If you live in the Midwest, then you probably are familiar with the large nuts that are commonly known as buckeyes. Kids love to collect them in the early fall, and some people consider them good luck charms.
While they are on the tree, buckeyes have a light green spiky shell that remains tightly closed until they fall from the tree in September and October. The hard shell then opens, revealing one or two smooth nuts that are brown with white tops.
The buckeye tree got its name from Native Americans who called the tree’s nut “hetuck” because of its resemblance to the eye of a deer. Ohio is the state most closely associated with buckeyes, but it is not just because buckeye trees grow there.
In the 1840 presidential campaign, the opponents of William Henry Harrison, a Virginia native making his home in Ohio, claimed that the military hero was “better suited to sit in a log cabin and drink hard cider” than to live in the White House. However, Harrison’s supporters turned the intended insult into a campaign slogan, calling Harrison “the log cabin candidate” and using a log cabin made of buckeye wood with buckeyes decorating the walls as a symbol for the campaign.
When Harrison won his bid for the White House over the incumbent President Martin Van Buren, his adopted home state became known as “the buckeye state.” A song referring to Ohio as the “Bonnie Buckeye State” also became popular around the same time.
Today, the buckeye is most closely associated with Ohio State University (OSU) and its athletic teams. In 1930, OSU graduate Milton Caniff, who later created the Steve Canyon comic strip, designed a logo for his alma mater containing a buckeye leaf. This image now has a prominent place on the university’s seal.
Although the nuts of the buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra) look like chestnuts, they do not taste like chestnuts due to their high tannic acid content. In fact, they are mildly toxic in their raw state.
So what can you do with all of those buckeyes?
Native Americans were adept at making use of acorns and buckeyes, which both have high amounts of tannin. They peeled and leached them to remove the tannin, and then roasted them before mashing them into a paste or flour. However, most experts warn against eating buckeyes; in their raw state, consuming too many will cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Some sources claim the nuts are useful for removing mildew stains from linen. Bookbinders once used a paste made from buckeyes that was not only strong but also insect-proof. Prohibition-era moonshiners used the brown nuts to give their whiskey an aged appearance.
Some traditional medicine included the use of very small doses of the powdered nut to treat spasmodic cough, asthma and even intestinal irritations.
Externally, a medicinal ointment or paste can be made from buckeyes to ease the pain of rheumatism, rashes and hemorrhoids. To make the salve, cover the nuts with a cloth and then crush them with a rolling pin or hammer. Place them in a pan filled with enough water to cover the nuts. Boil the water, drain the water and then repeat the process. Then add enough lard to make a paste.
If you take a quick look around the Internet, you will find recipes for “buckeye candies” and “buckeye fudge,” but please keep in mind that these recipes are for treats that resemble buckeyes in appearance. They do not contain the nuts as ingredients.
What are ways you have used buckeyes? Share your tips in the section below: