It's Conker Time!
Published on 28/09/2019 by EFUF
If you have an under five you likely have a pocket, handbag or pram basket full of conkers just now. There is something irresistible about these shiny brown gems unwrapped from unpromising prickly skins. With the upsetting news this week that horse chestnut trees are amongst the 50 per cent of Europe’s endemic tree species now threatened with extinction it is more important than ever to celebrate these firm family favourites.
The horse chestnut is not a British native so its story and folklore here isn’t as rich as other common trees, but there are plenty of strange conker facts. As well as being a childhood favourite for many years these special seeds are said to have healing properties, carrying one around in your pocket may well ward off arthritis or even the common cold, if old lore is to be believed. Many people swear that placing them around your home will put off passing spiders – though I’m not convinced. Extracts from conkers have been used medicinally to treat fevers and stomach problems, and there was also a nationwide appeal during World War One for schoolchildren to collect them for use in the production of acetone for artillery shells.
Of course the most famous use for a conker is in the game of conkers, the world championships of which kick off in mid-October. All you need is string, an implement to punch a hole and a killer conker. There are lots of tips and tricks for how to best harden and weaponise your conkers! Shoe polish, pickling in vinegar, baking, using last year’s batch; all are slightly frowned upon by conker purists. Probably the best tip is to make sure you get a good clean hole through the middle without chipping the remaining skin, which creates weak spots. We have used a drill on ours in the past but a decent skewer or awl will do. I’ve heard of a household who kept a special tool just for this purpose.
This year we have so many I think I will just make a whole long string of conker bunting although we have already started a bit of a conker run with some toilet paper tubes. There are plenty of other things you and your kids can use them for though. They make great spiders and caterpillars if you have some pipe-cleaners around. You can paint them into ladybirds or hedgehogs, or just make bright counters. Practice your spelling with alphabet conkers, or use them for noughts and crosses. I used to sport a fabulous conker necklace come this time of year, turn them into big beads and practise some threading. Older children can make conker dolls’ furniture by sticking in pin legs and weaving wool across pins for chair backs. More than anything conkers are just lovely objects to have around, so pop a basket of them amongst your toys and enjoy the lovely free treasure hunt that autumn brings!