Chestnuts (horse And Sweet)

Ever since 1633 the Horse Chestnut tree has grown and flourished

in England, having been brought at first from the mountains of

Northern Asia. For the most part it is rather known and admired

for its wealth of shade, its large handsome floral spikes of creamy,

pink-tinted blossom, and its white, soft wood, than supposed to

exercise useful medicinal properties. But none the less is this tree

remarkable for the curative
irtues contained in its large nuts of

mahogany polish, its broad palmate leaves, and its smooth silvery

bark. These virtues have been discovered and made public

especially by physicians and chemists of the homoeopathic school.

From the large digitated leaves an extract is made which has

proved of service in whooping-cough, and of which from one-third

to half a teaspoonful may be given for a dose. On the Continent

the bark is held in estimation for cutting short attacks of

intermittent fever and ague by acting in the same way as Peruvian

bark, though it is much more astringent. But the nuts are chiefly to

be regarded as the medicinal belongings of the Horse Chestnut

tree; and their bodily sphere of action is the rectum, or lower

bowel, in cases of piles, and of obstinate constipation. Their use is

particularly indicated when the bottom of the back gives out on

walking, with aching and a sense of weariness in that region.

Likewise, signal relief is found to be wrought by the same remedy

when the throat is duskily red and dry, in conjunction with

costiveness, and piles. A tincture is made (H.) from the ripe nuts

with spirit of wine, for the purposes described above, or the nuts

themselves are finely powdered and given in that form. These nuts

are starchy, and contain so much potash, that they may be

used when boiled for washing purposes. [103] In France and

Switzerland they are employed for cleansing wool and bleaching

linen, on account of their saponin. Botanically, the Horse

Chestnut is named AEsculus hippocastanea--the first word

coming from esca, food; and the second from hippos, a horse;

and Castana, the city, so called. The epithet horse does not

imply any remedial use in diseases of that animal, but rather the

size and coarseness of this species as compared with the Sweet

Spanish Chestnut. In the same way we talk of the horse radish, the

horse daisy, and the horse leech. In Turkey the fruit is given to

horses touched or broken in the wind, but in this country horses

will not eat it. Nevertheless, Horse Chestnuts may be used for

fattening cattle, particularly sheep, the nuts being cut up, and

mixed with oats, or beans. Their bitterness can be removed by first

washing the Chestnuts in lime water. Medicinally, the ripe nut of

this tree is employed, being collected in September or October,

and deprived of its shell. The odour of the flowers is powerful and

peculiar. No chemical analysis of them, or of the nuts, has been

made, but they are found to contain tannin freely. Rich-coloured,

of a reddish brown, and glossy, these nuts have given their name

to a certain shade of mellow dark auburn hair. Rosalind, in As

You Like It, says Orlando's locks are of a good colour: I' faith

your Chestnut was ever the only colour.

Of the Horse Chestnut tincture, two or three drops, with a spoonful

of water, taken before meals and at bedtime, will cure almost any

simple case of piles in a week. Also, carrying a Horse Chestnut

about the person, is said to obviate giddiness, and to prevent piles.

Taken altogether, the Horse Chestnut, for its splendour of

blossom, and wealth of umbrageous leaf, [104] its polished

mahogany fruit, and its special medicinal virtues, is facile

princeps the belle of our English trees. But, like many a

ball-room beauty, when the time comes for putting aside the gay leafy

attire, it is sadly untidy, and makes a great litter of its cast-off


It has been ingeniously suggested that the cicatrix of the leaf

resembles a horse-shoe, with all its nails evenly placed.

The Sweet Spanish Chestnut tree is grown much less commonly in

this country, and its fruit affords only material for food, without

possessing medicinal properties; though, in the United States of

America, an infusion of the leaves is thought to be useful for

staying the paroxysms of whooping-cough. Of all known nuts, this

(the Sweet Chestnut, Stover Nut, or Meat Nut) is the most

farinaceous and least oily; hence it is more easy of digestion than

any other. To mountaineers it is invaluable, so that on the

Apennines and the Pyrenees the Chestnut harvest is the event of

the year. The Italian Chestnut-cakes, called necci, contain forty

per cent. of nutritious matter soluble in cold water; and Chestnut

flour, when properly prepared, is a capital food for children.

To be harvested the Chestnuts are spread on a frame of lattice-work

overhead, and a fire is kept burning underneath. When dry the

fruit is boiled, or steamed, or roasted, or ground into a kind of

flour, with which puddings are made, or an excellent kind of bread

is produced. The ripe Chestnut possesses a fine creamy flavour,

and when roasted it becomes almost aromatic. A good way to cook

Chestnuts is to boil them for twenty minutes, and then place them

for five minutes more in a Dutch oven.

It was about the fruit of the Spanish tree Shakespeare [105] said:

A woman's tongue gives not half so great a blow to the ear as will

a Chestnut in a farmer's fire. In the United States of America an

old time-worn story, or oft repeated tale, is called in banter a

Chestnut, and a stale joker is told not to rattle the Chestnuts.

For convalescents, after a long serious illness, the French make a

chocolate of sweet Chestnuts, which is highly restorative. The nuts

are first cooked in eau de vie until their shells and the pellicle

of the kernels can be peeled off; then they are beaten into a pulp

together with sufficient milk and sugar, with some cinnamon

added. The mixture is afterwards boiled with more milk, and

frothed up in a chocolate pot.