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Horse Chestnut

[General information | Benefits of Horse Chestnut | Varicose veins and edema]
[Horse Chestnut in head trauma | Other benefits of Horse Chestnut | References]

Horse chestnut seed is used to improve circulation and to promote the health of the blood vessels. Specifically, horse chestnut seed is used to prevent discomfort and disfigurement from fluid build-up in the legs.1 Horse chestnut seeds contain escin and esculin compounds that protect blood vessels and help prevent accumulation of fluid. Horse chestnut seeds contain antioxidant compounds that strengthen weak or fragile veins.1 Horse chestnut seeds also help block the enzymes that break down blood vessels in the body.2

General Information
[Description | Cultivation | History | Constituents | Toxicity]

Horse Chestnut Description: Horse chestnuts come from a sturdy deciduous tree growing to 80 ft with a large domed crown. Horse chestnut has a smooth gray bark that becomes increasingly scaly with age. Horse chestnut has long-stalked opposite leaves with 5-7 narrowly oval leaflets, white and pink flowers in May-June with yellow or red spots standing erect in terminal clusters 8-15 inches long, and spiny green fruit with up to 3 rounded, shiny brown seeds about 1 ˝ in. across. The buckeye tree is a relative of horse chestnut and a native of North America, but it is not as large or showy as the horse chestnut. Their nuts are similar in size and appearance.

Cultivation: Native to mountain woods in the Balkans and western Asia, the horse chestnut tree is cultivated in temperate regions worldwide. A horse chestnut tree is generally raised from the nuts. Horse chestnut nuts (no comment) should be preserved in sand during the winter, as they may become moldy and rot. If steeped in water, they will germinate more quickly. Horse chestnut will grow a foot the first summer and require little care. Horse chestnut thrives in most soils and situations, but does best in a good, sandy loam. Horse chestnut bark and seeds are collected in autumn. Horse chestnut bark is stripped in the spring and dried in the sun, or by slight artificial heat. Horse chestnut bark is odorless, but has a bitter astringent taste.

History: Horse chestnut was first documented as a medicinal plant in 1565, in Pierandrea Matthioli's translation of Dioscorides' Materia Medica. American Indians of the Northeast used a snuff made from horse chestnuts to relieve cold symptoms and carried the nuts to ward off rheumatism. The crushed unripe seeds of the buckeye were scattered into streams to stupefy fish, making the fish easier to catch.

Constituents: Horse chestnut contains triterpenoid saponins (notably aescin), coumarins (notably aesculin) and flavonoids. There are also tannins, flavones, purines, starch, sugar, albumin and a fatty oil. The bark contains coumarins, glycoside, resin and pigment. Aescin, the main active constituent, has anti-inflammatory properties. In Germany and other European countries, specialized aescin preparations are used because aescin is not easily absorbed from the gut. Because of the high tannin content, the horse chestnut nuts must be shelled, crushed and leached overnight in cold water before they can be used. They are then strained and boiled for half an hour.

Toxicity: Potentially toxic if ingested in raw form. Care should be used for self-treatment except as a lotion, ointment, or gel applied to unbroken skin. If not properly trained, commercial preparations are best used.

Benefits of Horse Chestnut

  • Horse chestnut strengthens vein walls, increases elasticity, and decreases permeability (leakage).
  • Horse chestnut decreases edema -- swelling caused by accumulation of fluid in the veins.
  • Horse chestnut reduces venous inflammation.
  • Horse chestnut stimulates circulation.
  • Horse chestnut treats hemorrhoids (traditional).

Varicose Veins and Edema
Research has shown that horse chestnut is an astringent, an anti-inflammatory, and an aid to toning the vein walls, which, when slack or distended, may become varicose, hemorrhoidal, or otherwise problematic. Horse chestnut also reduces fluid retention by acting on the connective tissue barrier between blood vessels and tissue, where nutrients and gases diffuse. Horse chestnut inhibits exudation and the development of edema and reducing vascular fragility. The wall of the vein becomes less permeable, and this inhibits edema and allows the re-absorption of excess fluid back into the circulatory system.

One study suggested that horse chestnut was as effective as mechanical compression with bandages and stockings, although the study was not double-blind. In several similar trials, results were seen within 2 weeks and were maintained for at least 6 weeks after horse chestnut treatment ended.3 Research suggests that mean edema volume can be reduced by up to 25% over a 12-week period. Additional edema reductions may be possible when treatment is extended.4

Horse chestnut bark (this can be confusing, as dogs bark, but horses whinney) can be used to reduce fever. Historically, horse chestnut herb has been taken internally in small to moderate doses for leg ulcers, varicose veins, phlebitis, inflammation of the veins, hemorrhoids, and frostbite, and horse chestnut has been applied externally as a lotion, ointment, or gel. Horse chestnut seed extract also stops the enzymes that break down damaged veins (along with the enzyme bromelain from pineapple and gotu kola). After only 12 days of taking horse chestnut, the level of these enzymes has dropped by up to by one-quarter. Research trials have shown that application of a topical escin (aescin) gel from horse chestnut, reduced the pain of injection hematoma.

Horse Chestnut in Head Trauma
A clinical study of 142 accident victims with severe cranio-cerebral trauma found that intravenous injections of the horse chestnut constituent aescin over a period of several days were more beneficial than steroid therapy alone in reducing intra-cranial pressure and lowering mortality rates. Follow-up examinations 2 to 3.5 years after the accident showed that individuals in the aescin group had a higher rehabilitation rate, compared to those who only received steroids.5

Other Benefits of Horse Chestnut
Horse chestnut seeds have been employed in the treatment of rheumatism and neuralgia and also in rectal complaints and for hemorrhoids. In France, an oil extracted from the horse chestnut seeds has been used externally for rheumatism. For painful cramps in the legs at night recommended dosage is 20 drops or more of a standardized horse chestnut preparation at night.

Japanese scientists found that horse chestnut (along with witch hazel, rosemary and sage) having sufficient antioxidant activity to have potential against wrinkles. Soothing and astringent salves containing horse chestnut and these other herbs can be mixed for use. In the US, a decoction of horse chestnut leaves has been given for whooping cough.


  1. Bombardelli E, Morazzoni P. Aesculus hippocastanum L. Fitoterapia. 1996;67:483-511.
  2. Facino RM, Carini M, Stefani R, Aldini G, Saibene L. Anti-elastase and anti-hyaluronidase activities of saponins and sapongenins from Hedera helix, Aesculus hippocastanum, and Ruscus aculeatus: factors contributing to their efficacy in the treatment of venous insufficiency. Arch Pharm. 1995;328:720-724.
  3. Pittler MH, Ernest E. Horse chestnut seed extract for chronic venous insufficiency. Archives of Dermatology 1998; 134; 1356-1360.
  4. Diehm C, Trampish HJ, Lange S, et al. Comparison of leg compression stocking and oral horse chestnut seed extract therapy in patients with chronic venous insufficiency. The Lancet 1996; 347: 292-294.
  5. Put T. Advances in the conservative treatment of acute traumatic cerebral edema [in German]. Munch Medizinische Wochenschrift 1979; 121(31): 1019-1022.

An Elders' Herbal, David Hoffmann, Healing Arts Press, 1993; ISBN: 0-89281-396-2
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Andrew Chevallier, Dorling Kindersley, 1997; ISBN: 0-7894-1067-2
The Green Pharmacy, James A. Duke, Rodale, 1997; ISBN: 0-87596-316-1 Herbal Medicine, Rudolf Fritz Weiss, distributed by Medicina Biologica, 1988; ISBN: 0-906584-19-1
Herbs for Health and Healing, Kathi Keville, Rodale, 1997; ISBN: 0-87596-293-9
Magic and Medicine of Plants, Reader's Digest, 1986; ISBN: 0-89577-221-3 A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve, Dover, 1971; ISBN: 0-486-22798-7

Reprinted with exclusive permission from The Herb Growing & Marketing Network (THGMN), excerpted from HERBALPEDIA™, brought to you by THGMN, PO Box 245, Silver Spring, PA 17575-0245; 717-393-3295; FAX: 717-393-9261; email: URL: and Editor: Maureen Rogers. Copyright 2000. All rights reserved. Material herein is derived from journals, textbooks, etc. THGMN cannot be held responsible for the validity of the information contained in any reference noted herein, for the misuse of information or any adverse effects by use of any stated material presented.

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