Horse Chestnut

By Alina Zienowicz Ala z (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Aesculus hippocastanum-Horse Chestnut

Family: Hippocastanaceae

Names: Do not confuse with its North American relative Aesculusglabra, Buckeye, Aesculus asplenifolia, Aesculus castanea. Aesculus memmingeri,Aesculus procera, 

Habitat: Europe – N. Greece and Albania. Naturalized in Britain. Mountain woods.

The seed is rich in saponins. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass hazardsmallthrough without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish. Avoid in patients with kidney or liver disease. Avoid if taking warfarin as can interfere with anticoagulant therapy.

Horse chestnut is an astringent, anti-inflammatory herbal medicine that helps to tone the vein walls which, when slack or distended, may become varicose, haemorrhoidal or otherwise problematic. Horse Chestnut Benefits include also reducing fluid retention by increasing the permeability of the capillaries and allowing the re-absorption of excess fluid back into the circulatory system. This plant is potentially toxic if ingested and should not be used internally without professional supervision. Alterative, analgesic, haemostatic and vulnerary. The bark is anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, febrifuge, narcotic, tonic and vasoconstrictive. It is harvested in the spring and dried for later use. The plant is taken in small doses internally for the treatment of a wide range of venous diseases, including hardening of the arteries, varicose veins, phlebitis, leg ulcers, haemorrhoids and frostbite. It is also made into a lotion or gel for external application. A tea made from the bark is used in the treatment of malaria and dysentery, externally in the treatment of lupus and skin ulcers. A tea made from the leaves is tonic and is used in the treatment of fevers and whooping cough. The pericarp is peripherally vasoconstrictive. The seeds are decongestant, expectorant and tonic. They have been used in the treatment of rheumatism, neuralgia and haemorrhoids. They are said to be narcotic and that 10 grains of the nut are equal to 3 grains of opium. An oil extracted from the seeds has been used externally as a treatment for rheumatism. A compound of the powdered roots is analgesic and has been used to treat chest pains. The buds are used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Failure to learn by experience’, ‘Lack of observation in the lessons of life‘ and hence ‘The need of repetition’. The flowers are used in Bach flower remedies – the keywords for prescribing it are ‘Persistent unwanted thoughts‘ and ‘Mental arguments and conversations’. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Aesculus hippocastanum, horse chestnut,  for chronic venous insufficiency in the legs.

By Solipsist (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Description of Horse Chestnut:

Aesculus hippocastanum, Horse Chestnut, is a deciduous Tree growing to 30 m (98ft) by 15 m (49ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen in September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.
It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.

Cultivation of Horse Chestnut:

Prefers a deep loamy well-drained soil but is not too fussy tolerating poorer drier soils. Tolerates exposed positions and atmospheric pollution. A very ornamental and fast-growing tree, it succeeds in most areas of Britain but grows best in eastern and south-eastern England. Trees are very hardy when dormant, but the young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. The flowers have a delicate honey-like perfume. Trees are tolerant of drastic cutting back and can be severely lopped. They are prone to suddenly losing old heavy branches. The tree comes into bearing within 20 years from seed. Most members of this genus transplant easily, even when fairly large.

Propagation of Horse Chestnut:

Seed – best sown outdoors or in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. The seed germinates almost immediately and must be given protection from severe weather. The seed has a very limited viability and must not be allowed to dry out. Stored seed should be soaked for 24 hours prior to sowing and even after this may still not be viable. It is best to sow the seed with its ‘scar’ downwards. If sowing the seed in a cold frame, pot up the seedlings in early spring and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer.

Collection: The ripe chestnuts should be gathered as they fall from the trees in September.

Culinary uses of Horse Chestnut:

Edible Parts: Seed.
Edible Uses: Coffee.

The roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute. Seed – cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed is quite large, about 3cm in diameter, and is easily harvested. It is usually produced in abundance in Britain. Unfortunately the seed is also rich in saponins, these must be removed before it can be used as a food and this process also removes many of the minerals and vitamins, leaving behind mainly starch. See also the notes above on toxicity. The seed contains up to 40% water, 8 – 11% protein and 8 – 26% toxic saponins. The following notes apply to A. californica, but are probably also relevant here:- The seed needs to be leached of toxins before it becomes safe to eat – the Indians would do this by slow-roasting the nuts (which would have rendered the saponins harmless) and then cutting them into thin slices, putting them into a cloth bag and rinsing them in a stream for 2 – 5 days.

Aesculus_Hippocastanum,_Horse_chestnut_botanicalMedicinal uses of Horse Chestnut:

Actions: Astringent, anti-inflammatory.

Part Used: The fruit, that is the Horse Chestnut itself.

Indications: The unique actions of Horse Chestnut are on the vessels of the circulatory system. It seems to increase the strength and tone of the veins in particular. It may be used internally to aid the body in the treatment of problems such as phlebitis, inflammation in the veinsvaricosity and haemorrhoids. Externally it may be used as a lotion for the same conditions as well as for leg ulcers

King’s Dispensatory gives the following specific indications and uses: visceral neuralgia, due to congestion; soreness of the whole body, with vascular fullness, throbbing, andgeneral malaise; throbbing, fullness, and aching in the hepatic region; rectal uneasiness with burning or aching pain; sense of constriction, with itching; large, purple pile-tumors; uneasy sensations and reflex disturbances depending upon haemorrhoids or rectal vascular engorgement.

Preparations & Dosage:

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried fruit and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day or used as a lotion.

Tincture: take 1-4 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Combinations: Other cardiovascular tonics such as Hawthorn, Linden, Ginkgo and Yarrow.

Other uses of Horse Chestnut:

Dye,  Soap,  Starch, Tannin,  Wood,

Saponins in the seed are used as a soap substitute. Horse Chestnut Seed contains saponins which can be easily obtained by chopping the seed into small pieces and infusing them in hot water. This water can then be used for washing the body, clothes etc. Its main drawback is a lingering odour of horse chestnuts. The seed contains variable amounts of saponins, up to a maximum of 10%. A starch obtained from the seed is used in laundering. The bark and other parts of the plant contain tannin, but the quantities are not given. A yellow dye is obtained from the bark. The flowers contain the dyestuff quercetin. Wood – soft, light, not durable. Of little commercial value, it is used for furniture, boxes, charcoal.

Esoteric uses of Horse Chestnut:

Magickal uses include money and healingHorse chestnut are usually carried whole, either anointed with money oil, or another popular charm is to wrap a dollar bill around it, anoint it in money oil, and carry it close to your money for constant increase in money flow. Horse chestnuts are very lucky, and are associated with wealth and divination. Buckeye is a popular HooDoo charm for gamblers. A Horse chestnut is a legendary protector against arthritis when carried in one’s pocket. 

The Chemistry:

 Constituents: Saponins, a complex mixture known as “aescin”, composed of acylated glycosides of protoaesigenin and barringtogenol-C and including hippocaesculin and many others.

Citations from the Medline database for the genus Aesculus

Horse ChestnutBoiadzhiev Ts Tomov T [Experimental studies on the action of total extracts of Aesculushippocastanum L. (horse chestnut) on cellular respiration]

Eksp Med Morfol (1973) 12(1):11-4 Published in BulgarianHagen B [The action mechanism of aesculus extract]

Med Klin (1970 Aug 28) 65(35):1534-7 Published in GermanKonoshima T Lee KHAntitumor agents, 82. Cytotoxic sapogenols from Aesculushippocastanum.

J Nat Prod (1986 Jul-Aug) 49(4):650-6Kronberger L Golles J [On the prevention of thrombosis with aesculus extract]

Med Klin (1969) 64(26):1207-9 Published in GermanKunz K Schaffler K Biber A Wauschkuhn CH [Bioavailability of beta-aescin after oral administration of twopreparations containing aesculus extract to healthy volunteers]

Pharmazie (1991 Feb) 46(2):145 Published in GermanSenatore F Mscisz A Mrugasiewicz K Gorecki P Steroidal constituents and anti-inflammatory activity of the horse chestnut(Aesculus hippocastanum L.) bark.

Boll Soc Ital Biol Sper (1989 Feb) 65(2):137-41Sokolova VE [Effects of horse chestnut (Aesculus hyppocastanun) on the course ofexperimental arteriosclerosis in rabbits]

Patol Fiziol Eksp Ter (1969 Jan-Feb) 13(1):84-6 Published in RussianTsutsumi S Ishizuka S [Anti-inflammatory effects of the extract of Aesculus hippocastanum L.(horse chesnut) seed]

Shikwa Gakuho (1967 Nov) 67(11):1324-8 Published in JapaneseTsutsumi S Ishizuka S [Anti-inflammatory effect of Aesculus extract]

Shikwa Gakuho (1967 Oct) 67(10):1249-54 Published in Japanese

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