Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America
A Complete Wild Food Guide
Urban, Rural or Both: Both
Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra). The nuts from the Black Walnut are one of the most tasty wild foods there is. In my own opinion, after Hickory nuts, these are the best tasting nuts, period, though some would argue the closely related Butternut is tastier. These are basically the same story as Hickory nuts, in that they need to be cured for a few weeks in a dry place, such as near a furnace to taste their best. They are very hard to crack open, and for the most part use the instructions for the Hickory nuts to get at the meat. I have read about soaking them overnight in warm water before you crack them, but have to confess I've never tried it, so I can't comment on whether or not it works. I have my own method that works well - see the Hickory nut. section.
However, there is one big, nasty difference. While the dry, pleasant smelling husk just falls off the Hickory nut, the husk of the walnut is an ordeal to get off, and you get covered in a brownish yellow dye that can be difficult to get rid of, and the smell, while I like it, some find quite unpleasant. Often the husks are wormy, but that does not seem to affect the nuts themselves.
I have tried many ways of getting the husks off, wet, dry, cutting them, rubbing them and none seem easy. I suggest just trying different ways, and see what works best for you. There are many suggestions I've seen on the Internet, some look interesting, one seems dangerous - the car one. The suggestion is to drive over them. I did this once, and one that I guess was on the edge of the tire shot out sideways like a bullet. Go here to see what others have come up with.
They are ready to gather as soon as they hit the ground sometime in October.
Growing this plant in your home garden:
Personally, I think a great choice if you are going to grow them for the nuts. They will start to produce nuts after about five years or so, and heavy crops after they are about 20. They will inhibit the growth of Tomatoes, Potatoes, and any other Nightshade family plants under them. Some people don't like them due to all the nuts, so they can have a bad reputation. One of the tastiest wild foods going.
For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Black Walnuts page.
- Plant Size: Up to 40 meters (130 feet) tall
- Duration: Can live hundreds of years
- Leaf Shape: Compound, Odd Pinnate with 15-23 leaflets per leaf
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Leaf Arrangement) on branch: Leaves: Alternate. Leaflets: Opposite on leaf with single terminal leaf.
- Leaf Size: Leaves are up to 60 cm (2 feet) long. Leaflets up to 10 cm (4 inches) long and 3 cm (1 1/5 inches) wide
- Leaf Margin: Serrated (saw toothed edge)
- Leaf Notes: The biggest leaflets tend to be in the middle of the leaf
- Flowers: Male: Yellow-green very small flowers on long, narrow drooping clusters (catkins) in large groups. Female: small, clusters of 2-5, reddish to green
- Fruit: Green-brown, spherical husk, just bigger than a golf ball, with strong distinct smell when bruised or scratched, ripe in October, with deeply grooved, very hard shelled nut inside with very tasty, strong flavored meat.
- Bark: Black-grey with deep furrows
- Habitat: Full sun, bottomlands with moist soil. A colonizing species. Very common in cities, as squirrels plant the walnuts
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .
Black Walnuts in late August. They will fall to ground when ripe.
Black Walnuts after removing the outer green husk. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Black Walnut bark
Black Walnut twig. (Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.)
Black Walnut drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 579)
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