Indian Horsechestnut

Botanical Name: Aesculus indica
Family : Hippocastanaceae
Synonyms: Pavia indica – Wall. ex Camb.
Common name(s)
: Indian Horsechestnut
Vernacular names:-
Deutsch
: Indische Rosskastanie
English: Himalayan horse chestnut
Français
: Marronnier de l’Himalaya
Svenska: Indisk hästkastanj
Ordo: Sapindales
Genus: Aesculus
Sectio: A. sect. Calothyrsus
Species: Aesculus indica

Habitat : E. Asia – North-western Himalayas.  Wet temperate forests and shady ravines to 3,000 metres.  Woodland Garden; Canopy;

Description:
Indian Horse Chestnut is a tall, deciduous, spreading, shady tree, with a straight trunk, and branches in whorls. Its average height is 22 m; the girth of its trunk is about 1 m; its bark peels off upwards in narrow strips. The young shoots are minutely velvety, becoming hairless at maturity. The glossy leaves typically have seven leaflets arising from the same point on rather reddish stalks. The leaves are highly ornamental, and look like tiny umbrellas. The tree sheds its leaves during winter and the new growth starts in the last week of March. In April, the tree produces upright spikes of buds, and in May-June, the tree is decorated with upright panicles of white blooms. The panicles are about 40 cm long, containing over 300 flowers. These blooms are followed by the production of a spiny, green fruit which holds several brown seeds. Flowering: May-June.

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It is hardy to zone 7 and is frost tender. It is in flower from June to July, and the seeds ripen in October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.

Cultivation:
Prefers a deep loamy well-drained soil but is not too fussy. Succeeds on chalk. Dislikes dry soils. This species does very well in south-west England, growing best in areas where the minimum temperatures do not fall below about -5°c. Young shoots in the spring can be cut back by late frosts in low-lying districts. Trees cast quite a dense shade. Most members of this genus transplant easily, even when fairly large.

Propagation:-
Seed – best sown outdoors or in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. The seed germinates almost immediately and must be given protection from severe weather. The seed has a very limited viability and must not be allowed to dry out. Stored seed should be soaked for 24 hours prior to sowing and even after this may still not be viable. It is best to sow the seed with its ‘scar’ downwards. If sowing the seed in a cold frame, pot up the seedlings in early spring and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer.

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Edible Uses:-
Edible Parts: Seed.
Seed – cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed is roasted then eaten in Nepal. It is also dried then ground into a flour and used with wheat flour to develop the flavour when making bread. The seed is quite large, about 35mm in diameter, and is easily harvested. Unfortunately it also contains toxic saponins and these need to be removed before it can be eaten. The seed is used as an emergency food in times of famine when all else fails. It is dried and ground into a powder, this is then soaked in water for about 12 hours before use in order to remove the bitter saponins and can be used to make a ‘halva’. It is estimated that mature trees yield about 60kg of seeds per annum in the wild. See also the notes above on toxicity.


Medicinal  Actions & Uses
:-
Acrid; Anthelmintic; Antirheumatic; Astringent; Narcotic; Stomachic.

The seed is astringent, acrid and narcotic. An oil from the seed is applied externally in the treatment of skin disease and rheumatism. The juice of the bark is also used to treat rheumatism. A paste made from the oil cake is applied to the forehead to relieve headaches. The seed is given to horses suffering from colic. It is also used as an anthelmintic on horses to rid them of intestinal parasites.

Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Other Uses
Soap; Wood.

Saponins in the seed are used as a soap substitute. The saponins can be easily obtained by chopping the seed into small pieces and infusing them in hot water. This water can then be used for washing the body, clothes etc. Its main drawback is a lingering odour of horse chestnuts. Wood – soft, close grained. Used for construction, cases, spoons, cups etc.


Known Hazards :
The seed is rich in saponins. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish

Resources:
http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Aesculus+indica
http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st063
http://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Indian%20Horse%20Chestnut.html
http://species.wikimedia.org/wiki/Aesculus_indica
http://apps.kew.org/trees/?page_id=99

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