The chestnut tree is native to Asia Minor, and it has been cultivated from ancient times. Greeks and Romans spread it all over Europe, and later, it was introduced to America.
The chestnut tree is in no hurry to grow. It begins bearing fruit at age 25 or 30 and reaches its mature age after 100 or 150 years. Some chestnut trees are supposed to have lived more than one thousand years. Human beings pass away too quickly. Trees live much longer than we do! When I see a chestnut tree, besides enjoying its beauty and gentle shadow, I cannot help feeling small before its majestic and ancient appearance.
Who doesn’t feel attracted by the aroma of roasted chestnuts? Chestnut trees also give us a lesson of patience. Their green fruits are protected by a thorny layer, which tells people and animals that the time to open them has not come yet. Only when chestnuts are ripe and can be eaten does this layer open.
Chestnut Tree Scientific Facts
- Scientific synonyms: Fagus castanea L., Castanea vulgaris Lam., Castanea vesca Gaertner.
- Other names: Sweet chestnut, Spanish chestnut.
- French: Chataignier.
- Spanish: Castano.
- Environment: It does not grow in calcareous soils but mountainous regions. Very common in Central and Southern Europe and America.
- Description: Large, thick-trunked tree of the Fagaceae family, growing up to 20 m high. Its deciduous leaves are lanceolated and toothed, growing isolated, unlike the horse chestnut, which grows in groups of five. The fruits, chestnuts grow in groups of two or three units inside a thorny case.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The bark, the leaves, and seeds (chestnuts).
Healing Properties and Indications
The bark of this tree, and in a lesser amount its leaves, are rich in tannin, besides containing sugars, pectin, essential oil, and other active components. Their most outstanding properties are two:
- Astringent, that is, they dry and reduce the inflammation of mucous membranes. Thus, they are helpful to stop acute diarrhea and make mouth rinses and gargles for oral and throat inflammation.
- Antitussive. Both locally applied as gargles and herbal teas, they ease persistent coughs caused by any upper respiratory tract irritation (bechic properties). The bark and leaves of the chestnut tree are also successfully used for whooping cough.
Chestnuts are rich in sugars (more than 40 percent) and contain small amounts of fats and proteins, vitamins A, B, and C, and mineral salts. Their most interesting properties are:
- They provide alkalizer substances, which neutralize an excess of acid in the blood and promote its elimination via urine. This is especially useful for rheumatism caused by an excess of uric acid (arthritis) and for those people who have meat-based diets.
- They have meager amounts of sodium (1 mg per 100 g of edible part) but a high amount of potassium (710 mg per 100 g of edible portion). They are thus recommended in the diets of people suffering from high blood pressure and heart disease.
How to use Chestnuts
- Decoction with 50 g of ground bark and 50 g of leaves per liter of water. This decoction can also be made only with leaves, in a proportion of 100 g per liter of water. Boil 15 minutes, then strain and sweeten with honey. Drink three or four cups daily until the diarrhea stops or coughing disappear.
- Chestnuts can be taken raw, roasted, or cooked. With boiled and mashed chestnuts, you can prepare a nutritious puree for children.
- Rinsings and gargles. With the same decoction employed in internal use. If desired, it can be sweetened with honey.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 495,496. Print.