Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Horse Chestnut-Aesculus Hippocastanum, Aesculus Chinesis, Sapindaceae, Hippocastanaceae
Also known as: conker tree, Ippocastano, Gewohnliche Rosskantanie, Tien-shih-li, etc.
Parts used: bark, leaves, nuts (conkers)
Meridians/Organs affected: spleen, lungs, circulatory, blood
Properties: astringent, anti-inflammatory, alterative, analgesic, vulnerary, hemostatic, diuretic, tonic, febrifuge, narcotic, vaso-constrictive, expectorant, decongestant, antioxidant, anti-rheumatic, stimulant
Horse chestnut is a member of the Hippocastenaceae family. It is a tall tree with palm-like leaves, a spongy-type wood, and beautiful candelabra-shaped, white-pink flowers that appear in the summer. The flowers are followed in the fall by the nuts (also called "conkers") which are covered with a spiky outer shell. The nuts appear in September or October and the tree blooms in May. It can be found growing in parks, gardens and roadsides throughout the United States (mostly in the southern and south eastern states).
This beautiful tree became quite popular in the 1600's when it was introduced to England. It was first only given to kings or royalty but soon became the tree of choice for most parks and public places.
The horse chestnut is believed to have originated in Turkey where the Turkish people mixed a flour they made from the conkers (nuts) with oats to give to horses with labored or broken breathing patterns.
The conkers were used for explosives in WWI. In 1917, British children were sent out to gather the conkers that had fallen from the horse chestnut trees. They gathered close to 3000 tons of conkers, these were shipped to factories and used to make cordite, which was an ingredient in bullets and explosive shells. The plan was a nice one but as conkers are not the best source of acetone (the chemical needed to make cordite) in the end the 3000 tons just sat and rotted.
It was believed that if one carried the nuts around in their pockets it would keep them from getting arthritis. The bark was uses as a quinine treatment for malaria as well as other types of fevers.
Horse chestnut is high in a chemical called aescin which accounts for its ability to help with water retention and venous insufficiency. One author states that aescin, "...reduces the leakage and is used in the treatment of edema and has proved to be as effective as compression stockings. It strengthens and tones the blood vessels and is becoming very important in the treatment of varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency..." (Horse Chestnut, Christopher Howkins, 2005)
Aescin has also been shown to work very well for hemorrhoids and post-operative edema. David Hoffmann, clinical herbalist, said that horse chestnut increases the elasticity and tone of the veins while at the same time decreasing vein permeability. (Hoffmann, 2003)
Horse chestnut contains a fair amount of powerful antioxidants as well, including quercetin, vitamin C and rutein. Rutein is one of those elements that also strengthens the capillaries. As it is also an astringent due to its high tannin content, horse chestnut is very beneficial for all kinds of inflammatory and/or skin conditions, including hemorrhoids, enlarged prostate, cellulite, lupus, etc. In fact, the bark off the branches has been applied directly to the skin for lupus in the past (but nothing was said as to how often or how long). The bark and nuts have both been used much like witch hazel but horse chestnut increases the blood flow as well. The powdered nut and/or bark has been used directly on leg ulcers, burns, rheumatism and neuralgia. A fluid extract of the nut also has been used for sunburns, bronchitis, enteritis, lung congestion, etc. It also is commonly used in cosmetics as it contains allantoin (the same chemical as comfrey and hounds tongue). Along with its other elements, horse chestnut has a unique ability to strengthen small blood vessel walls by reducing the number and the size of the pores. This is why it is so effective for skin conditions; because it tightens and tones. It is used for wrinkles and cellulite among other things cosmetically. Perhaps one day people will figure out how to use it instead of Botox....
Horse chestnut is used to make two different Bach Flower essences. One is Chestnut Bud and the other is White Chestnut. Chestnut Bud essence is for those who have learning issues or who are constantly making the same mistakes. It is used for carelessness and absent mindedness as well as conditions related to learning disabilities. The White Chestnut essence is for people who are plagued with unpleasant thoughts or ideas and people who have sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, stress headaches, wired behavior or jumbled thoughts.
The leaves of the horse chestnut tree are known to be narcotic in nature. Taking an infusion of the leaves is said to ensure a deep sleep. However, it shouldn't be used on a regular basis as too much can cause stomach irritation. As horse chestnut is rick in vitamin K, people on blood thinners should take that into consideration when looking for herbal supplements.
The peeled, roasted nuts were used as a coffee substitute and were brewed to help with prostate problems and diarrhea. The nuts are high in tannins so they must be shelled, crushed, soaked overnight in cold water (called 'leaching'); then they are drained, fresh water is added, and they are boiled for 30 minutes after which the nuts are strained and dried. Only after this lengthy process are they used medicinally.
The outer casing (green, spiky) is poisonous and narcotic and should be removed from the nuts. Never ingest the nuts raw as they can be fatal in large amounts. Toxic symptoms include dilated pupils, skin flushing, gastroenteritis and drowsiness.
The bark should be gathered in the spring and dried for use; the nuts gathered and prepared appropriately in the fall. The leaves should be gathered before the tree flowers (March, April).
CAUTION: Pregnant and/or nursing mothers should not use horse chestnut and those on blood thinners should consult a physician. This plant may also affect blood sugar levels, people who are allergic to latex, and people with kidney, liver or gastrointestinal issues.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links below for your perusal. Use them wisely.