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Botanical Name: Aesculus chinensis
Family : Hippocastanaceae
Genus : Aesculus
Habitat : Native in Chongqing, S Gansu, N Guangdong, Guizhou, SW Henan, W Hubei, Hunan, W Jiangxi, S Shaanxi, Sichuan, and NE Yunnan; cultivated in Hebei, N Henan, S Jiangsu, S Shaanxi, S Shanxi, and N Zhejiang. Mountains of Szechwan. Woodland Garden; Canopy;
Description : A deciduous Tree growing to 25m by 10m at a slow rate. The development of the The Chestnut is erect; in genereral in the lower part they have a pretty bare stem, while p many ramifications develop towards the top. This plant in the summer assumes a white colouring. It doesn’t keep its leaves in the winter. As they grow, these plants become the size of a tree.
It is hardy to zone 6 and is frost tender. It is in flower in July, 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 can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.
Prefers a deep loamy well-drained soil but is not too fussy. Plants grow best in eastern and south-eastern areas of England, probably needing a continental climate in order to thrive. Although the trees are very hardy when dormant, the new growth can be damaged by late spring frosts. 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.
Seed – cooked. It can be dried and ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed is quite large, it can be 3cm in diameter, and is easily harvested. Unfortunately it is also rich in saponins, these must be removed before it can be used as a food and this process also removes many of the minerals and vitamins, leaving behind mainly starch. See also the notes above on toxicity. The following notes apply to A. californica, but are probably also relevant here:- The seed needs to be leached of 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.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
The seed is antirheumatic and emetic. The sweet tasting seed is said to be used in the treatment of contracted limbs that are due to palsy or rheumatism. It is also used in the treatment of stomach aches.
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.
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.
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.