Dry them out (I just put them in a dry vase), and they'll be ready when you need 'em.

Then, compost them. They are literally and figuratively green. They are free. They are so abundant that nobody will complain if you rip them out by the fist-full.