The Horse Chestnut, commonly referred to as a Conker by young British school children, who have a tendency to tie them to a shoe lace and smash ’em to bits in Conker competitions, is the seed of the Horse Chestnut tree, a very common deciduous tree, which can be found in abundance all over the United Kingdom.
The seed looks very similar to that of the Sweet Chestnut and this is probably the reason why people think they are edible.
However the Sweet Chestnut and the Conker are very distant relatives, the Chestnut is highly tasty and has become synonymous with the festive season especially when roasted, the Conker however is best left on the shoelace.
The reason for this is that Conkers contain mildly poisonous saponins and a chemical known as aescin which can induce vomiting and even paralysis, the presence of these chemical components also makes the seed taste very bitter.
During the First World War, when food was in short supply the British Government experimented with various ways to make this abundant readily available seed edible.
They discovered that by crushing, leaching with water and boiling, the Conker could be eaten safely, however the final product was basically starch and the nutritional value debatable, although the concoction was fed to cattle and sheep as fodder, pigs on the other hand refused to eat it, clever creatures those pigs.
Sweet Chestnut trees do exist in the UK but unfortunately not in the same number as the Horse Chestnut, so as a potential free food source the Conker is best avoided but does make for a fun game during the Conker season.
Five Interesting Facts and Myths about Conkers
Wild Foods you can Eat
We have established that eating Conkers is not a good idea but the British countryside and coastline is full of naturally growing food stuffs, if you know where to look and what to look for you can enjoy a feast of good food without going anywhere near a supermarket.
In his best selling book Foraging – The Essential Guide to Free Wild Food John Lewis-Stempel guides you through the process of finding and preparing over one hundred wild foods, that will make a healthy difference to both your diet and your bank balance.