Horse chestnut comes from a tree that is found throughout the northern hemisphere. The Latin name for horse chestnut is Aesculus hippocastanum. It is related to the Ohio and California buckeye trees, but does not share the same properties and should not be confused with buckeyes.
Why Horse Chestnut is used
Historically, horse chestnut seeds and leaves have been used to treat varicose veins and other vein problems including chronic venous insufficiency. Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when the veins are not effective at carrying blood from the legs back to the heart. This can cause varicose veins as well as pain in the legs, swelling of the ankles, itching, and leg cramping.
Varicose veins are blood vessels that are enlarged and sometimes twisted. When the one-way valves in veins become weak, blood can back-flow past the valve and cause the blood vessel to stretch and swell. Varicose veins are sometimes a simple cosmetic issue because the enlarged veins are visible under the skin, most often on the legs. They can also cause pain and itching, and may lead to inflammation, skin ulcers, and blood clots.
Studies have shown that horse chestnut is helpful in treating chronic venous insufficiency. Some studies even show that horse chestnut is as effective as compression stockings for treating this condition.
Horse chestnut leaf is sometimes used to treat a variety of other conditions including:
• Menstrual pain
• Soft tissue swelling from broken bones and strains
• Joint pain
Horse chestnut tree bark is sometimes also used to treat lupus and skin ulcers. None of these other uses of horse chestnut have been scientifically proven.
How Horse Chestnut is used
Horse chestnut seeds can be processed to make an extract or a topical preparation such as a cream. Do not eat unprocessed or raw horse chestnut, including the seeds, leave, bark, or flowers. Raw horse chestnut contains a substance called esculin which is poisonous. Leaves and twigs can be poisonous if eaten raw or brewed as a tea.
Cautions for Horse Chestnut
If eaten raw, horse chestnut can be deadly. This includes the seeds, bark, flowers, and leaves of the plants. Do not use raw or unprocessed horse chestnut. Other cautions for horse chestnut include:
• Digestive – Horse chestnut can cause gastrointestinal upset including nausea, dizziness, and headaches
• Pregnant - Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take horse chestnut because the possible hazards have not been adequately studied.
• Diabetes – Horse chestnut may lower blood sugar. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar if you take horse chestnut to make sure your sugar doesn’t drop too low.
• Liver – Do not take horse chestnut if you have a liver condition.
• Latex – People who are allergic to latex may also be allergic to horse chestnut.
• Kidneys – Horse chestnut may make kidney disease worse.
• Medications – Horse chestnut may act like a diuretic to remove water from the tissues. This can be harmful for people taking lithium. Horse chestnut may also lower blood sugar, which is a concern for people taking medications to treat diabetes. Taking horse chestnut may increase the risk of bruising or bleeding for people who are taking anticoagulant medications.
Be sure to tell your health care professionals about all the supplements you chose to take, including horse chestnut, to make sure there are no unexpected interactions between supplements and other medications.