I am not sure if my North American correspondents are aware of what conkers are? In case you are scratching your collective heads, conkers are the nut of the Horse Chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum.
According to my current favourite herby planty lore book, a recent purchase when we were on holiday in Canada, it is an introduced ornamental tree. But luckily the parts of it have lots of healing properties. In fact it is used in 2 Bach Flower Remedies.
The tree itself can grow up to 130 feet tall, and has palmate leaves and huge white candelabras of frothy white-pink flowers in the spring. The conkers, an auburn coloured nut, form and fall in the autumn, and generations of schoolchildren have played a school yard game using them strung on a piece of string to see whose conker was strongest. Sadly Health & Safety rules have got in the way of them these days, which is a shame because my husband has many happy memories of playing conkers.
So what can horse chestnut trees be used for? Their good looks mean they have been a municipal tree of choice for planting on streets and avenues, and apparently their bark makes an emergency quinine substitute. The flower buds can be used to flavour beer, and conkers produce a good soapy lather for shampoo and to clean clothes, and into the bargain they stop mould and repel moths. If you have been plagued by those enormous garden spiders that are around this autumn, then putting conkers by the door and hung up in corners can help dissuade them from taking up residence in the first place.
In this year of First World War commemorations, it was interesting to find out that conkers were also used for explosives. Apparently they are a source of acetone and it was that chemical required for the explosives. Schoolchildren collected over 3000 tons of conkers which all went to the war effort.
So, medicinally, what can this anti-mould, anti-creepy crawly, potentially explosive stuff do for your health? It is a leading herbal treatment for weakened veins, including varicose veins, haemorrhoids, and acne rosacea. It might also be an alternative to Botox as it tightens the skin and reduces fluid retention and Oedema.
My little book provides a couple of recipes for using conkers to make tinctures, oils and even a lotion for the treatment of varicose veins, thread veins and fragile capillaries. I don’t think I am going to provide them in this blog post though… I might bring it back as a topic another time.