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Reducing or eliminating toxicity in horse chestnut and buckeye....?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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Was marveling at the size, yield, hardiness, and beauty of horse chestnuts this weekend.  According to reports I've come across so far, it appears that the compound esculetin and the glucoside version, esculin, are the primary toxic factors in horse chestnut, with some saponins also considered unsavory if not toxic.  In many foods where saponins are present (like quinoa seeds) it can be leached out or washed away.  I suspect this is not possible (?) with the esculetin and its glucoside conjugate....   But like many situations that involve biochemical pathways, mutants can arise that are deficient or completely lacking in a compound due to loss of an active gene in the biosynthetic pathway (see below).  So one might suppose that such a situation might arise in horse chestnut, but if the species is out-crossing, the homozygous (inbred) mutant that would have this deficit in esculetin/esculin would be hard to come by. [Edit:  Just saw one reference to this genus being self-pollinating....anyone else know for sure about this?]  Anyone ever come by an example, local lore, or knowledge of reduced toxicity in horse chestnut?  Sure would be great to add this tree to the food forest....
Esculetin.JPG
[Thumbnail for Esculetin.JPG]
 
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Ooh, that would be nice.  I will be watching this thread closely to see if anybody has any answers for you.  I've got one horse chestnut on my property in a hard-to-get-at place, and I haven't propagated it because of it not seeming to have much utility.  But it's a lovely tree with lovely nut, and I am all ❤❤❤ at the notion that there might be a way to get some utility out of it. 
 
John Weiland
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Adding a bit more to this thread.  It turns out we probably have an Ohio buckeye in the yard versus a horse chestnut, but the same issues with toxicity would apply.  Although the information has been hard to track down, it looks as though the few sources I found do suggest that both are self-pollinating and I would be interested if others have additional information on this.  One way to tell for sure is if you only have one tree and are pretty sure that there are no neighboring trees of the same type around, then if it is setting abundant nuts, it probably is self-fertile.  Given this possibility, it seems that one might be able to select for reduced toxicity if mutations in the biosynthetic pathway were to accumulate.  For the reasons indicated below, this variant selection may unfortunately have reduced vigor and resistance to pests and diseases.

It's likely that the toxicity contributes to the wide distribution and prolific output of the nuts on these trees.  There appears to be evidence that the toxins deter insect predation as well as possess anti-microbial activity for resisting pathogen attack.  Despite all of this, there are several reports of the use of the processed nuts by Native Americans (linked below).  It would be interesting to know just how much of this knowledge for processing the nuts to edibility still exists....I hesitate to try this on my own without some pretty good advice before hand.  Would be interested to know if others have any knowledge or information on the matter.

https://www.arborday.org/programs/nationaltree/buckeye.cfm

https://www.reference.com/food/can-eat-buckeye-nuts-ac31d3cb9daabe5c

http://www.uky.edu/hort/Yellow-Buckeye
 
pollinator
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can chickens eat them so we can eat them second hand as it were
 
John Weiland
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@David L: "can chickens eat them so we can eat them second hand as it were"

I don't know about chickens....you would have to crack those hard shells off for them.  But squirrels love them, so yes....you could eat them 'second hand' if squirrel finds its way onto the menu...
You can see below how much of a feast a single nut is for one squirrel.
SquirrelFeast.JPG
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What about pigs?  Given the quantities I see hanging from the trees around here it would a great food source.

 
John Weiland
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@K Revak: Re--pigs eating buckeye/horse chestnuts.


"Sprouts, leaves, and nuts of the plant are reported to have caused illness or death in cattle, sheep, and pigs when these animals were pastured where sprouts were present and where other forage was scarce. Especially poisonous are the young sprouts and the seeds. Poisoning does not always follow when animals feed on the tree. In experimental feeding, symptoms of poisoning appeared in only a small number of the animals." 

--  http://www.library.illinois.edu/vex/toxic/buckeye/buckeye.htm

My wife keeps our buckeye trees behind a fenced enclosure for that reason since we have a lot of free-ranging pigs on the property.
 
David Livingston
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Unfortunately squirrels here in France are too small to eat and illegal to hunt here in France . Although edible door mice might do

David
 
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