Horse chestnut, also known as aesculus hippocastanum, comes from a large tree native to central Asia. It's related to the more familiar sweet chestnut in name alone. Both the tree bark and the seed (or nut) – of its prickly fruit contain therapeutic elements such as saponins, flavones and aescin; which are particularly beneficial to the vascular system.
Horse chestnut can help strengthen vein walls by promoting elasticity, reducing inflammation and preventing swelling. Horse chestnut is regularly prescribed in Europe for the treatment of varicose veins, hemorrhoids, rheumatism and neuralgia. Studies have shown that it's as effective as compression therapy (such as wearing support stockings) for swollen legs (edema).
Creams and gels containing horse chestnut may be used topically to cosmetically reduce the appearance of varicose veins, including hemorrhoids. These topical creams may also relieve inflammation of the joints, tendons and muscles.
When taken orally, horse chestnut can improve nocturnal leg cramping, itching and swelling of the legs. Oral treatment is more effective than topical treatment. Look for products containing 50 milligrams of aescin - one of the main active ingredients in horse chestnut.