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Autumn | Horse Chestnut


Meet Horse chestnuts, the shiny mahogany-like conkers which are the fruit of the magnificent, familiar trees in our parks and countryside that have long been the stuff of autumnal games and treasure hunts.

You might know some of her other names such as soap berry, conker tree, buck eye, or Aesculus hippocastanum



This video at the bottom of this page is also available to watch on YouTube and Vimeo.

Horse chestnuts are magnificent, familiar trees in our parks and countryside

and their fruit,  shiny mahogany-like conkers,

have long been the stuff of autumnal games and treasure hunts.

If you feel confused about how to distinguish

between the horse chestnut tree and the sweet chestnut tree,

there are a couple of very clear differences when you look closely 

the leaves of the horse chestnut are like the fingers of a large hand,

all radiating out from a common central point.

However, the leaves of sweet chestnut trees are separate,

attached by a stalk to the main stem and have serrated, or sharply-toothed, edges.

The fruits of the trees are similar in that both their casings are prickly

but when you examine one of each side by side

you notice that the horse chestnut's casing looks a bit like a sea holly 

green and smooth with sharp prickles at intervals -

while the sweet chestnut looks more like a round hedgehog

with prickles completely covering the casing.

When you break them open, horse chestnuts will usually only have

one conker lying glistening inside,

whereas sweet chestnuts will normally have 4,

much smaller, chestnuts arranged like a 4 pointed star.

Horse chestnuts are NOT for eating,

while sweet chestnuts make a delicious autumn treat.

Horse chestnuts can be used to make a valuable ointment

that can be used externally on unbroken skin only 

it's fantastic at helping to shrink varicose veins and haemorrhoids,

both of which can occur where there is poor circulation within the pelvic area.

There are several stages to making horse chestnut ointment:

first, gather your horse chestnut pods off of the ground -  try to pick only unbroken ones so that the conkers inside are in the best and freshest condition possible.

Remove the conkers from their casing and lay them on a clean towel.

When you have enough gleaming fresh horse chestnuts you can either grind them up into chunky pieces in a food processor

or go the low-tech way and wrap them up in the towel, making sure both ends of the towel are closed

and then beat with a rolling pin to break up the conkers into small pieces.

You are not looking to beat them to a powder,

just small enough chunks so they dry out quicker.

Lay out the pieces on a baking tray, one layer deep

and place in an oven, on very low heat,

for a couple of hours until they're completely dried.

Once they are cooled, empty the dried horse chestnut pieces into a sterilised jar

and add enough sunflower oil to cover completely

- don't leave any chestnut pieces poking out above the oil or they will go mouldy.

Label and place in a cool, dark place for at least a couple of weeks.

At the end of this time strain the mixture through a fine sieve,

give the solid bits to the compost

and bottle and label the oil.

This is now a macerated horse chestnut oil.

You can use this directly on varicose veins or you can use this oil to make the horse chestnut ointment.

To continue on to the ointment,

measure out about 400ml of your macerated horse chestnut oil and reserve.

Then measure out roughly 60g of cocoa butter

and 40g of beeswax.

Mix these solids together in a pot

then gently heat the mixture on very low heat

until the cocoa butter and beeswax are completely melted.

Add the macerated horse chestnut oil, stir well

You want your finished ointment to be solid at room temperature 

yet easily spreadable, a bit like margarine!

Once the oils and waxes are well mixed,

turn off the heat and quickly pour the warm mixture

into sterilised pots or jars, put the lids on and leave to cool and solidify.

If your ointment is still too hard, once it's cooled, you can re-heat it, melt it and add a little more horse chestnut oil.

Label your pots.