Foraging for Sweet Chestnuts

Foraging for Sweet Chestnuts

Now is the time to be collecting your sweet chestnuts.As the October winds get going, there will plenty more of them to collect from under the trees.    Don’t confuse them with horse chestnuts (conkers), which are inedible. You can see pictures of the sweet chestnut tree in the Woodlands.co.uk Tree Identification Guide.The hedgehog-like cases are covered in long, pliable, green spikes.  Split open, they contain 2-3 shiny, roughly triangular nuts with a distinctive tuft on the end.

Although the European sweet chestnut originated in Greece, and is therefore not strictly speaking native to this country, references to the nuts as a foodstuff are found from ancient times.The Romans planted trees across the empire, explaining why “castan” (the Latin word) appears in various versions throughout Europe, for instance “castanwydden” in Welsh, “kistin” in Breton, “châtaigne” in French and “chestnut” in English.

Veteran sweet chestnut trunk

Chestnuts are not like other nuts.   They have a mealy, floury texture and are mostly carbohydrate, unlike most nuts, which are protein-rich.  Where land was not suitable for cultivating grain crops because it was mountainous and/or forested, the nuts were a valuable food source and were ground into flour.  Chestnut flour is still used in rural French and Italian cooking to this day.   It is also worth noting that chestnut flour has no gluten and is therefore suitable for a gluten-free diet.

Assuming you’re too hungry to go to the trouble of milling your nuts into flour, what do you do with them?   The sweet chestnut tree is very high in tannins and some people say the nuts are too bitter to eat raw.  I’ve nibbled on a few straight from the shell and haven’t found this so, although perhaps a bit indigestible if you ate more than a couple in one go I think.   Cooked, they taste slightly nutty and fairly bland, but they work well as bulk and go with lots of other flavours.   Preparing chestnuts is not difficult, but a bit laborious, so get comfortable and enlist some help and company.   Put the nuts in a big bowl and pour boiling water over them.   Leave them for a couple of minutes to let the skins soften.   Then scoop some out into a second bowl of cold water to cool them enough for you to be able to handle them.  Peel these, and carry on in this manner until you’ve worked your way through the bowlful.  Once peeled they can be made into warming soup, cooked with sprouts and bacon, added to stews or stuffings, or soaked in syrup for traditional marrons glacés.

Alternatively, and best of all, you could slit the skins with a knife (they explode otherwise) and roast them.    A good reason to get the barbie out for a last airing.

Chestnut Soup

  • a couple of handfuls of peeled chestnuts
  • 2 pints of chicken or ham stock
  • butter or oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • some grilled bacon, crumbled
  • chopped parsley or chives
  • salt and pepper

Soften the chopped onion in a knob of butter or a tablespoon of oil.  Add the chestnuts and stock and bring up to the boil.   Simmer until the chestnuts have collapsed.  Season to taste, and add some crumbled bacon and chopped herbs.

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The leaves of the Horse Chestnut are like a hand ie they are joined at a roughly central point whereas the Sweet Chestnut leaves are individually attached to the stem and are a bit more spearhead shaped.


26 September, 2016

I picked some horse chestnut not knowing they were the toxic ones but I’ve researched sweet chestnuts and I’ll be off looking for some next to the tree where I found the horse chestnuts. I saw some sweet chestnuts in a tree but I wansnt sure what ones I needed.


13 September, 2016

hello, thank you for the very interesting article. Just wanted to also add that CASTAN may be Latin but originates from the Greek CASTANO which is how we even call them today.


6 November, 2015

I live in bedfordshire and my daughter lives in marlow bucks. where can we go chestnut picking please?


13 October, 2015

[…] new Horse Chestnuts fresh out of their armour. Whose up for a conker fight? 5) Freshly collected Sweet Chestnuts, roasted and eaten while they’re hot with a glass of cold milk. Oh so yummy! The milk and the […]

The story from Edward about being cautioned for picking chestnuts in a Royal Park needs challenging.
Is there a way that the law can be changed?
The Royal Family should be ashamed, after all they stole the land they ‘own’ from the people – in they first place!!


26 October, 2014

I live in cambridge any one know if there are any chestnut trees pleas


21 October, 2014

I adore chestnuts and wondered if anyone knows of a great place to get them near Deal, Kent?
Hopefully someone can suggest somewhere??

Jen D

18 October, 2014

i have a tree opposite my place in Manchester, its the second year ive picked them; this year its not so good. mostly small thin ‘side’ nuts, 1/10 are big, but even then they have white tops to some, also some of the larger ones have shrivelled features to the skin…can i leave them in the husk to rippen? can i leave them peeled to just the brown nut and leave them to rippen some more? Thanks!


11 October, 2014

Hi there.

I have to say there’s no way Iam going back there. I have been picking up chestnuts but will not be returning to Hyde park. Just to make it clear, I found out later that I actually had a caution on my record from this event that is essentially the same level caution given to some sex offenders. Needless to say I got some people to discuss this with the police and the caution disappeared and an apology was made. As they have problems with local Chinese restaurants going to Hyde park to take the chestnuts to sell it is likely they will have patrols out looking to catch one or two people. So you have to decide whether it’s worth the risk.



25 September, 2014

Hello again … it looks like this year is going to be a bumper year for Sweet Chestnuts … I was wandering through Hyde Park … Edward I have taken head of your experience last year … and the size and number of sweet chestnuts on the trees and already fallen is mouth watering.

OK I did pick a few up surreptitiously … I’m very tempted to do an early morning scoop but after Edwards caution last year perhaps I should play safe.

I’ve been trying to perfect Marons Glace … the best recipe I’ve found is from ‘Not Quite Nigella’ a great Australian blog … any other recommendations?

Happy chestnut hunting all.


p.s. Edward maybe I’ll bump into you in Hyde Park … competitive chestnut gathering


24 September, 2014

went around today to scout out the harvest grounds…… disaster, the 650 year old tree had come down :-(
a few younger ones around but the main producer… dead… oh well, plenty of time to find another tree or two.


22 September, 2014

Hi, does anyone know of any Chestnut trees in the Colchester area that I can pick? I’m guessing it’s getting a bit late now to find many chestnuts still?

By the way Sue, that recipe for cake you mention sounds like it would be tasty.


18 November, 2013

I live in the south of Co Durham does anyone know if there is any sweet chestnut trees in the area??
. Have a lovely recipe for Chocolate and Chestnut cake I have not made for a few years.


15 November, 2013

A forestry Commission (I think) place called Beechenhurst Lodge near Lydney, not far at all from the Severn crossing (old bridge). It’s a lovely place with cafe and carpark and you can walk into the forest on well marked trails. There seemed to be loads of chestnut trees.


6 November, 2013

Where in the Forest of Dean? How near to the Severn Crossing – Chepstow?


3 November, 2013

We collected some from the forest of Dean this week to try out. There were loads of them.


3 November, 2013

Does anyone know of a place in the North East of England where sweet chestnuts grow? As a child my family and I collected bags of chestnuts from Cardiiff Castle grounds. Not only did we have memorable times foraging and playing hide and seek, the chestnuts were delicious! We roasted them on an open fire during the power cuts of the three day week in the early 70s…


25 October, 2013

Hello John … well it depends what you mean by safe. if the nuts have fallen to the ground and burst out of the shell, that’s normal. If they are fully intact without obvious worm holes or nibble marks from squirrels etc then you should be fine. Just be aware that chestnuts both have a high internal moisture content and are susceptible to moisture and so they can quickly start to moulder.

So if you collect them, don’t leave them in a plastic bag to start to rot … they will breath out lots of moisture and start to rot if you do.

Basically if the nuts you find are whole, feel quite firm and look fairly shinny and fresh then collect them. As you peel the nuts you will soon find out if they have gone bad or been damaged by insect or other infestation.

I’ve picked up and eaten/cooked with hundreds of ground foraged nuts this year and they have been great … go forth and forage!


25 October, 2013

Is it safe to pick them if the brown nuts are lying on the ground but not in the casings?


25 October, 2013

Are there any sweet chestnut trees in or around Manchester?


24 October, 2013

Just collected 37 lbs of chestnuts today in two hours. I cut a cross in some and put them in the channel just inside the door of my Clearview Vision 500 for about 7 mins. So tasty.

I also collected 4lbs of walnuts yesterday. My location is a well guarded secret.

Collecting more walnuts tomorrow.


18 October, 2013

Just to make everyone aware. There is a bylaw covering all the royal parks, so Hyde park, green park, Richmond park etc, if you get over zealous policeman as I did, you will be cautioned. It’s ridiculous, but basically even if it’s on the ground you can’t touch the chestnuts, you can tread them into the pavement like others walking by but can’t pick them up. Check out royal parks bylaws, you can’t touch any plant at all, actually if the bylaws were all unforced, you pretty much can’t do anything except walk through the park, oh the joys of living in London.


18 October, 2013

They claimed there was a bylaw. I said I have never heard of such a law and shouldn’t there be a sign to warn of such a law. I was too shocked to really understand what I was supposed to have done. I just picked them from the ground as they were already there because they drop obviously. So didn’t understand how I was cautioned for damage to trees. There were several other people there collecting, it began to rain and I was walking back toward Hyde park station and I guess they saw me pick up a few more and stopped me. I expected at most a verbal caution. I plan to contest this.


16 October, 2013