Sweet chestnuts come wrapped in spiky cases and look a bit like little hedgehogs, they are best picked up from the ground soon after they have fallen and should still be firm to the touch, ones with little holes in them should be discarded as this is a sign of weevil infestation.
The chestnuts are high in carbohydrates, B vitamins and vitamin C. The leaves and bark of the tree are highly medicinal and possess tannins which have astringent and bacteriostatic actions, beneficial for conditions such as diarrhoea, mouth ulcers and to promote external wound healing. A component called hamamelose is also found in this tree and has specific antitussive and expectorant properties making it useful for treating respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and chronic cough. A tea made from the leaves can also soothe mild asthma symptoms and was formerly employed to alleviate whooping cough.
Preparing chestnuts to eat can be a bit laborious but they are delicious and definitely worth it. The traditional and easiest way is to roast them. Carefully cut an X shape into the flat side of each nut, penetrating the shell but not cutting into the flesh underneath. You can put them under the grill, or even on a metal tray or shovel in the embers of a fire. The chestnuts should be roasted until the shell splits open at the cut, or until you see steam or hear them hissing. Remove the shell once sufficiently cooled and enjoy!