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Horse Chestnut

Scientific names: Aesculus hippocastanum, Aesculus californica, Aesculus glabra

Common names: Horse chestnut is also known as chestnut, California buckeye, Ohio buckeye, and buckeye.

Efficacy-safety rating:

ÒÒ...Ethno or other evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...Moderate to serious danger.

What is Horse Chestnut?

Members of the genus Aesculus grow as trees and large shrubs. The fruit is a capsule with a thick, leathery husk that contains the dark nuts. As the husk dries, the nuts are released. The pink and white flowers of the plant grow in clusters. The horse chestnut is native to the Balkan region of southeastern Europe and western Asia, but now is cultivated worldwide. The dried ripe seeds of the plant are of most medicinal interest.

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What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Because of their prevalence, chestnuts have been used in traditional medicine and for a variety of other commercial applications for centuries. Extracts of the bark have been used as a yellow dye, and the wood has been used for furniture and packing cases. In the western United States, the crushed unripe seeds of the California buckeye were scattered into streams to stupefy fish, and leaves were steeped as a tea to remedy congestion. The horse chestnut has been used as a traditional remedy for arthritis and rheumatism, as well as for gynecological bleeding and as a tonic. Even though the seeds are toxic, several traditional methods were employed to rid them of their toxicity. Seeds were buried in swampy, cold ground during the winter to free them of toxic, bitter components, then eaten in the spring after boiling. American Indians roasted, peeled, and mashed the poisonous nuts, then leached the meal in lime water for several days, creating a meal used to make bread.

General uses

Oral horse chestnut seed extract is effective in the short-term treatment of mild to moderate long-term blood flow disorder. The major component aescin has been investigated for its role in weight loss, anti-inflammatory effects, and cancer treatment. Aescin gel has been evaluated for use in bruising.

What is the recommended dosage?

Aescin 20 to 120 mg taken orally has been used for blood flow disorder and is available in tablet form. Oral tinctures and topical gels containing aescin 2% are also available.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

Kidney or liver impairment may contraindicate the use of aescin or horse chestnut derivatives.

Pregnancy/nursing

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Side Effects

The most commonly cited adverse effects include nausea and stomach discomfort, which may be minimized by the use of film-coated tablets. Other mild and infrequent complaints include headache, dizziness, and itching. Rare cases of allergy and severe, whole-body allergic reaction have been reported.

Toxicities

All parts of plants in the Aesculus family are potentially poisonous, especially the seeds. Horse chestnut has been classified by the FDA as an unsafe herb.

References

  1. Horse Chestnut. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; September 2010.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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