The horse chestnut, or Aesculus hippocastanum, is a tree that is not at all related to the chestnut tree. It is native to Asia, but is now grown widely throughout Europe and the United States, primarily for its ornamental qualities. In a medicinal capacity, horse chestnut has been used to treat many different conditions, including enlarged prostate, stomach cramps, bruises, various forms of arthritis, ear infections, hemorrhoids and ringing in the ears.
You’ll find several different preparations of horse chestnut in stores that sell herbs. Some of these preparations are oral; others come in a cream or gel that is directly applied to the skin. Of these, the cream or gel appears most popular, and is widely used in Europe to treat varicose veins or Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which can cause the legs to swell, create fatigue or pain in the leg, cause varicose veins, and put people at risk for developing blood clots in the legs.
For this specific purpose, horse chestnut has been approved by many Western medicine agencies, and receives a grade A in effectiveness from the US National Institute of Health. Significant studies have been done on humans that show the extract of the seeds does help people with CVI, which in the US is normally treated by wearing compression stockings. Research suggests seed extract and compression socks are approximately equal in effectiveness for treating CVI.
Despite the benefits of horse chestnut, it is extremely important that you do not make your own herb preparations from available trees. Just about every part of the horse chestnut is poisonous and needs to be soaked in lime water prior to being used as an herbal remedy. In fact, there have been numerous cases of both children and animals either sickening or dying after eating these bitter chestnut seeds, and the use of the herb is contraindicated in people under 18.
There are a variety of reasons why horse chestnut may not be the right herbal remedy for you. If you take blood thinners, this herbal preparation may cause extensive bleeding and is too risky to take. People with hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, and those with diabetes may want to discuss taking this medication with a doctor first. In animal studies, horse chestnut has been shown to lower blood sugar, and might cause dangerous reactions. Some people are allergic to the seeds on Aesculus hippocastanum, and if tinctures of the herb are injected intramuscularly, there is danger of anaphylactic shock reactions. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should not use this herbal remedy in any form.
It is extremely important to discuss any use of this medication with a licensed medical professional prior to beginning using it. It should be noted that side effects are rare, especially during short term use, and that most people over 18, without the health problems or conditions mentioned above have no side effects whatsoever from this medication and find it proves beneficial. From a strictly scientific standpoint, clinical studies have only supported the claim that this herbal preparation actually works in the treatment of CVI.