Black Walnuts

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Black Walnuts

Black Walnuts, or at least the trees, are common in upland hardwood forests, but are unusual among nut trees in that they will also grow in lowland (river bottom) areas prone to flooding.

I've always thought of the black walnut as a "lazy" tree, because it's the last tree to leaf out in the spring and the first to drop it's leaves in the fall.

These nuts are admittedly an acquired taste. Not everyone cares for their flavor, which is quite a bit stronger than most nuts. Personally, I love them baked into cookies or brownies, but I don't care much for them cracked fresh from the shell.

Collecting Black Walnuts

Ripe black walnuts fresh from the tree

Ripe Black Walnuts fall from the trees in early to mid fall. When they do, the husks are still green or light yellow and can be collected at this time.

Unlike hickory nuts and pecans (to which they are related), their husks do not split open. The husk of black walnut is a solid covering that surrounds the nut, and has to be removed to get access to the nut inside.

The husks can be removed by placing the nuts on a hard surface, like a sidewalk or driveway. They can be stepped on and rolled one at a time to break up and remove most of the husks.

If you have a gravel driveway and lots of walnuts, you can spread them out on your driveway and drive your car or truck over them several time to remove the husks. You can remove any remaining husk material by spraying them with a garden hose.

Remove the husks by stepping on and rolling black walnuts

If you're worried about getting your hands stained, then you might want to wear gloves during the above process.  The juice in the husks will definitely stain your hands a nice dark walnut brown if you don't.

Once the husks are removed, the nuts will have to be spread out to dry and cure for a couple of weeks. I leave them spread out on the floor in my workshop. Once they have had time to dry and cure you're ready to crack the nuts and remove the nut meats.

Cracking & Shelling the Nuts

Cracking a black walnut using a vise

Walnuts are one of the hardest of nuts to crack, but it can be done fairly easily if you have a vise or a lever style nut cracker designed for hard nuts. I use a vise to crack them.

The trick is to not crush them into tiny pieces. Apply pressure gradually until it cracks apart enough to allow you to remove the nuts from the shell. After a few tries, you will get a feel for how much pressure to apply.

a cracked black Walnut

I like to crack and shell a small batch of nuts each day and spread the work out over two to three weeks, instead of trying to do it all at one time.

I'll usually crack about 50 nuts, and take them in the house so I can pick the nuts out while I'm sitting and relaxing in the evening.

With a little trial and error, you can figure out how many are enough for you at one time.

You will probably want to have a set of V-shaped hinged manual nut crackers and picks to help you get at every piece. Just be careful with the picks. It's easy to slip and stab yourself in the finger.

I was just recently introduced to a new invention called a Walnut Saw, that is supposed to allow you to easily extract whole nut halves and large pieces.  This new device is called a walnut saw, and is supposed to go into production in January 2015.  Looks pretty interesting and I think I'm gonna have to get one of these and try it out.  More to come...In the meantime, here's the link to the website.  Take a look, see what you think!

Preserving your Harvest

Shelled black walnuts

Walnuts will keep for a couple of weeks at room temperature or refrigerated, but if you want to keep them for longer periods, I recommend freezing them.

We'll process them in a nut chopper before freezing them. That way they take up less space in the freezer and they are ready to use when we need them.

They are most easily stored in zipper type freezer bags, but plastic freezer boxes will work just as well. Either way, be sure to label and date them so you know what's in the container and how old it is.

Eating Black Walnuts

Personally, I am not a huge fan of black walnuts simply as a snack, because I find the flavor to be too strong. Some folks love them that way. Don't take my word, try them yourself and decide.

I do, however love them baked into brownies and cookies. They are also very good sprinkled over ice cream. They are especially good mixed into home made ice cream - pour them straight into the mix before you churn the ice cream. They are also quite tasty sprinkled on a salad and mixed into coleslaw.

Any recipe that calls for chopped nuts would be worth trying out.

Black walnuts are extremely versatile and valuable trees.  The nuts are a good source of food packed with nutrients and healthy oils.  The wood is used in furniture making, and for gun stocks, Logs are cut into veneers to make plywood for furniture making as well.

If you have a source for them, collect a few next fall when they turn ripe, and give them a try.  You might be pleasantly surprise!

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Related Links:

Wild Nuts

Nut Growing for Small Land Owners

Northern Nut Growers Assn.

The Walnut Saw

Odd Walnut Facts:

Black Walnuts (Juglans Nigra) Have many traditional and contemporary uses beyond the edible nuts.


The Lumber is prized for furniture and gun stocks. Many logs are sent to veneer mills, where a top quality log can bring a high price.


The juice extracted from the husks has been traditionally used to make a fabric dye. Green husks will make a yellowish to orange dye, while dried (black) husks will make a dark brown dye.

Fish Tranquilizer:

Native Americans used crushed leaves and nut husks swirled into the water of creeks and streams to temporarily stun fish living there.  This allowed them to collect the fish more easily.

Shot Blasting Media:

Walnut shells are ground fine and used for shot blasting delicate items that couldn't stand up to actual sand or steel shot.

Natural Herbicide:

Never plant tomatoes or peppers too close to a black walnut tree.  They produce a natural herbicide that's deadly to those plants, and retards the growth of many others.  

It is found in the sap that drips from the leaves in the summer It's how the trees deal with competition from other plants in the understory.