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When, all unwary, you pick up a Butternut's fruit where it has fallen on the ground after a windy autumn night, you learn your first botanical lesson about this tree, for the sticky, rusty hairs of the husk leave a brown stain upon the fingers. You try to wipe it off but find that you cannot, nor can you scrub it off; only time will cleanse your hand. For this is no ordinary stain; it is a genuine dye. Even the white inner bark yields a yellow or orange dye that has been used for a century and a half by the southern mountaineers in dyeing their homespuns. During the Civil War, the backwoods Confederate troops were sometimes dressed in homespun "uniforms" of butternut-dyed cloth, and they became known as "Butternuts." So the very name of this tree has become a synonym for tattered glory.
The kernel is agreeable when fresh - oily and sweet - but soon becomes rancid. Today one seldom sees in the markets these delicious nuts; walnuts and pecans have captured the popular fancy. Yet the Indians appreciated butternuts, for Roger Williams mentions that the Indians made of them an excellent "Oyle good especially for annointing their heads. And of the chips of the Walnut-tree, the barke taken off, some English in the country make an excellent Beerc both for taste, strength, and color." Few know it now, but a good sugar is made from the sap, though the yield is but a quarter that of the Sugar Maple.
Very light and soft and easily worked, the wood of Butternut has been largely employed as a cabinet wood and for interior finish. In the old days of carriage building, fine "shays" were often paneled in Butternut because of its beauty combined with lightness. Though soft-textured, the wood of Butternut is so lustrous and satiny as to be a favorite of the architect designing rooms of dignity and luxury.
Alas, the demands upon this tree have been unremitting, and today "White Walnut" can seldom be procured in practical lengths. This uniquely American wood is rapidly becoming a scarce and precious hardwood, nor does the future promise better things, unless that day ever comes when the American people demand that their wooden resources be restored to them by a planned forestry.
The Romans called the tree "nux." The Germans naming the nut "Wallnuss, or Welsche Nut" In their word use, "Welsche" meant foreign. The use of "Juglans" comes from the Latin term for Jupiter and "Nigra" meaning black, is in reference to the dark furrowed bark of the tree. The Native Americans have referred to the walnut as Akhort or Akshot. In Russia its called Juglan regia or Greek Nut which refers to its importation from Greece.
The Tree is considered to be one of the hardwoods, often used for airplane propellers and gun stocks. The irregular patterns in the wood grain of fire and feathers makes it a prize for cabinets and furniture wood crafters. The walnut however, is unfit for beams because of its brittleness when used in long boards.
An adult tree can yield up to 90,000 square feet of 1/28 thick wood veneer.
Grown mostly in Central Valley California in over 200,00 acres which is average of about 48 standard size trees in one acre. The yearly income of such farming can range from 2.5 to 3.5 million dollars. One bushel of nuts, producing about 15lb of peeled kernels, will yield about 7lb of walnut oil.
Depending on the tree, it can grow to be over 150 feet tall, with branches
spreading 60 to 120 feet wide. The age has been recorded up to 300 years old with a trunk size of over 3 feet in diameter. The leaves are about 1 to 2 foot long with about 10 to 24 leaflets which become fragrant when crushed. They turn a light yellow color in the fall. The flowers bloom by the middle of May before the tree is in full leaf and are the color of green in long rows along the catkins. The fruit of the walnuts are have a pulp around them that is green on the branch and black when fallen from the tree. They are the size of tennis balls.
Walnut trees grow in the zones between 4 - 8. They take full sun and deep
rich moist soils but can tolerate in drier soils or even clay based soils. This however slows their growth rate considerably. They grow easily on hill or mountain side at an elevation of 4,000 to 7,000 feet. Trees bleed badly when large branches are cut, only the thin young green branches should be considered when pruning.
Because of the extensive use of the walnut then the abandonment to a
more desirable wood, mahogany, around the late 1800's, many of the 30 local species of walnuts were almost wiped out. Walnut groves would be used and no new saplings would be grown to take their place.
The Walnut belongs to the class of dicotyledonous. This means that it has a main tap root, supplied from many different secondary roots. This intricate extensive root system makes the tree resist transplanting when its established. The roots extend far from the tree and excrete toxins to keep other plants with deep roots systems from growing. Tomatoes, Apples, some conifers and Alfalfa are most sensitive to the toxins effects.
This toxin is called napthaquinone and is produced by the tree after the
heart wood has been established. The toxin however does not remain in the ground when the walnut tree is removed. This form of self preservation of its own environment classifies the walnut as a Allelopathy type of tree.
It is in the subclass of apetals which means its flowers bloom with out the
common form of petals we are accustom to seeing. The blooms are both Male and Female. This form of self polonizatIon is called Monoic. The walnut order is of a group of trees called amentales or amentiferes (broad-leaf tree).
The walnut "Fruit" has three parts. The Pericarp is the outer husk which is a green pulp coating around the nut while on the tree, turns black when on the ground. The husk carries tannin, juglandine, citric and malice acids. This creates a brown dye used in color for fabric or stains on wood. Combined with Walnut leaves, it would become an insect repellent. The husk has been termed ‘vegetable arsenic’ because it carries an organic iodine and has antiseptic qualities which helps clean and disinfect wounds as well as fight fungal or parasite infections on the skin.
The Toxins from the husk have been used in a fishing technique by
preventing the fish to use their gills thus suffocating and floating to the surface. This practice has become illegal and should be noted that although a desired result could be obtained, it also has far reaching hazards to the surrounding wildlife and ecosystems.
The Second part, the endocarp, is known as the shell of the walnut. The
shell has been used in the household as abrasive materials much like the scoring pads or sandpaper are used today. The crushed shells were also used as a form to brush teeth. Because of the shell resistance to high temperatures, NASA uses ground shells as a heat shield.
The Final Third part, the fruit, is called "The Green Walnut." This Part is
known for lowering cholesterol and as an anti arteriosclerosis This edible nut, is high in the mineral magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A and rich in vitamin B15 becoming an important source of protein.
In Russia military hospitals since the 17th century, have been used in
cleansing and quick healing medication of wounds and ulcers. It was prepared as a Walnut Jam in such a way to keep 90% of the walnut vitamins intact. Walnut Oil in some parts of France for frying, eaten as butter or used as lamp oil. Texas Folk medicine considers the black walnut 2nd only to tobacco juice for the treatment of scorpion stings. Currently Black Walnut is being researched as a prime ingredient to expel intestinal parasites. The theory is that colon parasites are the root of colon cancer.
The Walnut grew very common from Greece to the Himalayas. The
Walnuts that are found in India today are from the plains of Kashmir. It was imported from Greece by Alexander the Great around 300 BC. Julius Caesar carried it to Italy then to France around 200 BC. There are some theories that the Walnut was brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in the 1500 but was not cultivated until 1850. Today the walnuts grown in France are suppose to be culinary finest, especially from the Dordogne or Perigord region.
There were some folk lore that had the walnut branded with a bad
reputation. The nut of the walnut was closely linked with death. This probably came about by the little known toxins, which walnut roots give off, that kill other deep rooted plants within close proximity to the tree. So strong was the lore of death that if a root of a walnut was found growing in the shed of livestock, all animals were to be put to their death.
To ward off evil spells, a person did one of three tasks. 1st Peel off a piece of the Walnut bark, 2nd is to break a branch and the 3rd is to throw a stone on the trunk. But even in its darkest of times, the walnut tree still held positive superstitions, during the night of St. Jeans, A walnut branch would be hung above doors, windows and cowsheds. To make someone love you, you would pick a walnut leaf during the night of St. Jeans and then place it on the left boot of the loved person.