Chestnut Herbal School

Chestnut Harvest

Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor

Chinese chestnuts freshly picked and washed

Chinese chestnuts freshly picked and washed

Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollissima, Fagaceae) are a common yard tree in the southern Appalachians, and can easily be found this time of year, with their spiny burrs and nuts falling from the trees.

Chinese Chestnut

The Chinese Chestnut is not affected by the chestnut blight, which has so strongly affected the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) and chinquapin trees (Castanea pumila). Most people who have them growing in their yard do not pick and eat their chestnuts, and are happy for you to take them away.

Chinese Chestnut

Washing chestnuts, discarding floaters

Washing chestnuts, discarding floaters

We wash them in large buckets and discard the floaters, taking care to repeatedly stir the nuts.

Freshly harvested Chinese chestnuts

Chopping Chinese chestnuts in half with pruners

Harvesting the chestnuts is the easy part. This is about 20 gallons, harvested in two hours by two adults and two children. This year Tom tried a new technique involving cutting the nuts in half with pruners and steaming them for twenty five minutes. While they are still hot, they can be squeezed out of their shells. Once they cool, they become increasingly difficult to separate from shells, try reheating them. An issue with most Chinese Chestnuts are the weevil larvae that are very common in the nuts. The larvae are edible, and supposedly taste like a “cross between buffalo and chestnuts”, but I prefer to discard the nuts that have been discolored by the larvae. Maybe one in three chestnuts will have larvae in them, but most of those with larvae are still edible if one has enough gustatory flexibility. If not, compost them.

Chinese chestnuts

You can then eat the steamed chestnuts out-of-hand, add them to soups, stews, chili, sweet bread and on and on. We generally freeze the peeled chestnuts, and sometime dry them. This year my favorite chestnut dish was a wild mushroom, eggplant frittata made with local eggs and milk, feta, and smoked gouda cheese.

The kids helped pick the wild mushrooms and chestnuts, but before you get too idyllic an image, heres some reality/disclosure. My daughter, whose palette is not especially adventurous, wouldn’t eat the frittata with the goodies, but instead ate a simpler version with chestnuts and sungold tomatoes.

brown scaber stalk mushroom (Leccinum sp.)

Brown scaber stalk mushroom (Leccinum sp.)

slippery jack mushroom (Suillus granulatus)

Slippery jack (Suillus granulatus)

The brown scaber stalk mushroom (Leccinum sp.) , a kind of bolete, was one of the edible mushrooms in the frittata. We also picked some slippery jack (Suillus granulatus), another common fall mushroom, found growing under pines. Slippery jack lives up to its name with its slimy texture, which was artfully masked by the texture of the frittata.

Wild mushroom chestnut frittata

Wild mushroom chestnut frittata

Wild mushroom chestnut frittata

Meet The Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:

Juliet Blankespoor

JULIET BLANKESPOOR is the founder, primary instructor, and Creative Director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the globe. She's a professional plant-human matchmaker and bonafide plant geek, with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong captivation with medicinal weeds and herb gardening has birthed many botanical enterprises over the decades, including an herbal nursery and a farm-to-apothecary herbal products business. 

These days, she channels her botanical obsession through her writing and photography in her online programs, on her personal blog Castanea, and in her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family reside in a home overrun with houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.

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4 thoughts on “Chestnut Harvest

  1. This is really very helpful! How do you know if larvae is present? This is how I’ve gotten scared off of using the chestnuts that we’ve harvested before. Just didn’t know what to do with them! Thanks!

  2. Thanks Juliet!

    Chestnuts are indeed a yummy Fall harvest. Such a detailed account as usual. Great pictures to illustrate. Daniel Nicholson and i harvested around 80 pounds in an hour and a half this Fall! These went to Veritable Vegetable for distribution throughout the region. At $7 a pound retail that’s $560…Quite the economic and gustatory delight!

    Thanks for shining your light so bright!

    Love and respect, marc

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