Medicinal Benefits of Horse Chestnut

Botanical Profile

  • Hippocastanaceae family; Horse chestnuts exist in nature as both a tree and a shrub

  • 15 recognized species of horse chestnut. The European horse chestnut is believed to have originated in the Balkan region of eastern Europe but is now grown in every country in the Northern Hemisphere.

  • Grows to 118 ft. tall, with a domed crown of stout branches; The leaves are opposite and palmate with 5–7 leaflets

  • The flowers are usually white with a small red spot; flowers are produced in spring

  • 1–5 fruit develop on each flower cluster

  • The fruit's shell is a green, spiky capsule containing one (rarely two or three) nut-like seeds called conkers or horse-chestnuts.

  • The sticky sap on horse chestnut buds protects them from frost damage and insects.

  • Horse chestnut conkers are slightly poisonous to most animals, causing sickness if eaten.

Historical Background

  • A famous specimen of the horse-chestnut was the Anne Frank Tree in the centre of Amsterdam, which she mentioned in her diary and which survived until August 2010, when a heavy wind blew it over. Eleven young specimens, sprouted from seeds from this tree, were transported to the United States.

  • After a long quarantine in Indianapolis, each tree was shipped off to a new home at a notable museum or institution in the United States, including the 9/11 Memorial Park.

  • An ancient superstition of carrying a horse chestnut seed around in one’s pocket to prevent or cure arthritis still exists in some countries

She felt a little betrayed and sad, but presently a moving object came into sight. It was a huge horse-chestnut tree in full bloom bound for the Champs Elysees, strapped now into a long truck and simply shaking with laughter - like a lovely person in an undignified position yet confident none the less of being lovely. Looking at it with fascination, Rosemary identified herself with it, and laughed cheerfully with it, and everything all at once seemed gorgeous.

- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

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Energetics & Actions

  • Bitter, Neutral, Dry

  • Astringent

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Circulatory stimulant

  • Venotonic

  • Anti-edematous

  • Expectorant

  • Mildly narcotic

  • Parts Used: Seeds, bark and leaves

  • Low dose herb

Used for venous insufficiency – varicose veins, ankle swelling, and leg cramps Reduces fluid retention by increasing the permeability of the capillaries and allowing the re-absorption of excess fluid back into the circulatory system.

In Herbal Medicine by Rudolph Fritz Weiss MD, he describes it’s action as acting on the “connective tissue barrier between blood vessels ad tissue, where nutrient gases diffuse, inhibiting exudation and the development of oedema and reducing vascular fragility”

Seed extracts used for diarrhea, fever and urinary hesitancy

Creams used topically for muscle and joint aches due to arthritis or trauma.

Clinical Benefits*

  • Cardiovascular: Treatment for chronic venous insufficiency and peripheral edema, antilipemic

  • Pulmonary: Expectorant

  • Renal and electrolyte balance: Diuretic

  • Gastrointestinal/hepatic: Prevention of gastric ulcers, antispasmotic

  • Neuro-psychiatric: Reduction of cerebral edema

  • Endocrine: Adrenal stimulant, hypoglycemic agent

  • Hematologic: Antithrombotic

  • Immune modulation: Anti-inflammatory, reduction of hematomas and inflammation from trauma or surgery

  • Antimicrobial: Antiviral, antifungal

  • Skin and mucus membranes: Treatment of hemorrhoids, reduction of cellulite, sunblock

*Clinincal benefit source

Clinical Studies

  • Randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that horse chestnut can reduce edema (swelling with fluid) following trauma, particularly those following sports injuries, surgery, and head injury.

  • A clinical study compared horse chestnut extract to compression stockings and placebo for varicose veins.

  • Both the herbal medicine and the stockings significantly reduced edema of the lower legs compared to placebo.

  • Feelings of tiredness and heaviness, pain, and swelling in the legs were alleviated by the extract, in comparison to placebo.

  • In addition, common symptoms which accompany lower leg swelling; such as leg pain, heaviness and fatigue, are typically reduced in individuals taking horse chestnut seed extract.

  • Trial studies suggest that Horse Chestnut may also be of value in treating lung conditions of infarction, embolisms and thrombosis.

For luck you carried a horse chestnut and a rabbit’s foot in your right pocket.

- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Conkers - Fun Facts

  • The first recorded game of “Conkers”, a game played with a horse chestnut on a string, is believed to have taken place in the Isle of Wight in 1848.

  • The annual world conker championship has been held in the village of Ashton, Northants, UK since 1965.

  • Thousands flock to the venue near the ancient market town of Oundle to watch this great spectacle as modern day gladiators fight for glory armed only with a nut and 12" of string.

  • How to Play: Each player has a their conker on its knotted string. Players take turns at hitting their opponent's conker. The game is won when one player destroys the other's conker.