Black walnuts are native to the United States and grow in almost every climate/soil type. They produce edible nuts that drop in the fall. The exact time is a matter of weather. Last year, they fell in October. This year, the trees started turning yellow in late August, though it was unseasonably cool toward the end of summer.
Like other nut trees, they have “mast years” when they produce plentiful crops and lean years when nuts are few.
They grow readily from seed (by planting or allowing the squirrels to bury the walnuts.) Once planted, they should not be moved after the first year. They have a very long taproot that can not be broken if the tree is to survive. They take forever to grow and only start producing after 15+ years, really producing after 50+. So guard any black walnut trees you find.
Black walnuts are very healthy for us; providing storable fat and calories – a rarity in wild foods.
Want to give black walnuts a try? Here are the steps to dehulling, peeling and eating black walnuts.
Step 1: Gather the nuts. Black walnuts fall to the ground when they are ready, so pick them up off the forest floor. They will be all different shades of green and black. The very black hulls will be teeming with husk worms (harmless but gross.)
Step 2: Get a bucket of water, some plastic bags and/or gloves, a sharp rock or hammer/knife, and take everything outside. Do all your dehulling outside. The hulls are full of juglone (iodine) and they stain.
Step 3: Remove the husk. We cut them open on a sharp rock and then tossed the walnut into the bucket of water. You can use a knife or hammer or any other sharp tool. If they are really rotted, you can just use your hands. We wear plastic bags on our hands to keep from being stained. You can also wear gloves. Toss the husks in your compost or give them back to the forest. Juglone does prevent some plants from growing but is just fine in a compost pile.
Step 4: Float your walnuts. Put them in the water bucket and discard any nuts that float. They are either immature or worms are inside.
Step 5: Clean up the walnuts. We do this by swishing/stirring the walnuts in a bucket of water and rocks. This is just like the agitator in your washing machine and helps get the last bits of hull from the nuts.
Rinse and repeat until the water no longer turns a brownish orange. This water also contains juglone so be sure to add it to the compost pile or somewhere it won’t kill other plants. Rumor has it that juglone is an excellent dewormer and virus/wart killer. Let me know if you have more information but also be aware that it is toxic to horses and possibly dogs.Step 6: Let them dry. This is best done in the sun (protected from wildlife) but could also be done in a dehydrator and/or oven. Ours are sharing space with acorns (To see how we eat acorns from our red oak tree –click here.)Here’s a close up of the “clean” nuts. They are still a little gooey at this stage.One day later – they dry to this:Step 7: Wait 2-4 weeks for the nuts to dry out and “cure.” This hardens the nut inside and develops the flavor. It also makes them “storable” without molding.
Step 8: Crack them open. This is when it can get tough. Regular nut crackers are too weak for a black walnut. We use a very primitive system for opening these up. We use two big rocks. We tried using hammers and vices, but had too many dangerous shards flying around. The rocks have never let us down.
Using two rocks, the nuts open beautifully and quickly.
Here are the empty shells:
Here is the nut meat:
Step 9: Eat or store. Since they contain fat, it is better to store these in the refrigerator or even the freezer.
You can eat black walnuts just like any other walnut. We most often turn them into cookies or eat them in oatmeal.
What do they taste like? Raw – they taste like a walnut but with a perfume scent and taste. Smell the leaves of the tree or the green husk to get a hint of the “perfume.” I am not a fan of the perfume scent/taste but found that roasting the nuts and/or collecting “older” nuts (with more of the worm filled black husk) have less of the perfume scent.
Drier, wrinklier walnuts seem to have less of the scent and when they are roasted they take on a “burnt sunflower seed” taste. Pretty nice from a giving, easy to manage, wild tree.
We may occasionally have black walnut seed for sale. Check out our shopping page for many edible and/or pollinator plant seeds.
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