Walnut: Plant profile
English Walnut, Common Walnut, Persian Walnut, Carpathium Walnut, Madeira Walnut, Walnut
Native to Central Asia and Southern Europe, now widely naturalised in Europe. Widely planted and sometimes naturalised throughout southern Britain.
Where to find Walnuts
Parks and cultivated areas.
When to find Walnuts
Nuts early summer and early autumn.
How to identify Walnuts
English Walnut is a large deciduous tree growing up to 20-30 m high, with short trunk and a broad crown. The bark is initially smooth and olive-brown in colour, becoming light grey and deeply fissured as it ages. The leaves are composed of 2 to 8 pairs of oval leaflets and one terminal leaf, which is usually larger than the others. The leaves feel leathery and have a smooth edge.
The male flowers are long green to yellow catkins, while the female flowers are small, in groups of 2 to 5, with no petals. The fruit is smooth, fleshy, green in colour and contains the nut, which is a wrinkled seed wrapped in a hard shell. The smell of the fruit is highly aromatic.
There are some exotic species similar to English Walnut which are uncommon in the British Isles.For isntance, Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Hickory (Carya sp.) or Buckeye (Aesculus californica), normally planted for ornamental purposes and out of foraging grounds.
All about Walnuts
Contrary to what its name suggests, English Walnut is not a native tree to England and actually feels at home in the warm, fertile regions of Southern Europe and Central Asia. The tree does not usually grow wild in the UK and Ireland, but it’s been planted in farms, parks and gardens, occasionally gone feral.
The nuts are covered by a hard green husk that will stain your hands badly and gloves are completely necessary. Harvest them when fully ripe and dry in early autumn, as soon as the husks start to split and fall down.
Medicinal properties of Walnut
The Walnut tree has a long history of medicinal use, being utilised in folk medicine to treat a number of ailments, though so far there are no conclusive research on the effectiveveness of Walnut.
The seeds are diuretic and stimulant and are used externally in the treatment of skin conditions and menstrual problems. The leaves have been used to treat skin ailments and purify the blood.
Culinary uses and recipes with Walnuts
Walnuts are a very popular snack, either raw, toasted, candied or covered in chocolate. Pair Walnuts with blue/goat cheese, yoghourt, honey, pears or dried figs. They can be added to both sweet and savoury dishes: add to granola, cakes and biscuits or toss into salads.
The unripe bright green husk can be used to create a traditional English pickle, which doesn’t seem to be very popular these days: pickled Walnuts. The Italian liqueur nocino is also made of unripe Walnuts and it’s served as a digestive.
Safe foraging of Walnuts
Gloves are highly recommended to use when separating the Walnut from the green flesh around, as it will stain your skin badly. Those yellow and brown stains would remain for weeks.
Ecological importance of Walnut tree
The leaves are the foodplant for caterpillars of a number of moths, while the nuts provide a food source for small mammals, such as squirrels and mice.