• Old wives and nature‚Äôs chemicals 09 October 2018 | View comments

  • 8th October | By David Jolley

    We have glorious horse chestnut trees on our park. They are threatened by the canker which is affecting so many of this species worldwide https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/pest-and-disease-resources/bleeding-canker-of-horse-chestnut/ but for now they survive with dignity and deliver their precious crop of shiny conkers every autumn. Mums and dads and grandparents hunt amongst the fallen leaves alongside small people, searching for the free gold. There are stories after stories as memories of hunts over the years flood back to consciousness, beckoned by the feel and sound of the leaves and the scent of autumn all around. Good therapy for anyone, including those with weakened memory function.

    Amongst the chestnut combers we find an older lady studiously filling her cotton bag with conkers. Is she collecting these for grandchildren?

    No but for friends who have an aversion for spiders. She and many others have belief that conkers have magical powers to scare away the creepy blighters. An old wives’ tale – but might it be true? We have been disappointed to learn that experiments declare that slugs munch on lettuce impervious to the hazards of traditional ways to discourage them: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45652170

    But maybe conkers have magic powers to counter spiders. Probably not says the Woodland Trust – No evidence to support the myth. But I’d not be too dismissive. It is believed that conkers exude an aromatic substance ‘triterpenoid’ which is toxic to moths – so conkers are recommended as an alternative to moth balls. Extracts from conkers have been used to deal with sprains in horses – hence ‘horse chestnuts’. The anti-inflammatory ‘aescin’ is the chemical said to be responsible for this power. And ‘saponins’ from crushed conkers produce have soap-like properties and were used by the Vikings to keep clean.

    Well – this is conkers and we do not have a direct link to brain research – but the wonderful Elaine Perry and her daughter Nicolette have been creating a garden devoted to growing and researching plants with healing properties, especially for brain dysfuction. http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/features/16613493.healing-plants-to-soothe-the-brain/

    I am hopeful and optimistic that they will strike gold. In a way they have already.

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