Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra)

Recently there were hundreds of black walnuts falling from the tree in our back yard.  Collecting and processing can be a messy, time consuming job when done by hand.  Hands and a hammer were all I had to work with this time though, so I’ve only finished washing and curing about 300 of them for storage.  I’d guess that there are almost a thousand more, currently sitting on the lawn collecting leaves and waiting for me to get to them.  All from just one tree.  The work, in my opinion, is well worth the product.  My daughter compares the raw nuts to a banana and roasted they take on a fluffier texture with, more of what people think of as, a nutty flavor.  You can make walnut butter, walnut flour, and from the hulls you can make a dye or stain.  (I’m hoping to do some more experimentation using the byproduct as a wood stain and write a post about that.  The first test came out quite well and even gave the wood a glossy feeling.)

Juglans Nigra is a tree that I would call courteous.  It begins growing leaves in the spring long after many other species have filled in, and it starts losing them quite early in the fall.  This allows for extra periods of sunlight underneath.  It is true that Black Walnut leaches high amounts of juglone into the soil, a chemical toxic to some plants. The aforementioned  list is not long though.  Some plants it includes would require full summer sun that they would not get near the tree anyway.  We wouldn’t plant tomatoes under a maple or an oak either.  There are also some juglone tolerant berry bush and tree species such as Mulberry and Blackberry, that actually help to filter the juglone from the soil.  They can be used as a barrier, blocking the chemical from reaching any sensitive plants.

The species has an average height and spread of 85 feet both ways.  Its alternating compound leaves with 11-24 leaflets, give it an almost tropical look amidst the commonly larger-leaved trees of the temperate forest.  The deep taproot of this plant helps to bring long buried nutrients to the soil surface.  In full sunlight, with no interference, it will grow tall and straight with an evenly branched pattern, creating a rounded crown.  As with most trees, any individual of the species can adapt to circumstance.  (Ours happens to have been struck by lightening at one point and has lost its height, forcing the tree to become more broad than tall.)   I find the dappled sunlight the canopy allows through to be a calming environment in which to lay on a hammock with a book.

The nut the tree produces contains much nutrition.  Why else would the squirrels hoard them so? Within the dry roasted nut we find protein, fiber, carbohydrates, sugars, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, zinc, vitamins; C, A, D, E, K, B-6 and B-12, and important fatty acids.  You can find the exact values here at the USDA Nutrient Database.

Sure, it’s a “hard nut to crack,” but the black walnut, Juglans Nigra, is a beautiful tree with much potential use.  It deserves a spotlight in the Hall of Fame for it’s patience, grace, beauty, and of course, nutritional value.