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The Black Walnut



The eastern Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a large, fast growing tree to 30m (100 ft) that produces sweet, oily and rich nuts as well as high-value, hardwood timber.

“It has helped to fatten countless American frontier herds of swine. The American Indian made use of the walnut as food. It has been a food of some importance to the colonial American. For generations gathering black walnut has been a joyful autumn labor of the American country boy, and much rural sociability has centered around apples and walnuts beside the autumn and winter hearth fire.” – J. Russel Smith, Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture

A nut from the Black Walnut tree

A picture of a nut of the Black Walnut tree. Photo taken at the Chanticleer Garden by Derek Ramsey.

Now, as with some other nut trees, the leaves and roots of the Black Walnut produces juglone, a substance that depress the growth of other nearby plants. Also, the extraction of the kernel from the fruit of the black walnut is difficult because it has the hardest shell of all walnuts.

But the black walnut still has great potential. As J. Russel Smith says in his book Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture:

“The American black walnut may become a greater future asset to the human race than its now more appreciated rival, the Persian walnut.”

Where It Grows

The black walnut is native to eastern North America, and the size of the territory almost rivals that of corn. According to J. Russel Smith:

“This one single species (juglans nigra) thrives in northern New York and southern Georgia, in north central Wisconsin and south central Texas, and from central Massachusetts to western Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, with a substantial slice of South Dakota and Minnesota included in its range. Roughly this walnut belt covers most of the Corn Belt, most of the Cotton Belt, and tens of thousands of square miles of Appalachian and other eastern hill country on which no type of agriculture can survive but grass, trees, or terraces.”

It is hardy to -25°C, or USDA zones 4-9 and UK zone 4 and is not frost tender. It likes a deep well-drained loam and a sunny position sheltered from strong winds.

The largest black walnut

The largest known living black walnut tree on Sauvie Island, Oregon. It is 8 ft 7 in (2.62 m) diameter at breast height and 112 ft (34 m) tall, with a crown spread of 144 feet (44 m).

Why We Like It

In the long run, if you hold on to your land, planting a grove of black walnut trees can give you and your family shade, nut crops, and valuable timber. Here’s a couple reasons why we like this tree:

  • The nut can be eaten raw or cooked, and has a sweet, rich distinctive delicious flavour it makes an excellent dessert nut and is also widely used in confections, cakes etc.
  • The black walnut is unique among commercial nuts in retaining its flavor when cooked. Cooking makes many other nuts lose flavor, but the black walnut comes through as tasty and attractive as ever. This is a great advantage when making ice cream, candy, nut bread and nut cake.
  • Tasty black walnut bread made of whole wheat flour is not only good, nutritious, and wholesome, but is almost a complete substitute for bread, butter, and meat.
  • Nutritionally similar to the milder-tasting English walnut, the black walnut kernel is high in unsaturated fat and protein.
  • The black walnut has great possibilities as a food producer, and can produce well over sixty pounds of nuts per year.
  • The nutrition value of the nut meats from one tree is nearly four times as great as that of the meat production from one acre of grass. There is room for five such trees to an acre.
  • A brown dye can be obtained from the nuts, husks and bark (the dye turns black if prepared in an iron pot).
  • Black walnut is more resistant to frost than the Persian walnut (but still thrives best in the warmer regions of fertile, lowland soils).
  • The husks can be made into a high quality coal which can be used in filters (both water filters and gas masks).
  • The leaves act as a poor man’s insect repellent when rubbed on the skin.
  • The wood is possibly the most sought after wood in North America. It’s very hard, strong, close-grained, durable and ornamental. It’s a very valuable timber tree, and the wood is used in cabinet making, furniture, airplanes, ship building, veneer, etc.
  • Grass (or other crops) still grows well beneath black walnut because of its deep root system and its thin open foliage, which casts only a light shade.
  • Back in the days, a crop of black walnuts to occupy winter hours of farm labor was a very effective item in farm economy.

The Black Walnut also has medicinal properties. From Plants for a Future:

“The bark and leaves are alterative, anodyne, astringent, blood tonic, detergent, emetic, laxative, pectoral and vermifuge. Especially useful in the treatment of skin diseases, black walnut is of the highest value in curing scrofulous diseases, herpes, eczema etc. An infusion of the bark is used to treat diarrhoea and also to stop the production of milk, though a strong infusion can be emetic. The bark is chewed to allay the pain of toothache and it is also used as a poultice to reduce the pain of headaches. The juice from the fruit husk is applied externally as a treatment for ringworm. The husk is chewed in the treatment of colic and applied as a poultice to inflammations”

Where To Get It

The Thomas, the Stabler, and the Ohio, which seems to be midway in qualities between the Stabler and the Thomas, were thought worthy of recommendation for general planting by the Northern Nut Growers’ Association back in 1926.

Today grafted, nut-producing trees are available from several nurseries operating in the U.S. and selections worth considering include Thomas, Neel #1, Thomas Myers, Pounds #2, Stoker, Surprise, Emma K, Sparrow, S127, and McGinnis.


United States

Stark Bro’s
Willis Orchard
Willis Orchard (Thomas variety)


Agroforestry Research Trust

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Plants for a Future

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