Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Horse chestnut

1.  Conkers in Bulgaria are collected and donated to [the] pharmaceutical industry; they are used as anti-cancerous treatment.  Conkers are also used as an exfoliator, crushed down [Autumn Festival of the Great North Wood, London, October 2022].

2. My Dutch grandma (born 1920, Rotterdam) used to carry a conker in her coat pocket against rheumatism [South London Botanical Institute, February 2018].

3.  I was advised by a friend who lives in the country and suffers enormously with spiders to put a conker in the corners of the room.  This is supposed to deter spiders.  I have to say I have not had a spider in my living room since I did this.  Cheap remedy and worth a try [Battersea, London, August 2016].

4.  Children create figures and animals out of the seeds with the help of toothpicks and hand drills.  These figures stay in the house until they start to get mouldy [Essen, Germany, November 2014].

0855. In the village I was staying in in Spain an old lady collected conkers to feed to her pigs [Battersea Park, London, November 2014].

6.  The Orpheus Caving Club, in Derbyshire (off the Ashbourne to Buxton Road) used to play conkers to raise money.  One of the ladies in the Club put strings into the horse chestnuts she collected, then sold them to Club members on their annual barbeque.  The game continued until only one conker was left whole and won the prize [Lichfield, Staffordshire, September 2014].

7.  Do horse chestnuts deter spiders in the house? My father hated spiders and my mother always placed the nuts in corners and under furniture in the autumn. But where she got the habit from I do not know.
My mother’s conker habit started in the 70s and 80s and here in the Cotswolds – so fairly recently. Certainly not something that she had learnt about in childhood [Bussage, Gloucestershire, November 2013].

0358. As a child during the early war years, when we were living on the Hants/Sussex border, not far from Petersfield … Just one more memory, though where my mother got it from, I have no idea: we often used conkers for anti moth protection and I still do to this day among shoes etc. Also making doll’s furniture with conkers and pins and possibly scraps of wool, and of course, cups from acorn cups [Wookey, Somerset, September 2012].

9. My son’s girlfriend told us that her sister has been placing new conkers by internal doors in their house to keep away spiders!! [Dulwich, London, February 2011].

10. My neighbour tells me that if you put conkers on the windowsills that will keep spiders away all winter [Bath, Somerset, October 2010].

11.  They don’t know how to play conkers these days. I stringed one for my son [aged c. 13] to take to school [in Chelsea], but no one knew what to do with it. Of course a lot of them come from overseas [Natural History Museum, London, September 2010].

12. Fruits prized by schoolboys as a ‘weapon’ in the game known as conkers [Milltown, Co. Kerry, August 2009].

13.  They used to plant [horse] chestnut trees outside blacksmiths’ shops for the shade [Thorncombe, Dorset, June 1999].

14. I know a couple – they’re Spanish, but they’ve settled here – who collect conkers and use them to keep moths away from stored clothing. I don’t know whether they were told about it here, or whether they brought it with them from Spain [Balham, London, October 1998].

Images: main, Duke’s Meadows, London Borough of Hounslow, September 2014; upper inset, planted, Delapre Park, Northampton, Northamptonshire, May 2015; middle inset, Grasmere, Cumbria, May 2015; lower inset, advertisement for Patons shoelaces, 1995.