Welcome to Trees as Healers

Hi. This is a blog about the healing power of trees. It is a collaborative venture between Donald Purves, (http://wildindigoherbal.wordpress.com) a Traditional Herbalist of more than 20 years' standing, and Rukshana Afia (http://rukshanaafia.wordpress.com), a visual artist who has worked for many years in textiles and ceramics.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Horse Chestnut - the Consolidator

The Conker tree
40 foot tall Horse Chestnut tree, September colouring
Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), with its “conkers” is the quintessential Autumn tree in Britain though it is not truly native, having been introduced in the late 17th Century from the Balkans.  There is, therefore, little British folk tradition of medicinal use, though the game of conkers dates back to the 1850s, according to the Encyclopedia (sic) of Traditional British Rural Sports cited by Wikipedia.  (Kids have always bashed things on strings against one another I suspect, and Vamplew suggests that conkers replaced hazelnuts and even snails.  In South East Scotland in the 1960’s, outside “cheggie” season, we used lolly sticks, each player attempting to karate chop their opponent’s stick with their own)

Horse Chestnuts endangered
Imposing trees, which are  up to 118 feet tall, with spreading branches and classic palmate leaves,
Looking up through summer leaves
 Horse Chestnuts in Britain are threatened both by “bleeding canker” a bacterial infection, and infestation by leaf-mining larvae of a moth.
(See http://conkertreescience.org.uk/) Both problems weaken the trees and the leaf-mining insects cause early browning of the leaves in late summer and early autumn. (Watch a video here).

The Healing Effects of Horse Chestnut
One etymology of the name Horse Chestnut is that the seeds were used in a hot mash for horses with bronchitis in Turkey and the Balkans, regions where the tree is native.  
 (I wonder if it significant that the Horse Chestnut leaf-miner moth was first seen in Europe in Macedonia – maybe it is Aesculus’ natural herbivore but has taken 300 years to catch up with it!  Is there a predator that could follow too?) 

Horse Chestnut is an astringent tonic for the blood vessels, especially the veins.  By improving venous return of blood to the heart, and by improving the tone of peripheral veins, especially in the lower legs and rectum, Aesculus relieves varicose veins and haemorrhoids respectively and reduces the oedema (fluid swelling of tissue) resulting from Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI).  Several clinical pharmacology trials of a Horse Chestnut Seed Extract (HCSE) preparation containing aescin conclude that aescin is at least as good as compression therapy (support stockings) in controlling the lower leg oedema of CVI.  (Pittler 1998).  However, these studies are typical examples of the way in which orthodox medical science equates a herb, e.g. Horse Chestnut, with the purported active ingredient, aescin, as if the two were interchangeable.  Herbalists prefer to use whole spectrum extracts; in the case of Horse Chestnut, decoctions or tinctures of the fresh or dried nut.  We use the physical actions of plants to bring about physical healing but also acknowledge that there is no mind, body, spirit split and the effects of medicinal plants go beyond the physical.
In my thesis on the use of tree remedies, I collated impressions of Horse Chestnut from more than two dozen practising herbalists and the consensus was that it consolidates strength and power, it is grounding and it gives a strong sense of place.
The Bach Flower Remedy White Chestnut is prepared from the flowers of Aesculus hippocastanum.  It is indicated for anxiety and agitation, specifically “inability to prevent thoughts going round mind like a hamster on a wheel” (Hyne Jones 1984)  Chestnut Bud flower essence, prepared from the unopened flower buds is specific for “failure to learn from past mistakes” (Hyne Jones 1984).
So, on a prosaic level, Horse Chestnut can sort out your dodgy veins but it can also strengthen and tonify the body as a whole and, mentally, or as Bach would have said, on a soul level, it can pull together your scattered wits!

The common factor to all these applications of Aesculus is that it “brings things together”

Horse Chestnut - the grand consolidator
Hyne Jones, T W (Revised Edition 1984) “ Dictionary of the Bach Flower Remedies – Positive and Negative Aspects”  C W Daniel, Saffron Walden, Essex, England.

Pittler, Max & Ernst, Edzard (Nov 1998) “Horse Chestnut Seed Extract for Chronic Venous Insufficiency – A Criteria-Based Systematic Review”  Arch Dermatol  Vol 134
Purves, Donald A (2003) “Is there a difference between herbal medicines derived from trees (tree remedies) and those derived from other plants?”  MSc thesis Scottish School of Herbal Medicine. Accessible at http://wildindigoherbal.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/sshm-thesis.pdf

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