Horsing Around: Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)Trees, Made of Awesome
I recently found a very nice stand of Horse Chestnut trees right near my apartment (where the photos below are from) which has inspired a new found interest in working with this tree as I’ve spent more time out amongst them. Thus this week, part of my Summer of Tree love, I’m beginning my explorations of Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).
Let’s face it; it is a special and fun looking tree.
With its big palmate leaves:
When you look at the leaves you can notice how prominent the veins on them and one “prominent” take away is the specific and powerful action Horse Chestnut has on veins. Then you can think of most of the associated healing actions as related to its ability to strengthen, repair and heal veins.
That’s where its magic is most often mentioned when talking with herbalists. It’s an excellent remedy for circulatory problems, especially those involving the veins and any sort of swelling or stagnation such as hemorrhoids, varicose veins and swollen feet and calves – like being on your feet all day. It works by stemming fluid leakage, strengthening and toning cell walls.
Its big spikey seed pods are quite distinct:
I feel they help covey some of the warnings about working with it internally:
- Seed husks are toxic (less in the sense of dying but more in the sense of they can make you ill but frankly they are unpleasant tasting enough that you’d be hard pressed to ingest much of them)
- The leaves and the nut’s green outer husk can cause stomach upset and are noted for their strong narcotic effect
- Shouldn’t be used if you are on blood thinning meds or have any bleeding disorders
Not that you can’t use it internally, but you should really know what you’re doing or work with someone who does.
For me, I’m less interested with working with it internally but instead am focused on its external uses such as:
- Swelling from sports injuries
- Improving skin tone and strength
- Easing the effects of aging on the skin
- Helping with bags under the eyes
All of which sounds like things I think a whole slew of people would in interested in – and certainly worth exploring more of as I work with it. I suspect that its affinity for dealing with fluid leakage and improving cell walls will make it especially effective for all of those things.
We’re coming up on a great time to be harvesting the nuts, known as Conkers. In the fall, the seed pods drop to the ground and the husks open and if you gather them promptly the nuts are easier to break apart for medicine making.
The flower essence (Bach’s markets it as White Chestnut) is used for repetitive, gnawing thoughts you can’t let go of. And it is considered a powerful remedy to clarify your mind and begin to think clearly. While a strong tincture of the flowers used to be used as a remedy for rheumatism (applying externally twice a day.)
The nuts, known as Conkers, also had a lot of interesting historic/folkloric uses that may or may not be terribly “valued” today:
- Conkers (just like saying that) used to be carried in one’s pocket to prevent hemorrhoids and rheumatism
- They were also placed with clothing to keep away moths and were believed to drive away spiders when kept in the corners of the room and behind furniture
- The powder was worn in a bag over the heart for cramps
- They were used to make explosives
- Conkers (almost out of my system now) are like soap nuts and produce a lather that can be used for shampoo or cleaning clothes
All right, one more thing about Conkers then I think I can let go of them. There’s a game where you hit one Conker into another to see how long you can do it with it breaking. And in fact there is a World Conker Championship!
One other fun thing about Horse Chestnut trees is a local connection. I work right around the corner from where the tree spoken of in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem The Village Blacksmith stood:
“Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands. “
There’s a plaque there commemorating it, and it is believed by some to have been a Horse Chestnut tree. There is a chair said to be made from the tree when it was cut down which was given to Longfellow and it was tested and indicated to be Horse Chestnut.
Sure there are folks who think it was a Sweet Chestnut tree but there’s a word for those folks – wrong!
Maybe a “conk” to the noggin will help them see sense…
References of Note:
Comfort to the Sick by Brother Aloysius
Backyard Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal
Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine by Andrew Chevallier
Tree Medicine by Peter Conway
Male Herbal by James Green
Practical Herbs by Henriette Kress
Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood