Now that it is conker season and people have discovered ‘Viking soap’ there seems to be concern on the social media over Horse chestnut toxicity. The natural constituent aescin, is a saponin, which lathers up into a soap. Although saponins are potentially toxic, they are commonly found in foods such as oats, spinach, beetroot, chickpeas and asparagus, and are poorly absorbed by the human body, so that only our gastric membranes can be mildly affected. After prescribing Horse chestnut to hundreds of people, I have never known anyone to have any side effects, but the benefits have been considerable.
Modern medical herbalists use the Horse chestnut seeds particularly for conditions of the veins. The seeds tighten the veins, helping to tone those which have become distended and formed varicose veins or haemorrhoids (piles). We prescribe the plant in small doses for varicose veins, phlebitis, leg ulcers, and haemorrhoids.
Conversely the herb also improves the permeability of the capillaries, allowing fluid reabsorption, so that it is also anti-inflammatory and useful for fluid accumulation. I have used the plant very successfully for reducing the swellings of injuries to knees or for ankle oedema.
By strengthening the blood vessel walls, Horse chestnut can reduce histamine release and inflammation which helps to control allergies.
In the past, the leaves were made into a tea to treat whooping cough, and the Sweet Chestnut leaves are used for the same purpose. Recent research into infertility in men with varicocele (enlargement of the veins inside the scrotum) found that taking horse chestnut seed extract increased sperm density and sperm motility.
Make your own Viking Soap:
Now rather dashingly called ‘Viking Soap’, Horse Chestnuts have been used in Europe for washing bodies and clothing for eons.
I decided to try it and chopped up 12 conkers. Some people grate them, or bash them with a hammer. Next, I placed the crushed conkers in a saucepan with some hot water and left them to extract overnight.
In the morning, the water had turned milky white. I then strained the conkers from the liquid and used the liquid to wash a load of linen – which it did a very good job of.
This is a great option for those who have allergies to washing powders, and the conkers can be collected and stored for use all year. This is a lovely environmentally friendly option to use instead of washing powders – however…saponins are very poisonous to fish. I haven’t yet had the time to research what happens to saponins once leached into the water. Perhaps they degrade very quickly – if anyone knows, I would be very interested to know.
Nonetheless, it is unlikely that sufficient people will be using Viking Soap to negatively impact on the environment – the impact is much more likely to be positive.