Herb: Moreton Bay Chestnut

Latin name: Castanospermum australe

Family: Leguminosae

Medicinal use of Moreton Bay Chestnut:

The seed yields compounds called castanospermine that are under investigation as HIV inhibitors and might be useful in the treatment of AIDS. The seedpods are astringent.

Description of the plant:


18 m
(59 feet)

to October


Habitat of the herb:

Rainforests and on the banks of creeks, usually in good rich moist soils.

Edible parts of Moreton Bay Chestnut:

Seed - cooked. The fresh raw seed contains high levels of saponins and can be harmful. The cooked seed tastes like a sweet chestnut. It probably requires considerable leeching before it is safe to eat. The Australian aborigines finely sliced the seeds and soaked them in running water for 10 days before roasting them and grinding them into a powder. This powder could be stored for later use. The seeds are about 3 - 4.5cm wide and are carried in pods 10 - 25cm long and containing 3 - 5 seeds.

Other uses of the herb:

The seeds have a high saponin content. Although the report does not elaborate, the saponins could probably be used as a soap substitute. Wood - durable, resists decay, hard, heavy, polishes well, has a high resistance to the passage of electric current. Used in construction, cabinet making, carving etc.

Propagation of Moreton Bay Chestnut:

Seed - we have no details on this species but would recommend sowing it in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe (if you can get hold of ripe seed!). Pre-soak stored seed for 24 hours in warm water and sow in a greenhouse. Prick out the seedlings into individual deep pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. Grow them on for at least the first winter in a greenhouse before planting out in the summer. Give the plants some protection from winter cold for their first year or two outdoors.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rainforests and on the banks of creeks, usually in good rich moist soils.

Known hazards of Castanospermum australe:

The immature seed is poisonous, though mature seeds are harmless. Another report says that the raw seed is poisonous and needs treatment to render it edible.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.