Black Walnut

This year summer has become my busiest season, since it is the first year my kids have gone to school all year in Delaware, then spent the whole summer with me. Balancing taking care of them, working, and accomplishing what I needed to accomplish was a challenge. In addition, this spring I participated in a Wilderness Survival Instructor Training offered by Primitive Pursuits, an organization here in Ithaca dedicated to sharing knowledge of skills that can help people feel their connection to nature and the earth. During the summer I taught at a week of their summer camps and brought my children. I was able to have my son in my small group, which was nice for us. I taught at another summer camp week after my children started school. It was good to be able to spend time passing skills on to children and getting more experience learning how to teach. Some of what I learned can also be applied to teaching martial art classes. While I loved the experience of teaching wilderness skills at summer camps, it meant long days and was an intense experience. For some time after the last week that I worked I have been pretty lenient with myself. Now that I am back to posting blogs this will be a good time to work exercise and discipline, in terms of practicing and learning, back in to my schedule.

Enough about me. This week my guest of honor will be the venerable Juglans nigra, the Black Walnut tree. Last week I was saddened by the removal of a huge beautiful Black Walnut from behind my boyfriend’s neighbor’s house. This post is in honor of that tree.

Black Walnut, leaves and nuts in husks. Image via


According to the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, by Lee Allen Peterson, Black Walnut’s edible uses include nuts, candy, flour, oil, syrup, sugar and water. Most of these foods originate in the nuts, which can be eaten (once you get them out of their shells!), dipped in sugar syrup, becoming candy, ground into flour, or crushed and boiled to yield a useful vegetable oil. Now I admit that I have not been very successful at getting walnuts out of their shells, which are enclosed in big heavy green husks. In this area it is just past the season when the round green walnut husks fall off the tree and pummel anything in their way. One year I was able to get a few pieces of nut meat out of walnut shells. I tried boiling them and then put them into the oven to dry, where they quickly started to burn. I did end up saving a few and put them on top of a pumpkin pie. That was pretty good. Any way, if you want to eat the nuts of the Black Walnut you have to get to the nut meat before it is contaminated by the husk. I have wondered if that means they should really be harvested from the tree before they fall. In any case, once they’ve been on the ground for a short time, the nuts won’t be good to eat any more.

There are also many other uses for the Black Walnut tree. According to the above- mentioned Field Guide, you can also use the sap similarly to maple sap; that means it can be a source of drinking water in a survival situation, in addition to a source of syrup or sugar when a large quantity is boiled down. I am surprised by this use and interested to try it. I love the way the tree smells- husks, wood, and even the leaves- so it seems like the syrup could be quite tasty.

Medicinal uses:

What I really wanted to write about are some of the medicinal uses of the Black Walnut. If you have one in your yard, and you are a gardener, you know that Black Walnut inhibits many kinds of plants from growing around it. The component of the Black Walnut that is toxic to these plants is called juglone. This also makes it toxic to many things you may want to be rid of, such as infections, viral and fungal. According to Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern/ Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, leaf tea is used against bedbugs, and husk juice is used on ringworm. I think of Black Walnut in general as anti-anything. I’ve heard of it being used for athlete’s foot and other stubborn infections. It also has astringent qualities, which I am learning from my Field Guide make it useful against diarrhea.

According to another book by James A. Duke, Ph. D., The Green Pharmacy, a good recipe to combat mild superficial skin inflammations is 2 teaspoons of crushed Black Walnut leaves steeped in a cup of boiling water, allow to cool, and use as a wash. It may also be useful against eczema when added to a bath. According to the Medicinal Plant Field Guide, interestingly, juglone may also possess sedative activity similar to the drug Valium. Clearly it is a strong substance, and should be used with caution, especially when taken internally.

A spreading Black Walnut tree. Inage via

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