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Fall is in full force here. Which means it’s time to harvest Horse Chestnuts to make Horse Chestnut laundry soap! Horse Chestnuts, AKA conkers, have been falling from our tree like crazy. Any little bit of breeze sends hundreds of conkers into the yard. And trust me, you do NOT want to be under that tree in a wind storm!
I’ve been really diligent on picking up the conkers this year, as they can be toxic to kids and pets. And I have both in the front yard where my Horse Chestnut tree is! I actually had a goat poison herself nearly to death from eating the leaves of the Horse Chestnut tree. So now we don’t let the goats in the front yard anymore, and try to keep the conkers picked up so the dogs don’t eat them.
Horse Chestnuts are high in saponins, which is a natural soapy element. Any plant that is high in saponins is able to be used to make soap. The saponins make good soap, but because of the soapy qualities, it also makes those plants mildly toxic.
A primitive hand soap can also be made from the leaves of the Horse Chestnut tree. There is mild saponin properties in all parts of the plant. And the tree also has alleopathic qualities, which means other plants don’t like to grow under it.
It’s so important that it’s worth saying again: DO NOT EAT HORSE CHESTNUTS! Even though they look similar to edible chestnuts, Horse Chestnuts are not edible. Now that we’ve cleared that up…
Identifying Horse Chestnuts
A Horse Chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum, is a large tree with rough gray bark. Mature trees can get up to 100 feet tall. In the spring, it has white cone-shaped flower clusters. The leaves are palmate, and have 5 or 7 lobes. It is deciduous, which means that it loses its leaves in the fall.
This tree also drops its characteristic conkers in the fall. These conkers have a thick green outside skin that has little spikes all over it. When the skin breaks, the shiny brown nut inside pops out. The nut looks somewhat like an edible chestnut, with the same coloring, but has some differences. An edible chestnut is more teardrop shaped, with a pointy end. A Horse Chestnut is more rounded, with no visible points. One end of the nut also has a dull, light-colored spot on it.
Gathering the Horse Chestnuts
These trees are sometimes found on roadsides in the country. If you find one, you might want to forage some of the conkers to make your own Horse Chestnut laundry soap.
Gather as many as you would like. The Horse Chestnuts that drop are actually seeds that will form a new tree if given the proper conditions. I like to fill up a grocery bag with them when I collect them.
Here is a YouTube video I did on gathering Horse Chestnuts.
If the green hull is still on the Horse Chestnuts, you can simply step on them and roll them with your feet (of course, with shoes on!). This will crack the hull and expose the nut inside. Discard the hull and just gather the nut.
I have heard if you do 2 loads of laundry per week, you should gather about 10 pounds of nuts to make a year’s worth of Horse Chestnut laundry soap. We have a big family and do more laundry than that, so this year I’m going to gather 20 pounds. That should be easy enough with the amount of nuts our tree is dropping!
Processing the Horse Chestnuts
Once you have gathered enough Horse Chestnuts, you can either hit them with a hammer, or cut them with a sharp knife. I prefer using a hammer or a mallet to give them a good, nice smash. It seems quicker to me, plus it helps me take out my frustrations! After I smash up the nuts, I cut and pry the meat out of the shell.
This is very time consuming – let your family help. It’s laundry soap for the family, after all!
You don’t have to remove the shell, but I find the shell much harder to cut, dehydrate, and grind. Some people have expressed concern that the dark shell might discolor light colored clothes, but I don’t really think this would be an issue. Once you soak the nuts in water, the liquid is milky white, with or without the shells.
Whichever way you decide to break up the nuts, make sure you get fairly small pieces. After cracking or cutting them, you will need to dehydrate them. You can either put them in a dehydrator, or in an oven on the lowest setting. If you’ve broken them up into small pieces, it will reduce the drying time.
Once your Horse Chestnuts are completely dry, put them in a food processor or blender to grind into a powder, or at least into very small granules. This powder, as long as it is totally dry, can be stored in a mason jar on a shelf in the laundry room. Make sure no moisture gets in the jar, as this will cause mold and ruin your entire batch.
Using Horse Chestnuts To Make Laundry Soap
When you are wanting to do laundry, take about 1/2 cup of your Horse Chestnut powder and add 1 cup of hot water. Allow to sit until the water has become milky with a slight yellowish tint. The size of your granules will determine the length of time it needs to sit. If you have ground the nuts up into almost a powder, this process will only take about a half hour.
Once the nut water looks like skim milk, strain the mixture. 1 cup of liquid will be enough for 3-4 loads, as you only need 1/4 or 1/3 cup of the liquid per wash load. If you won’t use all of your liquid that day, you can store it in the fridge for up to a week.
I have also heard that you can put 1/2 cup of the Horse Chestnut powder into a mesh bag and just toss it in the washer, but I’m not sure how well this would work. The powder works best sitting in hot water for about a half hour before using. So I don’t think that just plopping it in the washer would make it work the best. But of course, I normally use cold water for my washing.
Keep in mind, this Horse Chestnut laundry soap has no fragrance. Your clothes smell clean, but not with the typical “fresh” smell you get from commercial laundry soaps. If you want your clothes to have a light, fresh smell, you could put some essential oils in with your Horse Chestnut liquid.
Also, since this is an all-natural laundry soap, it doesn’t have the powerful cleaning agents that commercial laundry detergents have. This soap is better for a natural, delicate cleaning agent. It works great on wool clothes, delicates, or baby clothes that you don’t want chemicals in. If your clothes are pretty dirty, you will want to pre-treat them.
Will You Try This All-Natural Horse Chestnut Laundry Soap?
So tell me, now that you know how easy it is to make this all-natural, waste-free Horse Chestnut laundry soap, do you think you’ll try it for yourself?
If you are reaching for self reliance, wouldn’t it be nice to have a laundry soap that you can make all by yourself, without the trip to the grocery store? This laundry soap is a great no-waste option for an all-natural soap. It is even more sustainable than soapnuts, which get shipped from far away. And since soapnuts are becoming such a popular option for all-natural soaps, they are getting hard to come by. This Horse Chestnut laundry soap is very sustainable, eco-friendly, and best of all, free! I hope you’ll try it!
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