Wear gloves. If there’s any advice I could give another human being faced with a big bag of black walnuts it is, my god, wear gloves.
I don’t know if it’s because I was excited, or because I was too lazy to go and buy gloves, or because I had a momentary lack of judgement (as in: oh, I know it didn’t come out last year, but maybe it will THIS year). Or maybe it all happened for some big cosmic reason, like so that I could take photos and show you… but my hands are brown, my fingertips are black, and my fingernails look kinda gangrenous. Like the kind of thing you’d see in a zombie movie. Even sadder is that I painted my fingernails for the first time in about 2 years. They were red. Uniformly so. It looked quite nice. Now I have zombie hands. Oh the horror of it all…
And then, on top of that is the opening: you have to put them in a cloth sack and bash them with something (I used a cast-iron pan) until the hulls break because no nut cracker is going to suffice for such a tough nut.
I know, you’re probably sitting there thinking “why in the hell would somebody risk zombie hands and shoulder muscles for *refer to the top of the page again* walnuts?
Well, I thought you’d never ask.
I hate walnuts. Passionately despise the damn things. Most nuts in general actually- as they just make me feel sick. In times of starvation between lunch and dinner when I’m stuck in traffic I’ll occasionally nibble on some almonds that I keep in my car for such emergencies, but really, nuts just don’t do it for me. But black walnuts do. Black walnuts are to regular old nuts what Green and Black’s chocolate is to Hershey’s. They render all other nuts a sad imitation of what a nut can truly be. And if you’re going to go through the hassle of getting your own (it’s worth it for the taste- really truly), you’ll be glad to know that they’re really useful for all kinds of gastro-intestinal issues, so you can pull all the hulls off, and save them to make medicine with, or gather the leaves while you gather the nuts and dry them for teas.
For information about identification and other interesting tidbits, please look at Butter’s intro HERE. And if you don’t know what the Wild Things Roundup is, then you can read about it HERE.
Juglans nigra: Black Walnut
Taste: bitter, astringent, aromatic
Most people have heard of black walnuts because they’re used in ‘parasite cleanses’. You know, you go to a health food store and mention that you’ve got some kind of GI distress and the solution is almost always a parasite cleanse… and I think it’s important to point out that while it’s really trendy in the natural health business to assume that everybody has some sort of parasite and should do a cleanse, this is stupid. Parasitic infections can cause horriffic symptoms, and if one is suspected then a stool test is in order. Randomly dosing the body with herbs because you suspect that something is wrong is a waste of good herbs.
And black walnut is good for so much more than parasite cleanses! It is bitter and astringent, both stimulating and toning lax, leaky tissues, as well as an antifungal.
Black walnut is used for atonicity of the colon. This lack of tone causes trouble with absorbing nutrients- either too much is crossing the gut wall (leaky gut) or too little (not assimilating nutrients), or really, it’s a combination of the two. This can manifest in a number of ways, including trouble digesting fat; constipation alternating with diarrhea; leaky gut syndrome; acne on the buttocks or large cystic acne on the face and neck. Black walnut astringes the intestine, stops a leaky gut from reabsorbing toxins, and improves absorption in the mucus membranes in general.
It’s also useful in acute conditions like food poisoning or stomach flu.
Like I mentioned before, black walnuts most famous use is for parasites. After picking up dysentery, pinworms and giardia in Mexico City last year, I made myself black walnut, wormwood and creosote decoctions. The thing was that they tasted so foul that by the fourth day I couldn’t bring myself to drink them, so I switched to a pill. However black walnut is reportedly highly effective for parasites. During a recent discussion on facebook, Thomas Easley mentioned that he’s used it for tapeworm to great effect, and that the key is to restrict diet and keep the dosage constant.
For it’s usefulness with parasites and for disorders of the GI tract, a tincture with black walnut and wormwood has so many uses, and is a really useful to keep on hand when travelling.
I’ve never had a chance to verify this myself, but black walnut (blackened hull) is a traditional appalachian remedy for hypothyroidism. Herbalist Phyllis Light has used it extensively for goiter, and notes that ‘bad blood’ (which I’ve described a little bit HERE) is often caused by an underactive thyroid. By remedying the thyroid disorder, the bad blood is then remedied too. Similarly, it’s use for rheumatism and arthritis can be connected to this use, as the two are common symptoms of having ‘bad blood’, and also common for those with hypothyroidism.
Either the fresh green hulls, or a salve made of the hulls and leaves is great for skin fungus. Tommie Bass would recommend rubbing a fresh green hull on ringworm. I’d warn that you do end up with a black mark on your skin which isn’t always the best thing, but a tincture or salve works too. A salve rubbed on foot fungus every night will kill the fungus and resore feet to their former glory.
It works for internal fungus too- for candida overgrowth in the large intestine, and also for oral thrush. For candida overgrowth, I combine with chilopsis.
For oral thrush, canker sores and mouth ulcers, you can either chew on the fresh leaves (they can be pretty spicy!) or make a strong decoction and use is as a mouthwash.
According to herbalist Ananda Wilson, black walnut leaves can be used as a mosquito repellent- just rub them all over yourself. Luckily the leaves smell quite nice…
And according to Butter, it’s great topically for shingles outbreaks.
Preparation and Dosage
Leaf, bark, twig and hull can all be used medicinally. For the thyroid, use the black hulls. For all other maladies, all parts can be used. I much prefer the taste of the leaves or black hulls, but everyone’s different.
Tincture: Fresh leaves, recently dried twigs and bark, and fresh or dried hulls. Use 50% alcohol or higher.
Oil: Soak hulls or leaves in a carrier oil- lard, tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, you name it- on a double boiler for at least an hour. Strain and bottle. You can add beeswax to solidify it into a salve.
Dried for teas or decoctions: Dry flat and store in a cool, dry place.
Cautions and Contraindications
I’ve read in places not to use the fresh bark unless you want an emetic. I’ve also heard from others that it’s fine, so it’s up to you…
If you think you have a parasite or something like dysentery- it would be worth going to the doctor and getting a stool test so you know what you’re dealing with.
Michael Moore- Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West
Matthew Wood- The Earthwise Herbal
Discussions with the lovely herbalist community on facebook, namely Kiva Rose, Ananda Wilson, Thomas Easley, Traci Picard, and Susan Marynowski.