Herb: Indian Horse Chestnut


Latin name: Aesculus indica


Synonyms: Pavia indica


Family: Hippocastanaceae (Horse-chestnut Family)



Medicinal use of Indian Horse Chestnut:

The seed is astringent, acrid and narcotic. An oil from the seed is applied externally in the treatment of skin disease and rheumatism. The juice of the bark is also used to treat rheumatism. A paste made from the oil cake is applied to the forehead to relieve headaches. The seed is given to horses suffering from colic. It is also used as an anthelmintic on horses to rid them of intestinal parasites.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Tree

Height:
30 m
(98 feet)

Flovering:
June
to July

Habitat of the herb:

Wet temperate forests and shady ravines to 3,000 metres.

Edible parts of Indian Horse Chestnut:

Seed - cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed is roasted then eaten in Nepal. It is also dried then ground into a flour and used with wheat flour to develop the flavour when making bread. The seed is quite large, about 35mm in diameter, and is easily harvested. Unfortunately it also contains toxic saponins and these need to be removed before it can be eaten. The seed is used as an emergency food in times of famine when all else fails. It is dried and ground into a powder, this is then soaked in water for about 12 hours before use in order to remove the bitter saponins and can be used to make a "halva". It is estimated that mature trees yield about 60kg of seeds per annum in the wild. See also the notes above on toxicity.

Other uses of the herb:

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 - soft, close grained. Used for construction, cases, spoons, cups etc.

Propagation of Indian Horse Chestnut:

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 the herb:

Wet temperate forests and shady ravines to 3,000 metres.

Known hazards of Aesculus indica:

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.