The horse chestnut tree, also known as Aesculus hippocastanum, is a member of the Buckeye family, which includes species that grow in the United States. It is a member of the Aesculus family. The horse chestnut is not a native tree in America, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, growing in southern sections of Europe and Asia. However, the horse chestnut now grows in many parts of the United States, after its introduction as an ornamental species.
The horse chestnut’s flowers appear in the spring and they are white in color. The upright cluster of flowers can be from 5 to 12 inches in length. The fruit of the horse chestnut is round to oblong in shape and the exterior is covered with spines. The husk is thick and leathery, which protects the seeds within the fruit. There are generally one to three brown seeds within the husk. (Note: the nuts of the horse chestnut are not edible.)
As the tree matures the bark becomes scaly with rough ridges, and the color of the bark is from light gray to dark/brownish gray. The bark may also exfoliate as the tree matures, this exposes the under bark, which will be orange in color. One must take into consideration the seasonal clean-up associated with the horse chestnut tree before planting, as it has large clusters of flowers, fruit, large leaves and exfoliating bark.
Horse chestnut trees grow in nearly any soil but seem to prefer a sandy loam. They grow very rapidly into tall straight trees that can reach heights of over 100 ft (approximately 30 m) tall, with widely spreading branches. The bark is grayish-green or grayish-brown in color, and the tree limbs are thick and have corky, elongated, wart-like eruptions that appear from a distance like ribbing. The interior of horse chestnut bark is pinkish-brown, with fine lines running its length. It is odorless and its taste is very bitter and astringent.
The leaves are dark green, rough in texture, and large, with minutely serrated edges. Horse chestnut leaves can be nearly 1 ft (0.3 m) in length. They somewhat resemble a hand with five to nine leaf sections emerging from a palm-like base to form the finger-like projections. European horse chestnuts produce clusters of white flowers with a pale scarlet tinge at the throat or yellow mottling. American horse chestnut flowers can be white, pale pink, or yellow, depending upon the species. All types of horse chestnut trees, with their graceful wide limbs and showy flowers, are grown for their ornamental beauty.
Uses and benefits
The seeds of the horse chestnut are used for medicinal purposes. The processed seeds are employed in a standardized horse chestnut seed extract (HCSE), which is a popular oral therapy in European countries for chronic venous insufficiency and localized edema. Aescin, the active constituent of HCSE, is a registered drug in Germany and other European countries and is used topically and intravenously.
The red horse chestnut is a hybrid between the Red Buckeye (A. pavia) and the Common Horse Chestnut (A. hippocastanum)
Topical HCSE and aescin preparations are alleged to decrease symptoms of varicose veins, superficial thrombophlebitis, lymphatic edema, hemorrhoids, hematomas, and a variety of sports injuries and other traumas.
Traditionally, horse chestnut seeds have been used for arthritis and rheumatic conditions, neuralgia, rectal complaints, and other related disorders of inflammatory congestion and engorgement. The bark and leaves of the plant have also been used medicinally.
Horse chestnut bark is removed in the spring in strips 4 or 5 in (10–13 cm) long, about 1 in (2.5 cm) thick and broad. The fruit of the horse chestnut is gathered in the fall, when they fall from the tree. Both the bark and the fruit are dried in sunlight or with artificial heat, and are either kept whole or ground to a powder for storage. A decoction made of 1 or 2 tsp of the dried, pulverized bark or fruit left to simmer for 15 minutes in 1 cup of water can be either taken internally three times a day or used externally as a lotion. Horse chestnut preparations are also available as tinctures, extracts, capsules, and external ointments and lotions.