The horse chestnut is native to the Balkan peninsula in southeast Europe, and in particular the Pindus mountains mixed forests and the Balkan mixed forests (Little 1980; “Herbs at a Glance”, 2008).
In the 1600s, the horse chestnut was introduced in Britain, and from there eventually spread to the rest of Europe and North America (“The Woodland Trust”).
The beloved game of Conkers got its start in the late 1700s. It was developed from a similar game called “Conquerors” which was played with hazelnuts, cobnuts, or snail shells. Soon, children throughout England and Ireland were playing Conkers in school yards, developing the game and adding rules as they went along.
During both World War I and World War II, the British government called for a collection of conkers because they serve as a source of acetone, which is used to make cordite, which is then used in military armaments. The government offered monetary rewards for a given weight of conkers collected (“Conkers - Collected for Use in Two World Wars”).
In 1965, two men got a group together after they had been drinking at a local bar, and they held the very first ever World Conker Championships, which are now held every year at the Ashton Conker Club (“The History of Ashton Conker Club”).
Extract from the horse chestnut seed has been used both orally and topically to treat hemorrhoids and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a condition in which the veins do not sufficiently pump blood from the legs back to the heart. The active ingredient is usually 16-20% aescin. There is some evidence that suggests aescin is even more effective in treating CVI than the standard treatment, wearing compression socks. There is no evidence supporting its use in treating other conditions. If the extract is not properly processed, the poisonous compound esculin gets left behind. Thus, homemade treatments are not recommended (“Herbs at a Glance”, 2008).
Conkers have long been used to repel spiders, but whether or not they actually repel spiders is still being debated. Some argue that the conkers themselves don’t repel spiders, but that the conkers repel other insects that serve as the spiders’ source of food. Alternatively, the time of year at which conkers fall could just align with the disappearance of spiders and the onset of colder weather (Royal Society of Chemistry). The conkers are also used in wardrobes to ward against moths (“All About Conkers”).
The horse chestnut’s timber is not used commercially because it it too weak. However, its smooth texture and pale creamy white color make it ideal for carving (“The Woodland Trust”).
Aesculus hippocastanum is also a favorite subject for bonsai, the Japanese art form involving growing miniature versions of trees in a pot (“Bonsai Training Guide”).