Horse chestnut: what are its benefits and how to use it?

Horse chestnut, which resembles chestnut, is one of the most planted trees in cities, parks and gardens. The latter has many benefits. What are the virtues of this plant known for centuries? How to use it to benefit from its health benefits? When is it not recommended to use this herb? We take stock.

Nicknamed “common chestnut” or “horse chestnut”, the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a majestic tree that belongs to the family of Hippocastanaceae. Contrary to what we may think, this plant with an imposing build does not come from India, it is native to Western Asia and the Balkans, namely Turkey, Montenegro, Greece, or Serbia. This plant, which adorns parks and borders avenues, grows on any type of soil but it has a preference for deep and cool terrain. It can grow in gardens and along roads. Horse chestnut blooms in the spring, from April to June.

What are the characteristics of horse chestnut?

This tree, which resembles the chestnut tree, can be up to 30 meters high and live several hundred years. It is characterized by its thick and straight trunk. The latter is covered with a reddish-brown or grayish bark, which is initially smooth and then cracks over time. From its trunk leave many stems on which are present the leaves of the horse chestnut tree. Its deciduous leaves are dark green and palmate in color, comprising 5-7 leaflets. As for its delicately fragrant flowers, they are composed of five white petals with pink dots.

In the fall, this imposing plant produces fruits, which contain one or two large seeds called “chestnuts”. The latter are round, hard, smooth, and brown. They form in a shell bristling with spikes. Unlike the fruits of chestnut, chestnuts can not be eaten because of their extreme bitterness. In herbal medicine, the seeds and bark of horse chestnuts are used because the benefits of this plant are concentrated in them.

Horse chestnut: what are the virtues of this medicinal plant?

For centuries, this herb has been renowned for its therapeutic virtues. Horse chestnut is mainly indicated to treat venous insufficiency, according to a report published in 2012 by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The bark of this large tree contains large amounts of flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and esculosides, a substance that acts on venous tone such as vitamin P. Thanks to its active ingredients, horse chestnut improves blood circulation, treats varicose veins, and relieves heavy,swollen and painful legs. The EMA states that it is also possible to use this herb to reduce calf itching and cramping.

According to the Précis de Phyto-Aromathérapie of Dr. Danielle Roux and Dr. Daniel Sciméca, this plant is also used to fight against hemorrhoidal crises. “It was a peasant custom that anyone suffering from hemorrhoids should wear horse chestnuts in their pocket,” the book reads.

How to use horse chestnut to enjoy its benefits?

To overcome hemorrhoids, it is advisable to bet on an infusion. To achieve it, it is worth boiling for 10 minutes 40-50 g of horse chestnut in a liter of water. This infusion is used as a lotion when washing. In order to improve blood circulation, it is possible to perform a decoction. To do this, one must put a teaspoon of dried plants in a cup of water that is boiled. We let it brew for a few minutes and then consume one to two cups of this drink each day, for a maximum of 21 days.

Horse chestnuts can also be in the form of capsules. In this case, one must respect the dosage, which must always appear on the packaging of the product, to treat the signs related to venous insufficiency. “If the symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks during the use of the drug, a doctor should be consulted,” the EMA reports. This herb is also available in the form of ointments, creams, and gels. In this case, these products are applied to the areas affected by venous insufficiency.

It is possible to combine horse chestnut with other herbs. According to the Précis de Phyto-Aromathérapie, it can be mixed with red vine or cypress in case of hemorrhoids.

Horse chestnut: what are its contraindications and side effects?

Horse chestnut is not recommended for everyone. It is not recommended for pregnant and lactating women. This plant is also contraindicated for people under the age of 18. As a reminder, before using horse chestnut, it is advisable to seek the advice of your doctor.

According to the EMA, no adverse effects were associated with taking horse chestnut. But the agency recommends consulting a health professional “in case of inflammation of the skin, thrombophlebitis, sudden swelling of one or both limbs, ulcers, and heart or kidney failure.”

Thanks to Dr Danielle Roux and Dr Daniel Sciméca, Précis de Phyto-Aromathérapie (Alpen Éditions).

Source: European Medicines Agency (EMA)

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