Also known as Jupiter’s Nut, Sardian Nut, Husked Nut
There are many species of chestnut. They grow all over the world including Europe, Asia and the Americas. Native lore about the chestnut generally refers to the chestnut that grows in the region the lore originated from, but they can and are often used interchangeably. See below for more detailed information on a selection of chestnut varieties.
(This list is not exhaustive.)
American Chestnut, Castanea dentata
Allegheny chinkapin, dwarf Chestnut, Castanea pumila
Chinese Chestnut, Castanea mollissima
European Chestnut, Sweet Chestnut, Spanish Chestnut Castanea sativa
Japanese Chestnut, Castanea crenata
Similar, but unrelated plants include the Horse Chestnut and the Water Chestnut
History and Folklore
Chestnuts have been grown by humans since about 2000 BCE and were carried by the armies of Alexander the Great as well as the later Roman armies. These armies planted chestnuts in their wake helping the European variety spread from its native Asia Minor to all over Europe.
Chestnut trees are excellent additions to wildlife and butterfly gardens. They provide nutritious food for a number of birds and small mammals as well as a number of different types of butterflies and moths.
Chestnut trees are very slow growing. They take 15 years to bear fruit and it can be 50 years before they bear significant fruit. They also do not bear fruit well alone and several must be grown in close proximity to one another for optimal fruit production. Chestnut trees enjoy well-drained soil and do well on hillsides and mountainsides.
Harvesting & Storage
The fruit of the chestnut tree forms inside a prickly burr that turns brown when it is ready for harvesting, usually in late September through October over the course of several weeks. The burrs generally fall to the ground on their own and split open, making it relatively easy to remove the nuts from within, but sometimes they need a bit more coaxing. You can knock them down with a stick and pry the burrs open with a knife. This isn’t pleasant, as they are prickly.
Chestnuts can be smoked in a smokehouse to dry them for grinding into flour.
Chestnuts carry masculine energy and resonate with the fire element and the planet Jupiter. The chestnut tree is associated with the God Zeus. Chestnuts can be eaten to encourage fertility and desire and may be carried as a charm by women who wish to conceive. Keeping chestnuts around the house (and eating them) encourages abundance.
Staves made from chestnut wood are said to encourage longevity, increase energy, enhance intuition and help with grounding and centering of energy. Chestnut wood can also be used to make talismans for justice, success, to gain the sympathy of your audience and to encourage your mind to take in information.
In Japan the chestnut fruit symbolizes both difficulties and overcoming them. They are eaten on New Year’s day for success and strength the coming year.
Early Christian folklore says that chestnuts symbolize chastity.
Native Americans may have used a tisane of chestnut leaves to treat severe coughs and heart disease, a poultice of the leaves for sores and a decoction of the bark to treat worms.
Chestnuts were a staple food in Southern Europe, Turkey and parts of Asia where they thrived in areas where the rocky, thin soil made it impractical to grow grains. In these areas, chestnuts remain a popular food and you can buy roasted chestnuts from street vendors. Chestnuts are a remarkably versatile food that can take the place of grains and potatoes in the diet.
Since chestnuts ripen late in the year and store well into the cold months, they are a traditional addition to Midwinter and late winter celebrations.
Chestnuts can be roasted inside their peel, but you must cut the peel first to prevent bursting. The taste is sweet and nutty with a baked potato-like texture. You can roast them in the oven or over hot coals.
Chestnuts can also be peeled and deep-fried.
They are also dried and then ground into flour. This flour is then used to make breads and as a thickener for sauces. In Corsica it is used to make a fried doughnut-like pastry called fritelli. Polenta was once made out of this ingredient before corn was brought back from the new world. Chestnut flour does not rise as wheat flour does but the bread stays fresh for up to two weeks.
Chestnuts have the least fat and highest carbohydrates of the nuts and are rich in vitamin C, B vitamins, and a wide variety of minerals.