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The horse chestnut tree grows 80 feet (25 meters) tall with leaves in clusters of 5 to 7 and white flower spikes growing at the ends of its branches. The plant is called "horse" chestnut because its seeds are edible for horses, but not humans. The tree is chiefly grown for ornamental purposes, in towns and private gardens and in parks, and along streets. The horse chestnut is not related to the edible chestnut, an entirely different plant.
Horse chestnut trees originated in northern India and Greece but are now cultivated throughout Europe. A variety of the tree is known as buckeye in the United States. The horse chestnut plant is not related to the edible chestnut, which is actually part of the oak family. Horse chestnut is relatively new to the U.S. herbal products market. However, it is gaining popularity because of numerous clinical studies done in Germany since the 1960's showing that it is safe and effective for treating varicose veins, inadequate vein strength, and related disorders. Currently, it is the third best selling herbal product in Germany behind Ginkgo and St Johns Wort.
Traditionally the leaves and bark are used as a tea, and can also be used to make tinctures, creams, and infusions, however the whole nut is preferable over the leaf and bark when it is to be used for external applications. The whole nuts are poisonous and are only to be used for external application, unless by a qualified practitioner.
Mild stomach upset may occur with the very first dose, however it usually goes away and does not recur. The whole nuts are not for internal use, unless administered by a qualified practitioner. Not recommended while pregnant.
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