Botanical: Aesculus hippocastanum
Family: Hippocastanaceae (horse chestnut/buckeye)
Other common names: Buckeye, Common Horse Chestnut, Bark Bongay, Konker Tree,
Horse Chestnut is used to improve the circulatory system. It strengthens capillary walls and dilates blood vessels, which helps to relieve varicose veins, phlebitis, swollen ankles and local edema. The herb is said to help reduce blood clots and the risk of arteriosclerosis, and may thus help to prevent strokes and heart attacks. Horse Chestnut also helps to loosen and expel lung congestion, which alleviates bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and coughs.
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The Horse Chestnut is a large deciduous tree that is native to southeastern Europe (notably the Balkan countries) and cultivated in temperate Europe and North America (in 1763, the first Horse Chestnut tree was blooming in a Pennsylvania garden). The sturdy Horse Chestnut is a close relative of the buckeye tree (Ohio Buckeye [Aesculus glabra] or the California Buckeye [Aesculus glabra californica], etc.), which is a native of North America, but quite different in application. The Horse Chestnut tree is highly ornamental and bears palm-shaped, serrate leaves, chandelier-like white flowers with a pink-to-yellow spot, followed by globose, spiny, green-brown fruits filled with several shiny, red-brown seeds. This exotic tree, frequently considered a sign of prosperity, may reach a height of eighty to one hundred feet and can be found in parks, gardens and streets, thriving in fertile, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. According to Renaissance herbal writings, the Turks used the Horse Chestnuts to treat respiratory ailments in horses; hence, we have its English name, as well as its botanical specific, hippocastanum (hippo is the Greek word for horse). Native Americans of the Northeast used Horse Chestnut as a remedy for cold symptoms and "carried" the nuts to ward off rheumatism. It is interesting to note that in European folk medicine, it was also carried in the pocket for preventing and curing arthritis. Horse Chestnut was also used to relieve hemorrhoids. The bark, oil, seeds and leaves are collected in the autumn for use in herbal medicine. If ingested without processing, the seeds can be toxic, but roasting appears to destroy any poisons (aesculin). Some of the constituents in Horse Chestnut include allantoin, citric acid, aescin, fraxin, kaempferol, myricetin, epicatechin, isoquercitrin, quercetin, quercitrin, rutin, saponin, scopoletin and tannin.
Horse Chestnut is mainly used to protect against vascular damage. It tones the walls of blood vessels, making capillary walls less porous and helping to prevent veins from becoming slack or swollen. The presence of aescin (a complex mix of saponins) strengthens and relaxes blood vessels (a vasodilator), which largely influences the circulatory system. This action helps to relieve the vascular fullness associated with varicose veins (associated with poor venous return or raised abdominal pressure), phlebitis, swollen ankles, chilblains (swelling caused by exposure to cold and dampness) and leg pain (including nighttime leg spasms).
Horse Chestnut generally reduces excess tissue fluid and local edema. The astringency of aescin inhibits fluid from passing through capillary membranes, which helps to reduce swelling in surrounding tissues, further helping to relieve the vascular fullness associated with hemorrhoids, rectal engorgement, lymphedema, swelling following trauma (including fractures) and swelling in joints.
As a vasodilator, Horse Chestnut has a beneficial effect on the circulatory system, and the increased circulation of blood is said to improve many circulatory problems, including hardening of the arteries and blood clots, which may also be helpful for the prevention of strokes and heart attacks.
Horse Chestnut is considered an anti-inflammatory, and its active component, aescin, works to reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis and rheumatism. It is said to reduce inflammation in cells without weakening phagocytosis (the process in which phagocytes engulf and digest micro-organisms, an important defense against infection).
Confirming its historical use, Horse Chestnut is used to treat respiratory ailments. It is an expectorant, which helps to loosen and expel phlegm and congestion from the lungs and is said to alleviate bronchitis, respiratory catarrh, coughs and fever.
Japanese scientists claim that the herb has shown powerful antioxidant activity and also to have potential in reducing wrinkles in the skin.
Used externally, Horse Chestnut helps to prevent vein and capillary fragility and balances the circulation in the skin, helping to promote clear skin, good skin tone and an even complexion; and it is used in fine-quality cosmetics, hand creams, lotions and cellulite products. The aescin in Horse Chestnut is said to strengthen the contractile fibers, which line the nutrient- and oxygen-supplying capillaries that feed tissues just below the skin. This action is said to tone the muscles underneath the capillaries and help reduce cellulite, the condition in which fat cells under the skin become engorged and lose their natural contours. When used topically, Horse Chestnut reduces pain and swelling and prevents bruising. It is also thought to shield against UV radiation damage.
Pregnant and nursing women should avoid Horse Chestnut Herbal Supplement, and overuse (many times the recommended dosage) may cause gastric distress. Very large amounts of Horse Chestnut may cause liver and kidney failure and should be avoided by those suffering from liver or kidney disease. Consult a physician before use if you are taking any blood-thinning medication. The seeds of the Horse Chestnut tree are toxic if eaten unprocessed.