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Of The Chesnut

( Originally Published Late 1800's )



1. The next is the chesnut, [castanea] of which Pliny reckons many kinds, especially about Tarentum and Naples ; Janus Cornarius, upon that of Aetius, (verho oo:) speaks of the Lopimi, as a nobler kind, such as the Euboicae, which the Italians call maroni, quasi castaneae maris ; but we commend those of Portugal or Bayonne, chusing the largest, brown, and most ponderous for fruit, such as Pliny calls coctivae, but the lesser ones to raise for timber. They are produc'd best by sowing and setting ; previous to which, let the nuts be first spread to sweat, then cover them in sand ; a month being past, plunge them in water, reject the swimmers ; being dry'd, for thirty days more, sand them again, and to the water-ordeal as before. Being thus treated till the beginning of Spring, or in November, set them as you would do beans ; and as some practise it, drench'd for a night or more, in new milk ; but without half this preparation, they need only be put into the holes with the point upmost, as you plant tulips ; Pliny will tell you they come not up, unless four or five be pil'd together in a hole ; but that is false, if they be good, as you may presume all those to be which pass this examination ; nor will any of them fail : But being come up, they thrive best unremoved, making a great stand for at least two years upon every trans-planting ; yet if needs you must alter their station, let it be done about November, and that into a light friable ground, or moist gravel, however they will grow even in clay, sand, and all mixed soils, upon exposed and bleak places, and the pendent declivities of hills to the north, in dry airy places, and sometimes (tho' not so well) near marshes and waters ; but they affect no other compost, save what their own leaves afford them, and are more patient of cold than heat : As for their sowing in the nursery, treat them as you are taught in the wall-nut.

2. If you design to set them in Winter, or Autumn, I counsel you to interr them within their husks, which being every way arm'd, are a good protection against the mouse, and a providential integument. Pliny 1. 15. c. 23. from this natural guard, concludes them to be excellent food, and doubtless Caesar thought so, when he transported them from Sardis first into Italy, whence they were propagated into France, and thence among us ; another encouragement to make such experiments out of foreign countries. Some sow them confusedly in the furrow like the acorn, and govern them as the oak ; but then would the ground be broken up 'twixt November and February ; and when they spring, be clensed, and thinn'd two foot asunder, after two years growth: Likewise may copses of chesnuts be wonderfully increased and thickned, by laying the tender and young branches ; but such as spring from the nuts and marrons, are best of all, and will thrive exceedingly, if (being let stand without removing) the ground be stirr'd, and loosened about their roots, for two or three of the first years, and the superfluous wood prun'd away ; and indeed for good trees, they should be shrip'd up after the first year's removal ; they also shoot into gallant poles from a felled stem : Thus will you have a copse ready for a felling, within eight years, which (besides many other uses) will yield you incomparable poles for any work of the garden, vineyard or hopyard, till the next cutting: And if the tree like the ground, will in ten or twelve years grow to a kind of timber, and bear plentiful fruit.

3. I have seen many chesnut-trees transplanted as big as my arm, their heads cut off at five and six foot height ; but they came on at leisure : In such plantations, and all others for avenues, you may set them from thirty to ten foot distance, though they will grow much nearer, and shoot into poles, if (being tender) you cultivate them like the ash, the nature of whose shade it resembles, since nothing affects much to grow under it : Some husbands tell me, that the young chesnut-trees should not be pruned or touched with any knife or edge-tool, for the first three or four years, but rather cropp'd or broken off, which I leave to farther experience ; however, many forbear to top them, when they transplant.

4. The chesnut being graffed in the wallnut, oak, or beech, (I have been told) will come exceeding fair, and produce incomparable fruit ; for the wallnut, and chesnut in each other, it is probable ; but I have not as yet made a full attempt ; they also speak of inoculating cherries in the chesnut-stock for a later fruit. In the mean time, I wish we did more universally propagate the horse-chesnut, which being easily increas'd from layers, grows into a good standard, and hears a most glorious flower, even in our cold country : This tree (so call'd, for the cure of horses broken-winded, and other cattel of coughs) is now all the mode for the avenues to their countrey palaces in France, as appears by the late Superintendent's plantation at Vaux. It was first brought from Constantinople to Vienna, thence into Italy, and so France ; but to us from the Levant more immediately, and flourishes so well, and grows so goodly a tree in competent time, that by this alone, we might have ample encouragement to denizen other strangers amongst us. One inconvenience to which this beautiful tree is obnoxious, is that it does not well resist impetuous and stormy winds, without damage.

5. The chesnut is (next the oak) one of the most sought after by the carpenter and joyner : It bath formerly built a good part of our ancient houses in the city of London, as does yet appear. I had once a very large barn near the city, fram'd intirely of this timber : And certainly they grew not far off; probably in some woods near the town : For in that description of London, written by Fitz-Stephens, in the reign of Hen. II. he speaks of a very noble and large forest which grew on the Boreal part of it ; proxime (says he) patet foresta ingens, saltus nemorosi ferarum, latebrae cervorum, damarum, aprorum, & taurorum vestrium, &c. A very goodly thing it seems, and as well stor'd with all sorts of good timber, as with venison and all kind of chase ; and yet some will not allow it a free-born of this island ; but of that I make little doubt. The chesnut affords the best stakes and poles for palisades, pedament for vine-props and hops, as I said before : Also for mill-timber and water-works, or when it may lie buried ; but if water touch the roots of the growing trees, it spoils both fruit and timber : 'Tis likewise observed, that this tree is so prevalent against cold, that where they stand, they defend other plantations from the injuries of the severest frosts : I am sure being planted in hedge-rows, & circa agrorum itinera, or for avenues to our country-houses, they are a magnificent and royal ornament. This timber also does well (if kept dry) for columns, tables, chests, chairs, stools, bedsteads ; for tubs, and wine-casks, which it preserves with the least tincture of the wood of any whatsoever : If the timber be dipp'd in scalding oyl, and well pitch'd, it becomes extreamly durable ; but otherwise I cannot celebrate the tree for its sincerity, it being found that (contrary to the oak) it will make a fair shew outwardly, when 'tis all decay'd, and rotten within ; but this is in some sort recompenc'd, if it be true, that the beams made of chesnut-tree have this property, that being somewhat brittle, they give warning, and premonish the danger by a certain crackling which it makes ; so as 'tis said to have frighted those out of the Baths at Antandro, whose roof was laid with this material ; but which Pliny says, was of hazle, very unlike it. Formerly they made consultatory staves of this tree ; and the variegated rods which Jacob peel'd to lay in the troughs, and impress a fancy in his father-in-law's conceiving ewes, were of this material. The coals are excellent for the smith, being soon kindled, and as soon extinguisht ; but the ashes of chesnut-wood are not convenient to make a lee with, because it is observ'd to stain the linnen. As for the fruit, 'tis better to beat it down from the tree, some little time before they fall off themselves ; thus they will the better keep, or else you must smoke-dry them. But we give that fruit to our swine in England, which is amongst the delicacies of princes in other countries ; and being of the larger nut, is a lusty and masculine food for rusticks at all times ; and of better nourishment for husbandmen than coal, and rusty bacon ; yea, or beans to boot, instead of which, they boil them in Italy with their bacon ; and in Virgil's time, they eat them with milk and cheese. The best tables in France and Italy make them a service, eating them with salt, in wine, or juice of lemmon and sugar ; being first roasted in embers on the chaplet ; and doubtless we might propagate their use amongst our common people, (as of old the BaX.00',y.) being a food so cheap, and so lasting. In Italy they also boil them in wine, and then smoke them a little ; these they call anseri or geese, I know not why : Those of Piemont add fennel, cinnamon and nutmeg to their wine, if in water, mollify them with the vapour only ; but first they peel them. Others macerate them in rose-water. The bread of the flower is exceeding nutritive ; 'tis a robust food, and makes women well complexion'd, as I have read in a good author : They also make fritters of chesnut-flower, which they wet with rose-water, and sprinkle with grated parmegiano, and so fry them in fresh butter, a delicate : How we here use them in stew'd-meats, and beatille-pies, our French-cooks teach us ; and this is in truth the very best use of their fruit, and very commendable ; for it is found that the eating of them raw, or in bread (as they do much about Limosin) is apt to swell the belly, though without any other inconvenience that I can learn, and yet some condemn them as dangerous for such as are subject to the gravel in the kidneys, and however cook'd and prepar'd, flatulent, offensive to the head and stomach, and those who are subject to the cholick. The best way to preserve them, is to keep them in earthen vessels in a cold place ; some lay them in a smoke-loft, others in dry barly-straw, others in sand, &c. The leaves of the chesnut-tree make very wholsom mattresses to lie on, and they are good littier for cattel : But those leafy-beds, for the crackling noise they make when one turns upon them, the French call licts de Parliament : Lastly, the flower of chesnuts made into an electuary, and eaten with hony fasting, is an approved remedy against spitting blood, and the cough ; and a decoction of the rind of the tree, tinctures hair of a golden colour, esteem'd a beauty in some countries : Other species, v. Ray, Dendrolog. T. I I I, &c.

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