Walnut trees are native to the Balkans, the regions around the Caspian Sea, northern India, Pakistan and the Himalayan region. There are many different types of walnut tree, but the common one is the Persian walnut which now grows in Britain, mainland Europe, Asia and North America. The black walnut is native to North America as is the white walnut.
The Latin name, Juglans regia derives form Jovis glans, or Jupiter (Jove)’s nut and regia meaning royal. It was believed that in “the Golden Age” of mythology, mortals ate acorns while the gods ate walnuts. The English name walnut comes from Teutonic roots, wallnuss or welsche nuss, meaning foreign nut.
It’s thought that the Romans introduced the walnut tree to Europe from Persia somewhere around 4 AD. Pliny writes about this and in the 1580’s John Gerard wrote that the walnut tree was a common sight in English orchards and fields. It is prized for its timber, and as well as being used to make strong furniture, it has been the favourite wood for gunsmiths for centuries; one example is the Lee Enfield rifle used in World War I. All walnut trees produce attractive timber which is hard, dense and tight-grained ranging in colour from the creamy white of the sapwood to the dark chocolate of the heartwood. The one most favoured for its timber is the common Persian walnut.
The walnut shells produce a strong dye, and you should take care of your hands and clothes if you handle walnut shells as the dye is very durable. The dye is used for cloth, although in ancient times the Goths used to punish miscreants by daubing them with the black dye obtained form walnut husks.
There are quite a few legends associated with the walnut tree, too many to relate here, but because it tends to kill any surrounding vegetation it was considered a sinister tree which harboured evil spirits. Paschal II cut down a walnut tree in Rome because he believed the evil soul of the Emperor Nero live in it. In Bologna (Italy) it is said that witches gathered under a walnut on Midsummer’s Eve to celebrate the Summer Solstice. Generally in Europe a large crop of walnuts was thought to be a sign that a bad winter could be expected. If you dream of walnuts, then your partner may be unfaithful, while in the language of Flowers the walnut signifies Intellect and Stratagem. In folklore it was said that carrying a spider in a walnut shell wherever you went would protect you from getting a fever. Finally there is an old Russian proverb which goes like this:-“A dog, a wife and a walnut tree; the more you beat them, the better they be.”
misri and ground walnuts to the faeries to appease them in their spring festival.
The walnut tree is a wonderful source of healing and health protection. In traditional Chinese medicine its parts are used as a kidney tonic, while in the subcontinent it is used to treat skin disease and as an aphrodisiac, (probably because it is rich in Omega-3). The leaves have astringent properties and are used to treat herpes, eczema, scrofula and syphilitic skin complaints.
Culpeper wrote that walnuts, onions, salt and honey could be missed to make an effective treatment for bites from any poisonous creatures and rabid dogs. However, if you make an infusion of 25 grams of dried bark or dried leaves (you need more if using fresh leaves) in 1 pint of boiling water and let it stand for 6 hours or longer, then strain it, you can apply it externally for skin complaints or drink a wineglass of the infusion three times a day to purify the body. The powdered dried bark of a walnut tree can be used as a laxative and purgative. The juice from the unripe (green) husks can be boiled with honey and used as a gargle to ease sore throats and mouth ulcers. The distilled water obtained after boiling the green husks can be used as a cooling drink for fever sufferers. The oil from the nuts is supposed to be good for colic, and can also be applied externally on skin diseases.
Walnuts are rich in Omega-3 and antioxidants and as most Westerners are lacking in Omega-3, doctors recommend 4 walnuts a day or a serving of walnuts a week to keep us healthy. Modern medical research has found the ellagic acid in the manganese and copper contained in walnuts blocks the metabolic pathways in our bodies which can lead to cancerous cell growth. This helps neutralize potential cancer-causing substances and helps prevent cancer cells from replicating. Walnuts are particularly effective in lessening the risk of prostate cancer, so if a man has a diet which contains tomatoes, walnuts and pomegranate juice, he can reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Walnuts also contain melatonin which is a powerful antioxidant and helps you have a good night’s sleep.Omega-3 generally is good for inflammation of the joints, boosts energy levels and stimulates the brain. It also lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Apart from the uses of walnuts already mentioned, they can be used in cooking; you can sprinkle chopped walnuts on green salads, or toss salads in walnut oil (it’s expensive but has a great taste) although is best used on salads, to make a nutty dish you can mix a little with olive oil to fry foods. Unripe or green walnuts can be pickled and sugar produced from the walnut tree sap can be made in the same way as maple syrup. You can make a really tasty walnut dip with cooked red lentils, pureed with walnuts and cinnamon, cloves, and grated nutmeg, along with fresh coriander leaves and a tsp of coriander seeds, with a little olive oil to get a consistency of a dip. You can add your favourite spices and herbs to get the taste you want.
If you dry the leaves they are a good brown colour and are fragrant enough to use in a pot pourris. An artist I know crushes the shells and uses the pieces to decorate the frames surrounding his pictures. In Pakistan, strips of the bark from the walnut tree are sold on the street as an alternative to toothbrushes and toothpaste. When you brush your teeth with a piece they become very white.
Try to make your own dip with cooked red or yellow lentils, walnuts, olive oil and your favourite herbs and spices. Keep experimenting until you get it just right.
If you want a main dish recipe for walnuts, try our Nutty Chicken recipe. This has Taste and is a Treat.