Completely conkers; a herbalist’s weekend!

What did you do this weekend?

It’s quite likely that you saw family, went out with friends, did some shopping, cooking, washing. Am I right?

Well, I did many of those things too but being a herbalist often means I do things others simply don’t! This weekend, I also processed a large bag of horse chestnuts/conkers ready for using as washing liquid soap for clothes ! Yup, I spent a fair proportion of my weekend blitzing and dehydrating several kilos of conkers.


The seeds of Aesculus hipppocastanum are frequently used in herbalism for their astringent, venous tonic and anti-inflammatory qualities. They are wonderful for the veins and are used in prescriptions for varicose veins and other conditions which require the elasticity and tone of veins to be improved. The outcome of which is reduce oedema, pain, fatigue, tenseness and some pruritis in legs. Great, huh? NOTE: saponins are toxic when ingested in large quantities.

Are you completely c bonkers?

Well, possibly but the key thing is that conkers have a large amount of saponins in them. And saponins are soapy and form lather/bubbles when mixed with water and agitated.

So, to the washing liquid… I have done this in the past but as I didn’t have a dehydrator then, I ended up with a lot of mouldy conker bits on trays because I tried to do too many at once. The washes I did manage with conker ‘juice’ were fabulously soft although I found that the stain removing properties when our girl was a baby wasn’t great. That combo somewhat put me off at the time but now, the time feels right to give it another go.

What do you do?

Soak them overnight in hot water and use the liquid in place of washing detergents. There will be a fair amount of starch also released from the conkers and this will look milky around the bottom of the jar but isn’t going to do any harm.

As you can see from the pictures above I blitzed them small but the author of this article used a hammer and made much chunkier pieces. The larger the surface areas, the better the extraction and the quicker they’ll dry.

  1. Gather A LOT of conkers – now is the time – take a small child with you
  2. Blitz them in a food processor (I used a small stick blender bowl doing 5 at a time as my large unit has broken!)
  3. Dry them (spread out on sheets of paper, on trays in a super low oven or in a dehydrator)
  4. Store them airtight
  5. Soak a 1/2 – 1 cup overnight in hot water
  6. Strain and drain into the soap compartment
  7. Run your usual wash
  8. Compost the used bits

TIP: Conkers are ROCK HARD when dried so, to get the most out of them, get them as small as you can whilst fresh. This is not a job to leave for a few weeks!