Deciduous tree growing to a height of 100 ft (30 m). Has smooth silver-grey bark, lance-shaped dark green leaves, male and female catkins, and spiny yellow-green seed cases containing 2–3 glossy brown nuts.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus, sweet chestnut grows freely across Europe, including Britain. It is cultivated for its timber and for its nuts, which are collected in the autumn.
Sweet chestnut contains tannins, plastoquinones, and mucilage.
History & Folklore
Tradition has it that the sweet chestnut tree was carried from Turkey to Sardinia and from there it subsequently spread through Europe, arriving in Britain with the Romans. The nuts are a nutritious foodstuff that can be roasted, candied, or made into a flour. The flowers are sometimes added to blends of aromatic tobaccos.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
An infusion of sweet chestnut leaves is taken to treat whooping cough, bronchitis and bronchial congestion. The preparation tightens the mucous membranes and inhibits racking coughs. A decoction of leaves or bark is also valuable as a gargle for sore throats, and may be taken for diarrhea. The leaves are used in the treatment of rheumatic conditions, to ease lower back pain and also to relieve stiff joints or muscles.
The Mohicans in North America used an infusion obtained from American chestnut leaves (C. dentata) to treat whooping cough. In his Natural History of North Carolina (1737), John Brickell reports that the “leaves or bark of the tree boiled in wine are good against the bloody flux [excessive bleeding].”