A deciduous flowering tree, the horse chestnut, known botanically as aesculus hippocastanum, contains medicinal properties when ingested properly. Improper ingestion can result in severe health effects. Horse chestnuts should not be confused with Spanish chestnut (castanea sativa) which can be safely consumed and is often roasted during the winter holidays.
Raw Horse Chestnuts
The seeds, bark, flowers and leaves of the horse chestnut contain high amounts of the poison esculin, making these trees toxic. Never consume any part of this plant in its raw form. Signs of poisoning consist of an upset stomach, kidney problems, muscle twitching, weakness, loss of coordination, enlarged eye pupils, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, paralysis and stupor. If you ingest a raw horse chestnut, seek immediate medical attention. Horse chestnut poisoning can lead to death; consume only processed horse chestnuts. Cooking them will not remove the poison.
When horse chestnuts are processed into extract or tea, the dangerous toxins are removed and you can safely ingest the horse chestnut product, reaping its benefits. Horse chestnuts thin your blood and make it difficult for blood to seep out of your veins and capillaries. This helps treat varicose veins and phlebitis (swollen veins). It also helps ease some of the symptoms related to poor blood circulation resulting in pain, fatigue, itching and water retention.
Low Blood Sugar
Eating treated horse chestnuts may lower your blood sugar levels, especially if you suffer from diabetes. Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, can cause chills, cold sweats, blurred vision, vertigo, drowsiness, shaking, rapid heartbeat, headaches, fainting, a tingling sensation in your hands or feet and hunger. If you are diabetic and using horse chestnut extract, look for these signs of low blood sugar and monitor your blood sugar closely.
Negative Side Effects
Even though ingesting treated horse chestnuts such as seed extract or bark tea is no longer dangerous, consuming them may still cause negative side effects in some people. You may experience dizziness, headache, itching or an upset stomach. Since eating horse chestnuts aggravates the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, this food can also worsen bowel or stomach disorders. You can find treated horse chestnut products at health food stores or online retailers.