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Horse Chestnut (Aesculus Hippocastanum)
© 2006


Horse chestnut is related to the buckeye tree and grows extensively in the eastern U.S. Like the fruit of the buckeye, that of the horse chestnut is poisonous. Also known as the Spanish chestnut

Description: The trunk of the tree is very erect and columnar, and grows very rapidly to a great height, with widely spreading branches. The bark is smooth and greyish-green in color: it has been used with some success in dyeing yellow. The wood, being soft and spongy, is of very little use for timber.

Constituents: Saponins, a complex mixture known as "aescin", composed of acylated glycosides of protoaesigenin and barringtogenol-C and including hippocaesculin and many others. The bark and seeds contain a narcotic glucoside considered poisonous to livestock, leading many landowners to eradicate it.

Horse chestnut seed is classified by the FDA as an unsafe herb. Many of the constituents are considered toxic, such as the glycosides and the saponins.

The nuts contain high concentrations of a saponin toxic to many animals including humans because it causes hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells). The saponin can be eliminated by leaching the pulverized nuts in multiple changes of boiling water, to yield a wholesome starchy porridge once important to some Native American tribes. Some animals, notably deer, are resistant to the toxins and can eat the nuts directly. Crushed nuts have been known to be crushed and thrown into rivers for poaching fish.

Chesnut poisoning is rarely fatal, but typically causes vomiting, loss of coordination, stupor, and occasionally, paralysis.

RANGE: As seen on the map, the Horse Chestnut tree is mostly limited to the Northeastern US.
Oregon shows the effects of seeding from eastern stock.

In the U.K., these nuts are sometimes referred to as "conkers" by school kids.
Virginia Tech Forestry Department