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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  HORSE CHESTNUT     (Aesculus hippocastanum;  Hippocasanaceae, Sapindaceae)                                             

Other Names:   spanish chestnut, buckeye.  Not to be confused with sweet chestnut.   (2)

Character/Energetics:  bitter, astringent, neutral, toxic   (6);   bitter, astringent    (38)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  spleen, lungs   (6)

Part(s) used:  seed and bark   (6);   dried leaves, oil of peeled nuts, dried seeds    (2)

Identification & Harvesting:  white flowers;  bell-shaped calyx;  10-15 mm petals with a yellow spot which turns red;  green globular fruit capsules covered with soft spines and fine hairs;  1-3 red-brown seeds (chestnuts).  Tree is deciduous;  up to 100 ft high;  large regular crown;  thinly scaled, peeling and fissured bark;  long leaves, 5-7 palmate;  leaflets are initially red-haired, 20 cm long, rich green.  Indigenous to mountains of Greece, Bulgaria, Caucasus, northern Iran, Himalayas;  cultivated in northern Europe, British isles, Denmark, Scandinavia, Russia.   (2)

Gather nuts as they fall in September and October (8);  Harvest in autumn (38)

Active Constituents:   In the leaves:  triterpene saponins;  hydroxycoumarins, chiefly aesculin, also fraxin and scopolin;  flavonoids, incl. rutin, quercitrin, isoquercitrin;  tannins;  coumarin glucosides (main active principle); aesculin, flavonol glycosides.

In the seeds:  triterpene saponins (3-8% saponine mixture known as aescin);  chiefly beta-aescin (diesterglycoside mixture of the protoaescigenins);  flavonoids (biosides and triosides of the quercetins);  oligosaccharides incl. 1-kestose, 2-kestose, stachyose;  polysaccharides (starch 50%);  oligomeric proanthocyanidins and condensed tannins (only in the seed-coat);  2-3% fatty oil.   (2)

The seeds contain various saponins including aescin, tannins, flavones, purines, starch, sugar, albumin and a fatty oil. The bark contains coumarins, glycoside, resin and pigment.

Because of the high tannin content in horse chestnuts, they must be shelled, crushed and leached overnight in cold water before they can be used. They are then strained and boiled for half an hour. The meal from the nuts is dried and used as medicine for humans or fodder for animals.   (6)                                                                                           

Actions:  In animal tests, the principal ingredient, aescin, is antiexudative and has a vascular tightening effect…. (also) indications the extract reduces activity of lysosomal enzymes which is increased in chronic pathological conditions of the veins, so that breakdown of mucopolysaccharides in the capillary walls is inhibited (e.g., inhibits capillary breakdown).   (2)  

astringent,  narcotic,  nutritive,  febrifuge,  expectorant    (6);  Anthocyanidins reduce porosity of veins.  Horse chestnut tightens elastic fibers in vein walls.  (H.c.)…and gotu kola also stop the enzymes that break down damaged veins.  After only 12 days of taking horse chestnut, levels of these enzymes drop by 25%.   (29);   febrifuge, reduces capillary permeability and local edema;  diuretic, anti-inflammatory.  Aescin is a potent anti-inflammatory.    (38);   astringent, circulatory tonic   (54)

Conditions & Uses:   Treats eczema, superficial and deep varicose veins, leg pains, phlebitis and thrombophlebitis, hemorrhoids, spastic pains before and during menstruation.  In folk medicine, leaves are used as a cough remedy as well as arthritis and rheumatism.  Seeds are used only in venous conditions esp. in the legs; e.g. cramps and swelling.  Seeds are used also to treat post-traumatic and post-operative swelling, injuries, sprains, bruises, edema.   (2)

The bark and the fruit are used similarly to both witch hazel and oak, but horse chestnut tends more to increase the blood circulation. For this reason, a poultice of the crushed and powdered bark or fruits is useful for the treatment of varicose veins, hemorrhoids and other rectal problems. It also is directly applied for the treatment of leg ulcers, rheumatism, neuralgia and bums. A fluid extract from the fruit protects against sunburn.

Since it is astringent, blood‑moving and febrifuge, the fruit is used as a treatment for gastritis, enteritis, bronchitis, phlegm in the lungs and swollen prostate.    (6);   Treats sunburn   (13)

Use internally for venous disorders;  e.g. hardening of the arteries, stroke, heart attack, circulatory insufficiency, varicose veins, phlebitis, chilblains, hemorrhoids, and trauma-induced swelling;  inject for swollen joints and fractures. (38)

Due to astringent effects of tannins, traditionally used to treat hemorrhoids.  Extracts primarily from seeds currently used to improve vascular resistance, reduce capillary-wall permeability;  aescin diminishes number and diameter of tiny openings in capillary walls, reducing outflow of fluid into surrounding tissue;  therefore useful for topical treatment of bruises and sprains, edema;  improving vascular tone, reducing swelling.    (61)

Combinations:  Use with liver herbs such as goldenseal or dilute with witch hazel for compresses.  (15)

cf. General notes and/or Applications, below, for elaborative remarks on synergistic effects with ginkgo biloba, gotu kola, hawthorn, Saint John’s Wort, butcher’s broom, calendula…. (H.c.)…and gotu kola also stop the enzymes that break down damaged veins.  After only 12 days of taking horse chestnut, levels of these enzymes drop by 25%.     (29)

Precautions:  Leaves — no recorded risks or side effects with designated dosages.  One recorded case of liver damage following IM admin’n.  Seeds — no recorded risks with designated dosages.  Susceptible patients may experience irritation of GI tract;  kidney function could be decreased;  skin itching has been observed.  IV admin’n of Aescin can lead to anaphylactic reaction.  Intake of larger quantities of horse 

    HORSE CHESTNUT     (Aesculus hippocastanum; Hippocasanaceae, Sapindaceae)

Precautions: (cont)

chestnut seed (one seed or more per 20 lb.) can cause vomiting, diarrhea, severe thirst, reddening of the face, enlarged pupils, vision and consciousness disorders.   (2)

The green outer casing of the fruit is poisonous and narcotic but the toxic principles appear to be neutralized by preroasting.  Toxic symptoms include gastroenteritis, enlarged pupils, drowsiness, and flushing of the skin.

A related species, California buckeye  (Aesculus californica), was reported to cause abortions in cattle. Although considered poison unless fully ripened and properly leached, it was used by the local Native Americans as a remedy for rheumatic aches and toothache.   (6)     

Roast seeds to neutralize toxins.   (13)

Peel off toxic seed-coating if making large quantities.   (15)

Chop seeds and roast before use — aescin is poorly absorbed in its natural state. (38)

The tannins in horse chestnut tend to increase water absorption in the stool if taken orally;  thereby contributing to constipation.  Because of relatively high toxicity, it is important to monitor dosages carefully.   (56)

Rarely, internal use may cause stomach upset.  Occasional nausea and itching reported.  Controlled-release forms (or, presumably, smaller more frequent doses) can reduce chance of stomach upset.  No known drug interactions.   (61)

Known to have anticoagulant activity (via the coumarin complex) — use with care when taking herbs or drugs with anti-platelet activity (such as aspirin or ginkgo).  Anti-platelet principles potentiate the danger of bleeding disorder contingent upon anticoagulants.  If you are taking large amounts, have your bleeding time measured by your doctor as a precaution.    (1b)

Tincturing Process: Vita Mix:(Speed 5)–Place dry horse chestnut slightly above blades in VM container.

      Process 120-150 seconds. For best concentration, tincture 2 lbs dry horse chestnut         in 72-75 oz menstruum utilizing (1) 2-qt and (1) 1-qt  mason jar. Alcohol: 50%   (1a)

Applications: Varicose vein/ hemorrhoid tea:  1/2 oz each, powdered horse chestnut, hawthorn berries and flowers, ginkgo leaf, butcher’s broom, hot water to cover herbs;  steep 5 min;  strain;  drink.  Same herbs can be combined in tincture form. (29)

Poultice:  moisten powdered nuts or bark with hot water and apply the paste directly to hemorrhoids or to varicose veins.    (56)


Dosage:  30-150 mg aescin   (2);  The bark is boiled using one ounce to a pint of water. Not more than a tablespoonful is given three or four times daily.  The fruit is usually made into a liquid extract or tincture of which 5‑20 drops are given 3 or 4 times daily.    (6);  1/2 tsp powdered leaf or nuts daily.   (13)

2.5 ml tincture 3 x daily;  use a dilute tincture for compresses. (15)

90-150 mg aescins daily;  but following improvement, this may be reduced to 35-70 mg daily. (60)

General Notes:  Varicose veins and hemorrhoids both occur when circulating blood slows down as it fights gravity on its journey back to the heart, and the extra load stretches weak veins.  Weak muscle in the legs can exacerbate the problem.  Because estrogen weakens veins, women get varicose veins about 

4x as often as men.  Also certain enzymes reduce veins’ elasticity;  these run in higher levels in people with varicose veins.  Enlarged veins can even indicate liver trouble, since surface veins carry higher traffic when the liver is congested.  Varicose veins may leak, which can make the skin itch.  “Sclerotherapy” operations can eliminate the vein, but then other veins must carry the blood, and they may enlarge.  Horse chestnut strengthens the veins and makes them less porous, as do ginkgo biloba and hawthorn.  Numerous studies demonstrate ginkgo reduces discoloration of varicose veins.  

[Does ginkgo actually reduce porosity of veins, or simply thin the blood and thereby increase circulation? 

— Cayuga Botanicals Research Note]  Gotu kola also improves structure of v.v.’s, increases circulation, strengthens connective tissue.  Studies also show ginkgo and gotu kola are synergistic, and are more effective and better tolerated than tribenoside, the standard prescription for v.v.’s.  Butcher’s broom also strengthens veins, reduces porosity, according to research in France and Germany.  Numerous studies attest the dramatic potency of anthocyanidins.  Proanthocyanidins increase intercellular vitamin C and collagen. (29)

The name, horse chestnut, may refer to the use of its fruits as fodder, and to treat coughs in horses and cattle.  Not to be confused with edible chestnuts, Castanea sativa.    (38)

Germany’s Commission E endorses horse chestnut for treatment of varicose veins.  Standardized extracts not yet widely available in US.  5-10% of the active constituents are absorbed if taken orally.  (56)

Information regarding transdermal absorption of aescin is lacking;  also, because hemorrhoids are caused by dysfunction in both venous and arterial circulation, the efficacy of a topical hemorrhoidal application would be hard to quantify. (60)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals  Research Data

(1a) ibid “Horse Chestnut ” Tincture file

(1b)  ibid Research Data, “The Herb-Drug Mix” by Robert Rountree, M.D., Herbs for Health,

Jul/Aug ’99, pgs. 52-54

 (2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 613-614

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 337-338

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 206

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, p. 232

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 161

(29) Herbs for Health and Healing by Kathi Keville, pgs. 72-75

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, p. 230

(54) Medicinal Herb Handbook by Feather Jones, p. 8

(56) The Green Pharmacy  by James A. Duke, Ph.D, pgs. 252, 445-46

(60) Herbs of Choice by Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D, pgs. 112-13

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 116-17


PHOTO: Wikipedia