Herb: Sweet Buckeye

Latin name: Aesculus flava

Synonyms: Aesculus lutea, Aesculus octandra

Family: Hippocastanaceae (Horse-chestnut Family)

Edible parts of Sweet Buckeye:

Seed - cooked. Said to be as sweet as a chestnut. We have only eaten the immature seed, harvested in late August, but these were very tasty with no noticeable bitterness. The seed can be up to 45mm in diameter and is easily harvested. It can be dried, ground into a flour and used as a gruel. The seed contains saponins and needs to be leached of these toxins before it becomes safe to eat - the North American Indians would do this by slow-roasting the nuts (which would have rendered the saponins harmless) and then cutting them into thin slices, putting them into a cloth bag and rinsing them in a stream for 2 - 5 days. The resulting product is said to be tasty and nutritious, though most of the minerals etc would have been leached out. The flowers contain a sweet nectar which is delicious when sucked out.

Description of the plant:


20 m
(66 feet)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Rich river-bottoms and mountain slopes. Woodland on moist rich soils

Other uses of Sweet Buckeye:

Saponins in the seed are used as a soap substitute. The saponins can be easily obtained by chopping the seed into small pieces and infusing them in hot water. This water can then be used for washing the body, clothes etc. Its main drawback is a lingering odour of horse chestnuts. Wood - very soft, light, close grained, difficult to split. It weighs 27lb per cubic foot. It is used for making artificial limbs, wooden ware, pulp etc, and is occasionally sawn into lumber.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown outdoors or in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. The seed germinates almost immediately and must be given protection from severe weather. The seed has a very limited viability and must not be allowed to dry out. Stored seed should be soaked for 24 hours prior to sowing and even after this may still not be viable. It is best to sow the seed with its "scar" downwards. If sowing the seed in a cold frame, pot up the seedlings in early spring and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer.

Cultivation of Sweet Buckeye:

Rich river-bottoms and mountain slopes. Woodland on moist rich soils

Medicinal use of the herb:

None known

Known hazards of Aesculus flava:

The seed is rich in saponins. Although poisonous, saponins are poorly absorbed by the human body and so most pass through without harm. Saponins are quite bitter and can be found in many common foods such as some beans. They can be removed by carefully leaching the seed or flour in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of food that contain saponins. Saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.