How to Use those Conkers, the Seeds of the Horse Chestnut Tree
We have a horse chestnut tree growing just over the wall adjoining our home - and we call it the "gift that keeps on giving"!
It is very old and throughout the year, drops in turn: blossoms (spring), little leaves (summer), seeds (conkers) in their spikey covering (early autumn) and then mountains of leaves (late autumn). These leaves ideally should be saved in bags or wire cages to provide leaf mold for adding to garden soil after a few months.
Conkers are a lovely large brown and tactile seed - and they can be put to good use once you have collected them and they are no longer contained in their spikey cases.
The game of conkers
Conkers is a traditional children's game in Great Britain and Ireland played using the seeds of horse chestnut trees - the name 'conker' is also applied to the seed and to the tree itself.
The game is played by two players, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string: they take turns striking each other's conker until one breaks...
Find out more about playing the game here.
Bowls of conkers in the home
Not only an attractive autumnal display but apparently, they could have a use too if you are one of those who is scared of spiders and does not want them in your home.
The story goes that conkers contain a noxious chemical that repels spiders but no-one’s ever been able to scientifically prove it. Other legends point to the fact that they have seen spiders happily crawling over conkers with no ill effects at all.
And then you can use conkers as soap nuts
Soap nuts are an environmentally friendly and natural way to wash your laundry - and they can be made from conkers.
Here is how to do it:
- When you have collected your batch of conkers, cut them into small pieces (for example, a large one can be cut in half while a smaller one into four pieces).
- Dry them in a low oven until they no longer feel tacky or moist to touch. This can take up to five hours but in the interests of energy saving, add them whenever you have just finished using the oven for something else.
- Store in an airtight container.
- When it is time to use them, put two to three tablespoons in a mesh bag and pop into your washing machine at the start of the washing program in the normal way.
- The soap nuts can be used up to three times.
How the horse chestnut gets its name
It is said that the horse chestnut is so named because its seeds were once used to treat ailments in horses. It turns out that aescin, which can be extracted from conkers, has anti-inflammatory properties and is an effective remedy for sprains and bruises for humans.
The value of the horse chestnut to wildlife
The flowers provide a rich source of nectar and pollen for insects, particularly bees. Caterpillars of the triangle moth feed on its leaves, as does the horse chestnut leaf-miner moth whose caterpillars provide food for blue tits. Deer and other mammals eat the conkers.