Mother Earth Gardener

Family Foraging: Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut

Castanea Sativa

A very large woodland tree, reaching heights of 115 ft (35 m), they can live for up to 700 years! They have long serrated leaves and the dark brown pointed nuts are in light green spiky cases.


The leaves are long, measuring 4–10 in  (10–25 cm) and have fifteen pairs of parallel veins. They also have very prominent serrated edges, like the teeth of a saw.


Chestnuts have catkins, long yellow clusters of flowers which can look like fireworks bursting out of the tree. 


Chestnuts look a little like a conker (horse chestnut), but as conkers are poisonous it is worth knowing the difference. Here is a checklist to help; if you consider every point on the list rather than just one or two, that way you will be certain you have a chestnut and not a conker. 


  • 2–3 in a case (usually 3)
  • Always has a flat side
  • Has a point at the bottom
  • Tend to stay in case when they fall
  • Lots of long little prickles on the case
  • Leaves are single

Conker/Horse Chestnut

  •  1–2 in a case (usually 1)
  • Normally completely round; will only have a flat side if there are 2 in the case
  • No point at the bottom
  • Tend to fall out of the case
  • Few stubby prickles on the case
  • Leaves form a hand shape

Where in the world?

Found in eastern North America and across Europe, with the exception of Norway and Finland.

Where to find it locally

In mature woodland, parks and gardens. 

More from Family Foraging:

Cover courtesy of Roost Books

From Family Foraging by David Hamilton © 2019 by David Hamilton. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc.

  • Published on Oct 9, 2019
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