I remember as a kid having a buckeye in my pocket. I loved the feel of it in my hand as I reached into my pocket and knew - just knew all was well for having it there!
Buckeye seeds have usually ripened by September and are falling from the trees till early October. If you find them, collect your seeds from the ground soon after they fall and remove them from the husk. Take extra care not to let them dry out. Do not pull seedpods from the tree before the Buckeyes have ripened.
Size: small tree of central states, chiefly of Ohio and Mississippi Valley regions, 30'-50' in height, 2'-3' in diameter
Growth: grows best in deep fertile soils, will usually reach maturity in 60-80 years
Leaves: palmately compound with five nearly elliptical, serrate leaflets 4" - 6" long
Buds: large terminal bud (nonresinous)
Branching: stout limbs in opposite positioning
Bark: grey, scaly plates
Flowers: showy, pale white to greenish yellow, branched clusters 4" -6" long
Fruit (nut): 1" -2" seed capsule, somewhat spiny with 1-5 non-edible seeds (nuts) inside
Other information: also known a fetid buckeye, stinking buckeye. It is one of the first trees to leaf out in the spring and drops its leaves early in the fall. Fall leaf coloration is orange to red
Uses: today mostly pulp; in the past - furniture, crates, pallets, caskets, artificial human limbs
Folklore: nut is considered a good luck charm, relieves pain of arthritis and rheumatism, resembles the eye of the buck deer
The Buckeye - Description, Uses and Legend
Common Name: The common name "Buckeye" was derived from the Native Americans who noticed that the glossy, chestnut-brown seeds with the lighter circular "eye" looked very similar to the eye of a buck (male) deer.
Description of the Ohio Buckeye Seed Nut: The seed nut is glossy and chestnut-brown in color. It is velvety smooth to the touch with a lighter circular "eye." It is contained in a spiny, two-inch hull. The leaf formation has been described as "praying hands" by poet Albrecht Duerer. The seeds and bark are slightly poisonous and bitter tasting. The properties can be eliminated by heating and leaching.
Uses by Native Americans and Early Settlers: The Native Americans roasted, peeled and mashed the buckeye nut, which they called "Hetuck," into a nutritional meal. The early settlers found the buckeye wood to be easily split and carved or whittled. Due to these qualities, the buckeye wood was used by settlers to make utensils. Thin planed strips of the wood were woven into a variety of hats and baskets.
Medicinal Properties: Early travelers and explorers carried the rare and curious buckeye to the east with them and reported highly prized medicinal properties and talismanic attribute of wisdom. The extracts from the inner bark of the nut has been used in cerebro-spinal treatments. Some believe that the buckeye relieves rheumatism pain and provides good fortune when carried in the pockets or worn as an amulet around the neck. Instantly dubbed "buckeye" in frontier speech, the mysterious nut was used as a general cure-all for generations.
A lot of mountain natives believed the buckeye to be charmed, and whoever carried a buckeye seed in his pocket was sure to have good luck. When boys had to use whatever was at hand to have fun, the shiny seeds found their way into slingshots as ammunition. Girls fashioned the mahogany colored seeds into necklaces.
Some of the older mountain folks swear by the buckeye's ability to ward off rheumatism. Carried in the pocket, it supposedly acted as sort of talisman.
The buckeye is a horse chestnut. Pioneers named it for its big shiny brown seed. It reminded them of the eye of a buck deer. Part of the seed is poisonous. The meat of the seed is said to be bitter, except for the heart. Squirrels do eat buckeye seeds, apparently without ill effects.
According to the Cherokee Indians, who forged a close relationship with nature, squirrels know which part of the buckeye is poisonous. Supposedly the poison part is just under the shell where the meat of the nut is pink. A squirrel gnaws through the shell and into the meat. They won't eat the pink part, gnawing down to the heart of the nutmeat, which is white, and non-poisonous. Farm animals, pigs, horses and cows will not eat buckeyes. They know better.
Pioneer families valued buckeye wood to make baby cradles. It is light and doesn't split easily. In a time of do-it-yourselfers, a pliable wood was appreciated.
Buckeye seeds are slipping from their husks now. Want to put one in your pocket for good luck? Head to the woods and collect a few (if you live where they grow!). And hey - if you do and find a lot - I bet many of us would want one too!
Here in Texas we have a form called the White Buckeye and the lore of this tree is the same as the Ohio Buckeye. I haven't ever seen one but would love to!
Bendis "Ye Ol' Tree Witch"