"The leaves of Castanea dentata (Marshall) Sudworth; collected in September or October, while still green"—(U. S. P.). Castanea vesca (Gaertner), var. Americana, Michaux; Castanea vesca, Michaux (Sylv., Vol. III, p. 11); Fagus Castanea, Linné; Castanea vulgaris, Lamarck; Fagus Castanea dentata, Marshall).
COMMON NAME: Chestnut.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Flora of New York, Plate 111; Michaux's Sylv., Vol. III, Plate 104; Emerson's Trees of Mass., p. 187.
Botanical Source.—This is a large, well-known tree, the flowers of which appear in June and July, after the leaves are full grown, and when all other forest trees have blossomed; they are small, apetalous, and monoecious. The sterile flowers are very numerous, in long, erect, white, rigid aments, which emit an unpleasant odor. The stamens are from 8 to 20, and have slender filaments. The fertile flowers are 2 or 3, enclosed in a scaly involucre. The fruit is a 4-valved burr, armed on the outside with stiff, sharp, bristles, and lined on the inside with a soft, velvety pubescence. It encloses 3 (or often, by abortion, 1 or 2) edible nuts. The leaves are alternate, lanceolate, and coarsely toothed, tapering to a slender point, and are borne on leaf-stalks about ½ inch long; the veins are parallel, rigid, and terminate in the mucronate points of the teeth.
History.—The chestnut is a large tree, originally a native of Asia Minor, but introduced and extensively naturalized in the temperate parts of Europe. The American tree (var. Americana, Michaux), differs slightly from the European, in having smaller fruit, and leaves acute at the base. It is found from Maine to the gulf states, being especially abundant in the Alleghany regions.
Chestnut leaves should be gathered in the fall, before frost, and carefully dried in the shade. They are of a greenish color, and exhale a pleasant, tea-like odor. At first, slightly astringent to the taste, they become mucilaginous and sweetish when chewed, leaving an after-taste, very much resembling that of Solanum Dulcamara.
Ɣ Description and Chemical Composition.—"From 15 to 25 Cm. (6 to 10 inches) long, about 5 Cm. (2 inches) wide, petiolate, oblong-lanceolate, acuminate, mucronate, feather-veined, sinuate-serrate, smooth; odor slight; taste somewhat astringent "—(U. S. P.). The chief constituent of chestnut leaves is a mucilaginous substance which is slowly extracted from the shredded leaves by means of cold water, and more freely by hot, but which is insoluble in alcohol. Any preparation of the leaves which does not contain this material will fail to relieve the paroxysms of whooping-cough, and, for this reason, but little alcohol is admissible in the fluid extract, and thus, undoubtedly, the best preparation is freshly prepared infusion or decoction. Chestnut leaves also contain an astringent principle, and a sweet substance, the other constituents seeming to be simply those found in most plants. The ash consists of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron salts. The testa of the seeds is said to contain a bitter principle.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Chestnut leaves appear to have been brought into notice, as a therapeutical agent, by Mr. G. C. Close, in a statement before the American Pharmaceutical Association, in 1862. Subsequently, they were employed by the late Dr. J. S. Unzicker, of Cincinnati, who valued them highly in the treatment of whooping-cough; since which, most favorable reports have been made by other physicians, as to their value. These leaves have, thus far, been employed mainly in the treatment of pertussis, in which malady they have proved remarkably efficient; but their manner of action has not yet been determined. It is very probable that they may be found useful in other irritable or excitable conditions of the respiratory nerves. Dr. Unzicker employed an infusion of the leaves, an ounce to a pint of boiling water, and administered this in tablespoonful, or small wineglassful doses, repeated several times a day. The fluid extract, when properly made, will be found reliable; its dose is from ½ to 1 fluid drachm, repeated 3, 4, or 5 times daily. Chestnut bark appears to possess astringent and tonic properties, and is used in some sections of our country as a popular remedy for fever and ague. Other forms of paroxysmal or convulsive cough resembling pertussis have been cured with it. Prof. Scudder (Spec. Med., p. 103), suggests a trial of the remedy in cases exhibiting unsteadiness of gait and a disposition to turn to one side.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Paroxysmal, convulsive cough; pertussis.
Related Species.—Castanea pumila, Michaux (Fagus pumila, Linné), an allied species commonly called "Chincapin," or "Chinquapin," is a shrub or small tree found in sterile places from Ohio southward. The flowers, leaves, and fruit of this species bear a close resemblance to those of C. dentata, but are all smaller. The fruit encloses but a single seed, which is not flattened as are the seeds of C. dentata. (For a monographic description, see Henry Kraemer, A. P. A. Proc., 1895.)