Find other if conkers repel spiders, as well as other facts and uses for conkers around the home this autumn.
Conkers, also known as Horse Chestnuts, are the seeds of the Horse Chestnut tree. Known as Aesculus hippocastanum in Latin, these lofty trees were introduced to the UK from Turkey in the late 16th century. Now they are common sight up and down the UK.
Come autumn time, when conkers litter the ground, like little shiny brown jewels, it’s almost impossible to walk past them without stuffing your pockets with these autumnal treasures. But what to do with all these conkers when you get home?
You could play a game of conkers, or you could find some other uses for them around the home. Some people say that conkers repel spiders, so let’s look into that first to see if it’s true, before looking at some other uses.
Do Conkers Repel Spiders?
It’s no surprise that we associate Hallowe’en with spiders and spider webs. We’re more likely to see giant house spiders in our homes in October, as this time of year sees spiders out and about looking for a mate.
Whilst there are many old wives’ tales that say placing conkers around your home helps to repel spiders, no one has been able to prove these tales. The current scientific consensus is that conkers do not repel spiders. Spiders don’t eat conkers or lay eggs in them. This means there is no evolutionary or physiological reason for conkers to need to repel spiders.
My own experiments have found that placing conkers in spider-prone areas of my house doesn’t scare off spiders. I found one spider merrily crawling over some conkers I placed in my bathroom – my most spider-prone room. A few days later the same spider – we’d named him Barry by this point, as it felt like he’d become an unofficial lodger – was still there quite happily scuttling about the side of the bath. By the end of the week, Barry was still there, completely unharmed and completely unphased by the conkers.
Given the lack of scientific evidence and my own experience, I would agree that conkers do not repel spiders. Instead, the advice from conservationists is to let the spiders be. Once they have mated they’ll scuttle off to the darkest corners of your home and you won’t see them again until next autumn.
Other Uses For Conkers Around The Home This Autumn
Whilst conkers won’t help you with your spider problem, the good news is that there are other, more effective ways to use conkers in your home.
Do note that conkers are mildly toxic when ingested, so should never be eaten. They are completely safe to handle and use around the home in a variety of ways though. Here are some of my favourites:
Unlike spiders, some moths do feast on horse chestnut trees. This means there is good reason for conkers to repel moths. Indeed, research has found that horse chestnut seeds contain a chemical called triterpenoid saponin. The scent of this helps to naturally ward off moths.
To help stop moths munching on your best woollens, place some fresh conkers in a little drawstring bag in your wardrobe, next to your knitwear. As the conkers dry out, they will emit the natural moth-repellent, helping to keep your knits fully intact.
Make Laundry Detergent From Conkers
Looking for an alternative to regular laundry detergent? Did you know you can make laundry detergent from conkers? It’s true!
Many plants contain a substance called saponin – a soluble compound that makes foam when shaken with water. Conkers, in particular, contain a relatively high concentration of saponin. Saponin-rich plants have a long history of being used as a soap – with some people claiming the Vikings made soap from conkers.
Whilst I don’t think conkers made the best shampoo, body or hand wash, they do make a particularly good all-natural laundry detergent.
How to Make All-Natural Laundry Detergent
From trial and error, I’ve found the best method for making laundry detergent from conkers. It’s quite time-consuming but of all the methods I’ve tried, this one works the best and lasts the longest:
- First, gather your conkers.
- Next, take about four or five conkers at a time and pop them inside a tea towel. Hit them with a hammer a few times to break open the shiny dark brown outer seed shell.
- Using a knife, carefully remove the cream-coloured part of the seed. Place the cream-coloured part of the seed into a bowl. The brown outer shell can then be composted.
- Once you’ve separated all of your conkers, place all of the cream-coloured parts of the seed in a blender, and blitz until grainy.
- Pour the blitzed seeds onto a baking tray, smoothing it out to form an even layer.
- In the lowest heat setting your oven can run on, place the baking tray in the oven for around an hour to slowly dehydrate the conkers. Keep an eye on the tray, to avoid the blitzed conkers from burning.
- Once the blitzed conkers feel dry, take them out of the oven and pop them in an airtight jar. Make sure the jar is clearly labelled and stored securely away from pets and children. These will store for around one year.
How To Use The Conker Laundry Detergent
To use your conker laundry detergent, simply place 50 grams of dried conkers in a bottle, and add 250 ml boiling water. Leave this overnight to steep, and then strain to remove the conkers. These can then be composted.
Alternatively, some people like to steep the conkers again – this time for 24 hours. Personally, I don’t find this technique as effective at getting your laundry clean but feel free to have a go and let me know how you get on.
To use your laundry liquid, simply add a good glug of the liquid into the detergent drawer before running your regular cycle. You may wish to add vinegar as a fabric conditioner.
Any liquid you don’t use should be placed in the fridge (make sure the bottle is labelled) and used within 7 days.
Another good environmentally friendly way to use conkers is to plant them to grow more horse chestnut trees. After all, 23rd September to 23rd October is Seed Gathering Season. Led by The Tree Council, this annual event encourages everyone to join in gathering and planting seeds, to nurture the trees of the future.
Growing horse chestnut trees from seed is easy. Here’s the full how-to:
How To Grow Horse Chestnut Trees From Seed
- Gather a few conkers. Check they don’t have any holes in them, to avoid ones that insect larvae are feasting on, as these won’t grow.
- Place some stones in the base of a pot, then fill it with a mix of soil and compost.
- Plant each conker about 2cm deep in its own pot, then cover it up with soil and compost, watering it well.
- Leave the pots in a shady spot in your garden over winter. Water them only when the soil is dry.
- Come spring, these can then be planted into the ground. Your local community growing group may know of a suitable space for it. Horse chestnut trees can grow to be very tall so aren’t ideal for growing in small gardens.
Do you have any other clever uses for conkers? As always, do share in the comments below!