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Aesculus hippocastanum Linnaeus, 1753

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Aesculus hippocastanum Linnaeus, 1753
Common names: Horse-chestnut tree, Conker tree [En], Marronnier d’Inde, Marronnier commun [Fr], Witte paardenkastanje [Nl], Gewöhnliche Rosskastanie [De], Ippocastano, Castagno d’India [It], Castaño de Indias [Es], Αγριοκαστανιά [Gr], Beyaz Çiçekli Atkestanesi [Tu]

Meise, BRABANT ● Belgium

Etymology: The common name "horse-chestnut" (often unhyphenated) is reported as having originated from the erroneous belief that the tree was a kind of chestnut (though in fact only distantly related), together with the observation that eating the fruit cured horses of chest complaints despite this plant being poisonous to horses.

Description: Large deciduous tree which grows to 36 metres (118 ft) tall, with a domed crown of stout branches; on old trees the outer branches often pendulous with curled-up tips. The leaves are opposite and palmately compound, with 5–7 leaflets; each leaflet is 13–30 cm long, making the whole leaf up to 60 cm across, with a 7–20 cm petiole. The leaf scars left on twigs after the leaves have fallen have a distinctive horseshoe shape, complete with seven "nails". The flowers are usually white with a small red spot; they are produced in spring in erect panicles 10–30 cm tall with about 20–50 flowers on each panicle. Usually only 1–5 fruit develop on each panicle; the shell is a green, spiky capsule containing one (rarely two or three) nut-like seeds called conkers or horse-chestnuts. Each conker is 2–4 cm diameter, glossy nut-brown with a whitish scar at the base.

Biology: Horse-chestnuts have been threatened by the leaf-mining moth Cameraria ohridella, whose larvae feed on horse chestnut leaves.

Habitat: Mixed forests

Distribution: Native to South East Europe (Balkan) and to Western Asia. It is widely cultivated in streets and parks throughout the temperate world.

Uses: In the past, horse-chestnut seeds were used in France and Switzerland for whitening hemp, flax, silk and wool.
The seed extract standardized to around 20 percent aescin (escin) is used for its venotonic effect, vascular protection, anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenging properties. Indications are sprains and strains, oedemas, chronic leg oedema, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, and chronic venous insufficiency.
Aescin reduces fluid leaks to surrounding tissue by reducing both the number and size of membrane pores in the veins.

Caution: The nuts, especially those that are young and fresh, are slightly poisonous, containing alkaloid saponins and glucosides. Although not dangerous to touch, they cause sickness when eaten; consumed by horses, they can cause tremors and lack of coordination. Some mammals, notably deer, are able to break down the toxins and eat them safely.

References:
Wikipedia, Aesculus hippocastanum





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