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It is a large decidious shrub or small tree growing to 4-12 m tall, with gray bark often coated with lichens or mosses. It typically is multi-trunked with a crown as broad as it is high. The leaves are dark green, palmately compound with five (rarely seven) leaflets, each leaflet 6-17 cm long, with a finely toothed margin and (particularly in spring) downy surfaces. The leaves are tender and prone to damage from both spring freezing or snow and summer heat and desiccation.
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The flowers are sweet-scented, white to pale pink, produced in erect panicles 15-20 cm long and 5-8 cm broad. The fruit is a fig-shaped capsule 5-8 cm long, containing a large (2-5 cm), round, orange-brown seed; the seeds are poisonous. The California Buckeye has adapted to its native Mediterranean climate by growing during the wet winter and spring months and entering dormancy during dry summer and fall months; it begins the year’s growth in early spring and begins dropping leaves by mid-summer
It is hardy to zone 7 and is frost tender. It is in flower from July to August, and the seeds ripen in September. 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 cannot grow in the shade. It requires dry or moist soil.
Prefers a deep loamy well-drained soil but is not too fussy. Requires a position in full sun. Prefers dry sunny locations. Although fairly hardy throughout Britain, it grows best in areas where winter temperatures do not fall below -10°c. A moderately fast-growing and long-lived tree in the wild, in Britain it grows best in eastern and south-eastern England. Plants thrives at Kew. Most members of this genus transplant easily, even when fairly large.
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.
Edible Parts: Seed.
Seed – cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed contains about 23% protein and has an agreeable taste. The seed is large, and can be up to 5cm in diameter. It is often produced abundantly in the warmer areas of Britain and is easily harvested. This was the most commonly used Aesculus species in N. America. It does, however, contain poisonous saponins (see the notes above on toxicity) and so needs careful preparation before being eaten. The seed needs to be leached of these toxins before it becomes safe to eat – the Indians would do this by slow-roasting the nuts (which would have rendered the saponins harmless) and then cutting them into thin slices, putting them into a cloth bag and rinsing them in a stream for 2 – 5 days. Most of the minerals etc would also have been leached out by this treatment
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Seed (Fresh weight)
0 Calories per 100g
Protein: 23g; Fat: 0g; Carbohydrate: 0g; Fibre: 0g; Ash: 0g;
Minerals – Calcium: 0mg; Phosphorus: 0mg; Iron: 0mg; Magnesium: 0mg; Sodium: 0mg; Potassium: 0mg; Zinc: 0mg;
Vitamins – A: 0mg; Thiamine (B1): 0mg; Riboflavin (B2): 0mg; Niacin: 0mg; B6: 0mg; C: 0mg;
Medicinal Actions & Uses:-
Expectorant; Odontalgic; Salve.
The seed contains saponins and can be used as an expectorant. The crushed fruit is applied as a salve on haemorrhoids. A decoction of the bark is used in the treatment of toothache and loose teeth. The Pomo Indians used the fruit to expel worms from the bowels of their horses and the bark of the tree to cure toothaches. Small fragments were placed in the cavity of the patient’s tooth and kept firmly in place until the pain receded.
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.
Friction sticks; Soap; Wood.
The seed is rich in saponins, these 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, light, very close grained. Of no value as a lumber. The wood was used as friction sticks for making fire by the North American Indians.
The flowers are scented.
The tree acts as a soil binder, which prevents erosion in hilly regions. It is sometimes used as an ornamental. Local native American tribes, including the Pomo, Yokut, and Luiseño, used the poisonous nuts to stupefy schools of fish in small streams to make them easier to catch. The bark, leaves, and fruits contain the neurotoxic glycoside aesculin, which causes hemolysis of red blood cells.
Native groups occasionally used the nuts as a food supply when the acorn supply was sparse; after boiling and leaching the toxin out of the nut meats for several days, they could be ground into a meal similar to that made from acorns.
Known Hazards: The nectar of the flowers is toxic, and it can kill honeybees and other insects. When the shoots are small and leaves are new they are lower in toxins and are grazed by livestock and wildlife. 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. The flowers of this plant are toxic to bees.
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