You’ll find tall and stately black walnut trees (and their cousin the butternut walnut) growing wild throughout much of the central and eastern U.S. They’re particularly noticeable in the fall when their green-brown-black, tennis-ball size nuts begin littering the ground. The rough round husks turn from green to a very dark brown as they lay on the ground in autumn. These native trees have provided people with food, medicine, dye, and beautiful wood for centuries. Here are just a few of the valuable things that these trees can deliver.
The nut’s multi-color husk is deceptively large, compared to the small amount of meat you’ll pick out the inner nutshell. Still, it’s a worthwhile endeavor because black walnut nutmeat is second only to hickory in caloric value from wild plants. One ounce of the rich tasting nutmeat contains 173 calories, along with a fair bit of protein, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. Wild animals might even let you have some, primarily because they don’t like to chew through those thick, bitter husks. This means that there can be black walnuts on the ground well into winter. Our family has always chucked the whole walnuts onto the driveway to let car tires crack the husks off. After a little weathering, the inner nutshell is exposed and ready to crack without being so messy.
Medicines and Dye
The green husks of walnuts have many uses in folk medicine. One tablespoon of the dried green husk material in one cup of hot water will make a horrible tasting, yet parasite expelling tea. Sip on one cup over the course of a day and repeat this for seven days. The fresh husks have been used as a substitute for iodine tincture as an antiseptic on small cuts and wounds, and it even stains the skin like iodine.
To make a dye, crush a gallon of husks and soak them in a gallon of hot water. If the husks were still green, you’ll end up with a bucket of yellowish-brown dye. If the husks have already turned black, your dye will be dark brown. I have a buddy who made his own camo t-shirts by tie dying some regular white cotton T’s in black walnut dye. They turned out great, revealing a very unique camouflage pattern in a nice shade of cocoa powder brown.
Wood and Weather Predicting?**
Although it is terrible firewood, burning poorly and creating great volumes of ash, walnut wood has been prized for furniture and other carpentry projects. There’s a sharp contrast between the white sapwood on the trunk’s exterior, and the chocolate brown heart wood that makes up the majority of the tree.
This is a new one for me, but an old timer I spoke with yesterday indicated that walnuts predict the upcoming winter weather. Bigger walnuts indicate that a rough winter is impending, while smaller walnuts indicate a mild winter to come. With the generous size of this fall’s walnut crop (plus the almanac prediction), it may be wise to cut a little more firewood while the weather is good — just make sure it’s not walnut wood.
Do you have another use for black walnut or another way to get the husks off? Let’s hear it in the comments.