The horse chestnut tree, also known as the aesculus hippocastanum, is a large, deciduous hardwood tree that grows in temperate climates. It has large, green leaves with five to seven lobes and white flowers. The seeds of the horse chestnut tree grow in green, spiny cases. When the cases split open, the seeds inside are round, brown and extremely shiny. Horse chestnut extract is made from the glossy brown seed of the horse chestnut tree.
Horse chestnut extract can be found listed as an ingredient in some skin cleansers. The high level of saponins in horse chestnut extract makes it an effective skin purifier. Bath oils and infusions sometimes contain horse chestnut extract due to its skin softening properties.
Horse chestnut extract contains a saponin called escin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, escin strengthens the walls of the veins and arteries, giving it vasoprotective properties. The condition of capillaries is improved because horse chestnut extract reduces the presence of elastase and hyaluronidase, enzymes that break down protein. Horse chestnut extract also thins the blood by impairing the action of platelets. When taken orally, escin has been scientifically proven to be effective in the treatment of chronic venous insufficiency, a condition which prevents deoxygenated blood being pumped back to the heart effectively. Blood can pool in the lower extremities, leading to swelling of the legs and ankles. Leg injuries can trigger this debilitating condition. Women tend to be more susceptible to chronic venous insufficiency than men.
High levels of escin also make horse chestnut extract an effective treatment for varicose veins and hemorrhoids due to its vasoconstricting properties. Both varicose veins and hemorrhoids are caused by enlarged, protruding veins. Horse chestnut extract tightens and shrinks enlarged varicose veins and hemorrhoids, making them less visible. Horse chestnut extract is also used as a herbal treatment for diarrhea.
Spider veins are a mild type of varicose veins that are not dangerous, but can make individuals self-conscious about their appearance. Horse chestnut extract's capillary constricting and strengthening properties make it a useful ingredient in skin care creams that have been formulated to treat visible spider veins and unsightly red threads. This includes creams designed to improve the condition of the delicate skin under the eyes. Eye creams containing horse chestnut extract effectively lighten dark circles under the eyes by thickening the skin and strengthening fragile capillaries.
Horse chestnut extract boosts the condition of the skin by improving the circulation and delivering oxygen-rich blood to the dermal matrix. By inhibiting enzymes elastase and hyaluronidase, horse chestnut extract helps the skin to battle the signs of aging that deplete collagen and elastin from the skin. Reduced levels of collagen and elastin are a primary cause of wrinkles and sagging skin that are typical of aging skin.
When applied topically as a 2% gel or balm, the escin in horse chestnut extract is an effective treatment for bruised skin. Its anti-inflammatory properties reduce swelling, while the broken capillaries under the skin that cause the blue/black discoloration are strengthened and repaired. External, topical application of horse chestnut extract can be effective in treating sports injuries.
Horse chestnut extract is often found in products that contain centella asiatica, because these two botanical extracts work together in synergy to provide highly effective results.
Oral supplements of horse chestnut extract are typically found in capsule and tablet format. The extract tastes bitter and can some people may find it unpalatable in liquid form.
Care should be taken when consuming horse chestnut extract as it can interfere with certain medication, including anticoagulant and blood thinning drugs, such as warfarin or heparin. It should not be taken by individuals with a blood clotting disorder. As horse chestnut extract can lower blood sugar, it should not be taken by anyone with diabetes. It is possible to overdose on supplements of horse chestnut extract.
The leaf, bark, flower, and seed of the horse chestnut tree should not be consumed in their raw state because they contain a toxic substance called esculin. Ingestion of esculin can cause stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. If raw horse chestnut leaves, bark, flowers, or seeds are ingested, immediate medical attention should be sought.