New Book ** Edible Perennials: 50 Top perennials from Plants For A Future. Current interest in forest or woodland garden designs reflects an awareness that permanent mixed plantings are inherently more sustainable than annual monocultures. They safeguard and enrich soil ecosystems... more >>

Search Page Content
   Bookmark and Share
    By donating to PFAF, you can help support and expand our activities
    Plant Suppliers: Click here for a List

Aesculus hippocastanum - L.                
Common Name Horse Chestnut, European Horsechestnut, Common Horsechestnut
Family Hippocastanaceae
Synonyms Aesculus asplenifolia. Aesculus castanea. Aesculus memmingeri. Aesculus procera.
Known Hazards The seed is rich in saponins[10, 21, 65]. 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[K]. Avoid in patients with kidney or liver disease. Avoid if taking warfarin as can interfere with anticoagulant therapy [301].
Habitats Mountain woods[50].
Range Europe - N. Greece and Albania. Naturalized in Britain[17].
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun

Bloom Color: White. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Oval, Pyramidal.

Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of lolypop
Aesculus hippocastanum is a deciduous Tree growing to 30 m (98ft) by 15 m (49ft) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen in September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

USDA hardiness zone : 4-7

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.
It can tolerate atmospheric pollution.

Aesculus hippocastanum Horse Chestnut, European Horsechestnut, Common  Horsechestnut

Aesculus hippocastanum Horse Chestnut, European Horsechestnut, Common  Horsechestnut
Woodland Garden Canopy;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Seed.
Edible Uses: Coffee.

The roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute[2, 7]. Seed - cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and used as a gruel[7, 46, 55, 61]. The seed is quite large, about 3cm in diameter, and is easily harvested. It is usually produced in abundance in Britain. Unfortunately the seed 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 seed contains up to 40% water, 8 - 11% protein and 8 - 26% toxic saponins[218]. 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[213].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Alterative;  Analgesic;  Antiinflammatory;  Antirheumatic;  Astringent;  Bach;  Diuretic;  Expectorant;  Febrifuge;  Haemostatic;  Narcotic;  
Tonic;  Vasoconstrictor;  Vulnerary.

Horse chestnut is an astringent, anti-inflammatory herb that helps to tone the vein walls which, when slack or distended, may become varicose, haemorrhoidal or otherwise problematic[254]. The plant also reduces fluid retention by increasing the permeability of the capillaries and allowing the re-absorption of excess fluid back into the circulatory system[254]. This plant is potentially toxic if ingested and should not be used internally without professional supervision[254]. Alterative, analgesic, haemostatic and vulnerary[165, 218]. The bark is anti-inflammatory, astringent, diuretic, febrifuge, narcotic, tonic and vasoconstrictive[4, 7, 222]. It is harvested in the spring and dried for later use[4]. The plant is taken in small doses internally for the treatment of a wide range of venous diseases, including hardening of the arteries, varicose veins, phlebitis, leg ulcers, haemorrhoids and frostbite[238, 254]. It is also made into a lotion or gel for external application[254]. A tea made from the bark is used in the treatment of malaria and dysentery, externally in the treatment of lupus and skin ulcers[4, 222]. A tea made from the leaves is tonic and is used in the treatment of fevers and whooping cough[222, 240, 254]. The pericarp is peripherally vasoconstrictive[7]. The seeds are decongestant, expectorant and tonic[7, 21]. They have been used in the treatment of rheumatism, neuralgia and haemorrhoids[4]. They are said to be narcotic and that 10 grains of the nut are equal to 3 grains of opium[213]. An oil extracted from the seeds has been used externally as a treatment for rheumatism[254]. A compound of the powdered roots is analgesic and has been used to treat chest pains[257]. The buds are used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are 'Failure to learn by experience', 'Lack of observation in the lessons of life' and hence 'The need of repetition'[209]. The flowers are used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are 'Persistent unwanted thoughts' and 'Mental arguments and conversations'[209]. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Aesculus hippocastanum for chronic venous insufficiency in the legs (see [302] for critics of commission E).
Other Uses
Dye;  Soap;  Starch;  Tannin;  Wood.

Saponins in the seed are used as a soap substitute[169]. 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[K]. The seed contains variable amounts of saponins, up to a maximum of 10%[240]. A starch obtained from the seed is used in laundering[100]. The bark and other parts of the plant contain tannin, but the quantities are not given[223]. A yellow dye is obtained from the bark[4]. The flowers contain the dyestuff quercetin[223]. Wood - soft, light, not durable. Of little commercial value, it is used for furniture, boxes, charcoal[2, 11, 46, 61].
Cultivation details                                         
Landscape Uses:Firewood, Pollard, Specimen, Street tree. Prefers a deep loamy well-drained soil but is not too fussy tolerating poorer drier soils[11, 200]. Tolerates exposed positions and atmospheric pollution[200]. A very ornamental and fast-growing tree[1, 4], it succeeds in most areas of Britain but grows best in eastern and south-eastern England[200]. Trees are very hardy when dormant, but the young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. The flowers have a delicate honey-like perfume[245]. Trees are tolerant of drastic cutting back and can be severely lopped[200]. They are prone to suddenly losing old heavy branches[98]. The tree comes into bearing within 20 years from seed[98]. Most members of this genus transplant easily, even when fairly large[11]. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Naturalizing, Blooms are very showy.
Seed - best sown outdoors or in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[11, 80]. The seed germinates almost immediately and must be given protection from severe weather[130]. 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[80, 113]. It is best to sow the seed with its 'scar' downwards[130]. 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.
Plant Suppliers: Click here for a List

      You can download this page as a PDF

Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[7]Chiej. R. Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants.
Covers plants growing in Europe. Also gives other interesting information on the plants. Good photographs.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[50]? Flora Europaea
An immense work in 6 volumes (including the index). The standard reference flora for europe, it is very terse though and with very little extra information. Not for the casual reader.
[55]Harris. B. C. Eat the Weeds.
Interesting reading.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[80]McMillan-Browse. P. Hardy Woody Plants from Seed.
Does not deal with many species but it is very comprehensive on those that it does cover. Not for casual reading.
[98]Gordon. A. G. and Rowe. D. C. f. Seed Manual for Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.
Very comprehensive guide to growing trees and shrubs from seed. Not for the casual reader.
[100]Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide.
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.
[113]Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation.
A very detailed book on propagating trees. Not for the casual reader.
[130]? The Plantsman. Vol. 4. 1982 - 1983.
Excerpts from the periodical giving cultivation details and other notes on some of the useful plants, including Distylium racemosum and some perennial members of the family Berberidaceae.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[169]Buchanan. R. A Weavers Garden.
Covers all aspects of growing your own clothes, from fibre plants to dyes.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[209]Chancellor. P. M. Handbook of the Bach Flower Remedies
Details the 38 remedies plus how and where to prescribe them.
[213]Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food.
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.
[218]Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China
Details of over 1,200 medicinal plants of China and brief details of their uses. Often includes an analysis, or at least a list of constituents. Heavy going if you are not into the subject.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[223]Rottsieper. E.H.W. Vegetable Tannins
A fairly detailed treatise on the major sources of vegetable tannins.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[240]Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement).
Very terse details of medicinal uses of plants with a wide range of references and details of research into the plants chemistry. Not for the casual reader.
[245]Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World.
An excellent, comprehensive book on scented plants giving a few other plant uses and brief cultivation details. There are no illustrations.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.
[302]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Commission E

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Nadene Wilcox Wed Nov 5 2008
Is there such a thing as a male variety of Horse chestnut tree?
Elizabeth H.
dn Wed Nov 5 2008
As indicated above under "Plant Description" this plant has both male and female parts on the same tree, it is hermaphrodite.
QR Code

What's this?

This is a QR code (short for Quick Response) which gives fast-track access to our website pages. QR Codes are barcodes that can be read by mobile phone (smartphone) cameras. This QR Code is unique to this page. All plant pages have their own unique code. For more information about QR Codes click here.

1. Copy and print the QR code to a plant label, poster, book, website, magazines, newspaper etc and even t-shirts.
2. Smartphone users scan the QR Code which automatically takes them to the webpage the QR Code came from.
3. Smartphone users quickly have information on a plant directly for the website on their phone.
Rate This Plant                                         
Please rate this plants for how successful you have found it to be. You will need to be logged in to do this. Our intention is not to create a list of 'popular' plants but rather to highlight plants that may be rare and unusual and that have been found to be useful by website users. This hopefully will encourage more people to use plants that they possibly would not have considered before.
Add a comment/link                                         

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

Subject : Aesculus hippocastanum  

Links To add a link to another website with useful info add the details here
Name of Site
URL of Site