The Horse Chestnut Tree


A young Don with a young Horse Chestnut tree on their farm on Old Landing Road, circa 1932.

An old friend recently stopped by and we talked of many things old, the present and the possibility of  things to be, not too far distant in he future.  He knew we’d owned an Antique Shop for about five years and had been collected antiques for about forty so he had some questions about a small table he had acquired.

He’d been told it was American Chestnut, which had been basically wiped from the earth in the Eastern United States forests by a blight brought from Asia to New York Zoological Gardens in 1904.  The most important cash crop in lumber in the eastern United States was effected and like wild-fire the blight spread and in the 1930s the forests were littered with the remains of dead or dying Chestnut trees.  In the late 1940s nothing was left except a few leaves growing from roots in the ground, an entire species of an important tree had been eliminated.  There are a few American Chestnut societies in the United States that are trying to bring back the Chestnut by planting blight resistant trees taken from isolated areas that the blight never reached.  They are having limited success.

The American Chestnut was a harder surface wood than Oak but was somewhat similar in grain.  They are still mistaken for each other, although Chestnut does sometimes get tiny worm holes, thus the wormy-chestnut category of furniture.

Horse Chestnut in bloom

His was a small side table and it was Chestnut, far as I could tell.  He then asked if a Horse Chestnut tree was the same as our American Chestnut and, of course, the answer was no.  The chestnut that came from our tree could be roasted and eaten raw or used in cooking as they come from the shell.  The nut, seeds and leaves from a Horse Chestnut tree cannot be eaten as they contains a poison called esculin.

The Horse Chestnut is not native to the United States, it was imported from Southern Europe and Asia starting sometime around the 1600s, and is now in just about every state in the United States  It was probably brought over by immigrants because, for hundreds of years before, they had been processing the leaves, seeds and nuts to make an effective herbal remedy for varicose veins sold in the United States today and widely recognized as a complimentary medicine by the National Institute of Health.  It is also the source of an effective medication for Hemorrhoids.

Another reason it was brought to the United States by immigrants from Southern Europe was the beauty of the tree from early Spring till mid-summer. When you exited through the front door of the Langrehr farmhouse on Old Landing Road  and  looked to your left, there was a 40 foot Horse Chestnut tree and the top third of the tree had clusters of tiny white flowers with yellow and red bases.  The clusters were cone-shaped, like upside down bunches of grapes, maybe a few hundred clusters in number and when you topped the rise and came over the hill coming to the house, they shone like the sun.

The Horse Chestnut shell itself was smaller than a baseball, and it looked like the WWII floating mine, round with spikes on the outside shell. On the tree it was green and contained a sectioned nut but when it fell to the ground, it quickly turned brown and split open. Back in the l930s, we had no rotary mowers, just the old reel type and in fact we had very little lawn.  We just picked up the nuts as they fell and threw them over the hill.  Today if you had a Horse Chestnut tree, you would have to rake before mowing or you would be sending a missile  thru your neighbors windows, passing cars and injuring anyone within a quarter-mile.

It was first called a Horse Chestnut by the Ancient Turks who dried them and fed them to their horses. The Horse Chestnut is apparently safe for horses but if you have a dog that chews on things aground, they can make it sick.

As for yourself, as always, you should never add any kind of drug or supplement without consulting your family physician.  If you want additional information on Horse Chestnut supplements you can find all you want to know online at places like www.Puritan.com.

Don Langrehr

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