Chestnut: everything you need to know

The chestnut is a long-lived fruit tree that belongs to the Fagaceae family, with leaves that fall in winter and is native to temperate climates located in the Northern Hemisphere. It is found in North Africa, southern Europe and Asia Minor. There are up to 9 accepted species of chestnut. Furthermore, chestnut trees can be classified into four different groups:

  • European species: common chestnut
  • Chinese species: China chestnut
  • Japanese species: Japan chestnut
  • American species: American chestnut

Castaño comes from the Latin castanea and this derives from the Greek kastanon, which refers to a town: Thessalie. The fruit of this tree is the chestnut.


The chestnut tree is a very tall tree that can reach 25 meters in height. It has a wide and rounded crown with many branches and its trunk is thick when it comes to cultivated chestnut trees. In the case of wild chestnut trees, we find fewer branches and a lighter trunk than that of cultivated chestnut trees. At this point lies its main aesthetic difference. The trunk is hollow in old age , it can exceed 2 meters in diameter. The bark is smooth and light brown until 15-20 years old, then it darkens and cracks longitudinally.

The chestnut leaves are large, reaching up to 20 cm in length and 5 cm in width, with a lighter color on the reverse and a darker green on the upper side. The texture of the leaves is similar to the consistency of leather, that is, coriaceous. The rib is pennate. They are deciduous leaves whose foliation period occurs from the end of April to mid-June and during the month of November they fall.

The growth of the chestnut tree is more or less fast and it can easily continue growing until it is 80 or 90 years old. From this age, growth stops.

It is a thermophilic species, it needs light or semi-shade and water in early autumn. It is a silicicolous tree, it requires soils rich in acid while it does not support lime in the ground. It lives in sub-Mediterranean climates, that is, cooler and rainier than those of the lowlands.

flowers and fruit

The chestnut tree is a very curious fruit tree when it comes to flowering. It is a monoecious plant , with separate male and female unisexual flowers within the same tree in vertical catkins or glomeruli 10 to 20 cm long.

Flowering arrives in May and June and pollination occurs through wind and insects. The male flowers, arranged at the base of the branches, are green, while when ripe they turn yellow. The perigonium, that is, an undifferentiated perianth, is made up of 3 to 7 tepals. The feminine ones are found at the base of the masculine ones. The gynoecium has an inferior ovary and is pluricarpelar syncarpous, it is formed by 3-6 welded carpels. The flowers appear from June. In autumn they ripen into chestnuts . They are cyclical flowers, in this case actinomorphic (with more than two planes of symmetry).

The fruit of this tree is the chestnut, it is a thorny dome that is between 5 and 11 centimeters in diameter and contains 2 to 7 chestnuts, a product widely consumed during the winter in our country. The chestnuts are housed inside a dome or hedgehog that does not give what we know as chestnuts until it ripens and opens.

The fruit itself has two well-differentiated faces, one flat and the other convex. Each seed is covered by a reddish-colored skin, shiny on the outside and velvety on the inside. Inside we find the chestnut, it is covered by a very fine second skin, difficult to separate, and which gives it a certain bitter taste.


The part used is the leaves and occasionally the bark.

Chemical composition

  • The flavonoid leaves have mainly kempferol glycosides, quercetol and abundant amounts of gallic and ellagic tannins (9%).
  • The rind has tannins (4-12%) and pectin.

Medical uses

  • The leaves are used as an expectorant, antitussive, astringent, antidiarrheal, antipyretic and antirheumatic.
  • The bark is astringent, for inflammation of the pharynx and to strengthen the teeth.

Adverse and toxic effects

According to Galen : “chestnuts give the body more nutrients than any other wild fruit, but they cause wind, swell and restrict the belly, are difficult to digest, cause venereal appetite and, in quantity, cause headaches. Green chestnuts damage the lungs «


Chestnuts are a very energetic food that contains 40% carbohydrates. They also have proteins, lipids, mineral salts and vitamins A, B and C. The popular culture of each region has devised different ways of preparing them, such as candied chestnuts. They can be eaten raw, roasted, cooked or dried.


Its current expansion area is due to plantations that had already begun in Roman times. In addition to chestnuts, its flexible wood was widely used to make wine barrels. Chestnut exploitation is usually done under a scrub regime, consisting of regrowth from the stumps of cut trees. The regrowth shoots are very strong, as they are nourished by a powerful root system of the old stock, and in a few years they can be cut for poles and stakes.

Chestnut firewood is not a good fuel, since it gives off a lot of smoke and little heat.

The main chestnut pest is due to the chestnut weevil .

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Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

Robert Asprin

Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

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