Herb latin name: Aesculus parviflora
Synonyms: Aesculus macrostachya, Pavia macrostachya
Family: Hippocastanaceae (Horse-chestnut Family)
Medicinal use of Aesculus parviflora:Antiperiodic, antirheumatic. Used in the treatment of colic, piles, constipation and whooping cough.
Description of the plant:
Habitat of the herb:Wooded bluffs and rich woods, also by streams, on the coastal plain.
Edible parts of Aesculus parviflora:Seed - cooked. It can be dried and ground into a powder and used as a gruel. The seed is quite large and easily harvested, though it is rarely produced in Britain. Unfortunately, it is rich in bitter-tasting saponins and these need to be leached out before the seed can be eaten. See notes on toxicity above. The following notes apply to A. californica, but are probably also relevant here:- The seed needs to be leached of toxins before it becomes safe to eat - the 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. Most of the minerals etc would also have been leached out by this treatment.
Other uses of the herb:Saponins contained in the seed are used 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. Plants can be used as a tall ground cover for large areas of land. They are slow to establish but eventually form large spreading clumps. Wood - easily worked. Used for making water troughs, packing cases, tea boxes, ornamental articles etc.
Propagation of Aesculus parviflora: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. Root cuttings 5 - 7 cm long in December. Store the roots upside down in sand and pot them up in March/April. Grow them on until they are 20cm or more tall and then plant them out into their permanent positions, preferably in late spring or early summer after the last expected frosts. Division of suckers in the dormant season. The suckers can be planted out direct into their permanent positions if required.
Cultivation of the herb:Wooded bluffs and rich woods, also by streams, on the coastal plain.
Known hazards of Aesculus parviflora: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.