Most years in the UK it is not warm enough for long enough to enable sweet chestnuts to ripen so they are sweet enough to eat.
If you are lucky enough to live in a warm, sunny spot (not Scotland probably!), then look out for the hedgehog-like cases which, when split open, contain 2-3 shiny, roughly triangular nuts with a distinctive tuft on the end. Cases fall to the ground from late November and you may still be able to find some in woodlands in January. Don’t confuse them with horse chestnuts (conkers), which are inedible.
However, horse chestnut trees are beautiful trees and well worth growing from conkers. If you look under the fallen leaves round and about the tree in January the conkers will mainly have fallen out of their outer, spiky cases. This is the good time to collect them for sowing, as they will already have been subject to a period of cold outdoors in winter. There will be far fewer about, as the local wildlife will have already taken their share, but the ones that remain can be sown straight away.
- Place the conkers in a container of water and discard the ones that float these have dried out too much.
- Plant about 2cm deep in individual pots (soil or compost).
- Water well and place in a sheltered spot outside.
- Protect the pots from squirrels, mice etc.
- Keep the young trees watered and re-pot as they grow bigger.
If you are going to forage, please follow the simple guidelines:
- Always be sure you are sure of the plant before you pick it and never eat any plant you are unsure of.
- Leave plenty behind for wildlife.
- Make sure you have permission to pick
- Only pick where plants are plentiful