Chestnuts are deciduous trees. There are two groups that are biologically hardly related to each other: the sweet chestnuts and the horse chestnuts. We also call sweet chestnuts edible chestnuts because they are digestible for humans.
The horse chestnuts serve as food for various animals, for example, horses. A horse is still called a “steed” in various language areas, for example in Switzerland. Hence the name “horse chestnut”.
How do sweet chestnuts grow?
The sweet chestnut was already widespread around the Mediterranean in ancient times. It needs a lot of warmth, so north of the Alps, it can only grow in places with a particularly favorable climate. It needs quite a lot of water but does not tolerate rain during the flowering period.
Most sweet chestnuts grow to around 25 meters in height. Depending on where they are, they can live anywhere from 200 to 1000 years. At around 25 years old, it begins to bloom. Each tree bears male and female flowers. They are elongated and yellow, like hazel.
The fruits belong to the nuts. They are in a brown bowl. Around the outside lies another, prickly “shell”, which is more properly called the “fruit cup”. The spines are initially green, later brown and the fruit cup opens.
The nuts are very healthy. They also contain quite a lot of sugar, so they spoil quickly. In the past, many people mainly ate sweet chestnuts. They smoked the fresh nuts to preserve them. Today the industry does this with more modern methods.
People bred several hundred different varieties of sweet chestnuts. They also have different names: chestnuts or chestnuts are often simply called the best fruits. They are best recognized at the stand when they are sold fresh and hot. But they are also processed into puree and used in the kitchen or in the bakery. Various desserts also contain sweet chestnuts, such as vermicelli or coupe Nesselrode.
But you also need sweet chestnut wood for furniture, window and door frames, ceiling beams, garden fences, barrels, ships, and many other things. Especially outside it is important that the wood does not rot quickly. In the past, a lot of charcoal was also made from it, which is what we need on the grill today.
The sweet chestnut is a species of plant. It belongs to the chestnut genus, to the beech family, to the beech-like order, and to the flowering plant class.
How do horse chestnuts grow?
Horse chestnuts grow naturally in Europe, Asia, and North America. A special species is the “common horse chestnut” from the Balkans, i.e. from Greece, Albania, and North Macedonia. It is often planted in parks and in avenues along streets.
The horse chestnut grows about thirty meters high and is 300 years old. They are easily recognized by their elongated leaves, which usually grow in fives on a stem, like the fingers of a hand.
In April and May, chestnuts produce small flowers that are held together in panicles. Some people call it “candles”. The flowers are mostly white, but can also become quite red. In summer the fruits grow from the flowers, small green balls with spikes.
In September, the fruits ripen and fall to the ground. The spiked balls burst and release the actual fruit: brown nuts three to five centimeters in size with a light spot. They are called chestnuts. Children like to play and do handicrafts with it. But you can’t eat them, they are only suitable as animal feed. This is where the name horse chestnut comes from “Ross” is an old word for horse.
The most important thing about horse chestnuts is the shade they provide, especially in parks and beer gardens. The bees in particular are happy about the numerous flowers. The fruits also serve as welcome food for red deer and roe deer in winter. The wood can be used to make veneers for furniture, which are thin layers glued to panels.
The horse chestnut is a plant species. It belongs to the horse chestnut genus, to the soapberry family, to the order of the soapberry, and to the class of flowering plants.