The buckeye tree, which is so named because the nut resembles the eye of a deer, is the official tree of Ohio. William Henry Harrison used the buckeye, as well as a cabin adorned with raccoon skins, as a symbol of his successful presidential campaign. It was this nationwide promotion that earned the citizens of the state the nickname of "buckeyes". The buckeye is closely related to the horse chestnut, and nuts from both trees are used similarly.
Uncooked, the nut of the buckeye is slightly poisonous. However, Native Americans roasted, peeled and mashed the buckeye nut into a meal. The nuts should never be consumed unless heated and leached (parboiling). Native Americans called the meal "hetuck".
The buckeye nut has been reported to help with rheumatism and spinal problems. Tea from buckeye leaves is said to diminish varicose veins and reduce edema and shrink hemorrhoids. A salve made from crushed boiled buckeyes, which are then cooked with lard, is thought to heal rashes and sores.
Buckeye wood has little commercial value so harvested trees are mostly used for pulp production. However, in the past Buckeye wood was used for furniture, crates, caskets, pallets and even artificial limbs. The wood is light, easy to carve and resists splitting.
Native Americans would grind buckeye nuts down to a powder, which would then be dumped in small ponds. The powder, mildly toxic to humans and some animals, would stun the fish and cause them to rise to the surface where they could be quickly gathered.
Native to the upper mid-west of the United States, the buckeye tree has its active growth periods in spring and summer with green foliage and small green flowers. The tree is available in nurseries and garden stores in certain regions. Tolerant to cold, the saplings cannot survive temperatures below -33 degrees Fahrenheit. An attractive tree, the buckeye grows best in the open due to its broad crown and has also been cultivated as an ornamental shrub. Shade tolerant, the tree is one of the first to produce leaves in spring.