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Hello floral friends!

Today’s plant profile is featuring the easy-to-recognize and ever-helpful Horse Chestnut, Latin name Aesculus hippocastanum! While the tree’s signature spiky seed pod can be found all around the world, its ability to heal varicose-veins and other blood vessel-related issues has yet to become common knowledge. In a clinical trial performed by London’s Bart’s Hospital in 1996, horse chestnut extract was shown to be equal in effectiveness to a compression stocking for treating varicose veins in the legs! It’s come a long way from its original use in 16th century Turkey as a remedy for chest problems in horses and donkeys. Continue reading below to learn more about this beautiful tree’s vein-strengthening abilities!

Horse Chestnut’s Traditional Uses

Originally from southeastern Europe and Asia, you can now find the horse chestnut, or buckeye tree, throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere. Here in the US, it’s the state tree of Ohio, and American folklore has many a use for the conker, or seed, of the horse chestnut tree. Its original medicinal use is what gave it its name, as I mentioned above, when the Turkish horse-owners used it to relieve their horses’ panting, but the buckeye’s prevalence as a lucky charm quickly surpassed any medical use in the early years of the United States.

On par with a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover (though certainly easier to attain), the buckeye was notorious for bringing luck when the bearer was engaged in activities such as betting or gambling. It was also thought to increase a man’s sexual prowess (pardon my suppressed giggle) due to the chestnut’s masculine energy, and association with fire and the planet Jupiter. It was also believed to stave off any variation of aches or pains. There was a great story shared on New World Witchery about the importance of the conker in certain regions of the states, particularly the Ozarks, that I thought I’d share with you here:

“There is an old saying that no man was ever found dead with a buckeye in his pocket, but this is not to be taken seriously. Most people who carry buckeyes regard them as a protection against rheumatism, or hemorrhoids. One of the most successful physicians in southwest Missouri always carries a buckeye; when it was mislaid once he was very much disturbed and let an officeful of patients wait until his pocket piece was recovered. It is very bad luck to lose a buckeye. I asked this doctor about it once. “No, I’m not superstitious,” he said grinning, “I just don’t want to get the rheumatism!” (Ozark Magic & Folklore, 153)”

Isn’t that fantastic? I geek out over long-held traditions and folklore like that, I just can’t help it. But the legends were true in some sense– horse chestnut extract has an incredibly powerful effect on our cardiovascular system, and that, my friends, is something I’d rather have than luck at gambling any day.

Identifying Horse Chestnut

Aesculus hippocastanum may be in my herbal journal, but make no mistake, it’s no herb! The Horse Chestnut is a large deciduous tree in the Sapindaceae family, grown mainly in the modern-day as ornamental landscaping in temperate regions. Growing up to 120 feet tall, a Horse Chestnut tree can be identified as such by its leaves, with 5-7 opposite leaflets and erect panicles that blossom in the spring with 20-50 white flowers each. Despite the large amount of flowers, only 1-5 seed pods, or fruit, develop on an individual panicle, each spiky, lime green outer shell housing a shiny, medium-brown conker inside. A conker is 2-4cm long, with a white, oval scar on the underside on the seed, and although the conker is poisonous, it is from this seed that the extract is taken.

Healing Attributes of Horse Chestnut

As I mentioned before, Horse Chestnut is gaining a reputation for its effectiveness in supporting our blood vessels and fighting varicose veins, and rightly so! The extract’s key actions are anti-inflammatory and astringent, reducing fluid retention, and can be used as a vein tonic or lotion. It tightens and tones our vein walls where they have become broken or damaged, drawing fluid back into the veins and relieving inflammation and swelling. On a somewhat unrelated note, Horse Chestnut’s other names are buckeye and “obloinker”, a specific name for the seed which comes from an English children’s game that uses the conkers as marbles.

Horse Chestnut is best taken as a tincture, tablet or lotion, with the healing properties mainly housed in the conker itself, although there are uses for the bark and leaves as well. Take a look at the list below to see a few common ailments that horse chestnut can help treat!

  • Varicose veins and/or venous insufficiency: take as a standardized tablet or capsule, or use a decoction of the bark topically as an astringent lotion, ointment or gel (do not apply to broken or ulcerated skin) for several months
  • Deep vein thrombosis (preventative): a capsule or tablet one a day, with additional topical use immediately before an aggravating situation, such as flying
  • Cough: a decoction of horse chestnut leaves may be taken

Always follow the dosage instructions recommended by the manufacturer if you are purchasing Horse Chestnut in tablet or capsule form– I would look for tablets that are 90-150mg of standardized extract, or 16-21% triterpene glycosides (aescin), the active constituent in horse chestnut extract. Check with your doctor or herbal practitioner before using horse chestnut extract if you’re pregnant, nursing, or on blood-thinning medication, and don’t use it with children 10 and under.

Lastly, Horse Chestnut is best used with Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) if you’re interested in increasing its effectiveness!

I hope you enjoyed this latest plant profile as much as I enjoyed compiling it! Please feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below, as I’d love to hear what you have to say about this helpful tree, steeped in both folklore and healing properties. Til next time, my floral friends!

Blessings and burdock,

Katharine