Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Chestnut leavesThe edible European chestnut (also known as Sweet Chestnut or Marron) is usually a large tree, up to 18 meters (60 feet) in height with oblong, boldly toothed leaves.  The flowers are upright catkins (slim, cylindrical flower clusters) with male flowers in the upper part and female flowers in the lower part.  The female flowers eventually form a spiky protective sheath around the seeds (typically 1-7 nuts per sheath).  The bark of the Chestnut often has a net-shaped pattern with deep gaps or furrows running spirally in both directions up the trunk.

Where to Find: Chestnut protective sheath around seedsIn temperate regions, the chestnut is found in both hardwood and coniferous forests. In the tropics, it is found in semi-evergreen seasonal forests. They are found over all of middle and south Europe and across middle Asia to China and Japan. They are relatively abundant along the edge of meadows and as a forest tree. The European chestnut is one of the most common varieties. Wild chestnuts in Asia belong to the related chestnut species.

Edible Parts: Chestnuts are highly useful as survival food. Ripe nuts are usually picked in autumn, although unripe nuts picked while green may also be used for food (they will have a biting taste though). Perhaps the easiest way to prepare them is to roast the ripe nuts in embers. Cooked this way, they are quite tasty, and you can eat large quantities. Another way is to boil the kernels after removing the outer shell. After boiling the nuts until fairly soft, you can mash them like potatoes.

Chestnut seedpod and exposed seeds

Distinctive bark of the Chestnut tree

Chestnut leaf and leaf pattern

Chestnut tree in the wild

Chestnut tree and its unusual trunk

Chestnut catkins

Chestnut catkins

Chestnut trunk

Drawing of Chestnut and its components

Color drawing of Chestnut and its components with seed detail

Drawing of Chestnut leaf and plant components