Although the walnut is not native to Italy, the Romans treasured it immensely both as a fruit-bearing tree as well as for providing furniture wood. The Romans valued the tree so much that they even brought it into Germany and also Britain. Walnut is basically native to northern Persia and its Greek names 'Persicon' provides ample hint of its origin. On the other hand, the walnut's other Greek name 'Basilicon' is an indication of the high esteem they held the tree in. From 'Basilicon', the walnut derived its explicit name 'regia' meaning 'royal'. Again, if Pliny is to be believed, the walnut was also known as "Caryon' - the basis of the name Carya, the Hickory. This was probably owing to the lethargic feeling generated in the mind on smelling the leaves of the tree. However, others are of the view that the walnut got this name owing to the similarity of the kernel to the shape of the human brain.
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The walnut was in fact brought from Persia to Italy by Vitellius and was called Juglans or "Jove's acorn". The walnut is considered to be sacred and all festivals of the Greek Goddess Diana were organized in the shade of the tree. It is likely that from here began the custom of scattering walnuts at the weddings originated.
Going by the history, Mithridates, King of Pontus is said to have used the walnut as one of the remedies to cure ailments. The walnut, especially its leaves, the outer skin or 'pericap' of the fruit and the brown cover or 'testa' of the seed contains so much bitterness that it has been unanimously come to be known as a vermifuge. Anglers often used a juice derived from the leaves and poured it in the water with a view to coerce the worms to float up.
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The walnut is a member of the small classification of trees and shrubs called the Juglandeae that comprise only of five types and about 30 species. And most of these species are indigenous to North America. All plants under the Juglandeae classification have some special characteristics. The leaves of all the plants under this classification are scented. In addition, the leaves are estipulate, alternate and pinnately compound. They bear pistillate flowers in different catkins on the same tree and these flowers possess an ovary from two or four carpels. The ovaries are single chambered prevailed upon by the perianth and contain a solitary vertical and unbend ovule. The trees yield plump fruits that enclose a tough nut or endocarp and a single seed with fatty cotyledons.
However, among the trees in the Juglandeae order, the walnut is the largest that develops quickly attaining a height of 20 feet in just ten years. By the time the walnut begins to yield fruits, they normally attain a height of around sixty to seventy feet. The tree has a diameter measuring about five feet or more in width and has huge branches that spread out 30 to 40 feet from the stem. When the plant is infantile, it is prone to damages from frostiness during spring, but the tree continues to yield fruits till a grand age. As long as there is good quality drainage, the type of soil is immaterial for the growth of the walnut. The walnut sends down sturdy tap-roots into rock fissures and so often locking itself up in extraordinarily solid foundations in the soil.
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Interestingly, one of the main uses of the walnut wood still continues to be furniture manufacture. The walnut wood as well as those belonging to its species is lighter in quantity compared to the strength and suppleness vis-à-vis timber obtained from other trees. This is the reason why, apart from furniture manufacturing, the walnut wood is also used extensively for pianofortes and turnery. When the walnut tree is young, it is vulnerable to be eaten by worms, but when the tree is mature, it is solid, brown in color and delightfully patterned. At the same time, the wood is easy to be worked upon by the carpenters. Although the walnut wood is being increasingly substituted by mahogany and other imported timber for different purposes, even to this day it remains Europe's most favored as well as most beautiful wood. If one wish to obtain the best thickness and splendor of markings, the best walnut wood is that is grown on impoverished soil. Nevertheless, the best patterned walnut wood is obtained from the roots of the tree and it is an irony that the wood available from this source is only enough to manufacture petite objects.
The walnut trees found in Italy and in the Caucasus more often have burrs or outgrowths that often measure up to two or three feet diagonally and around 12 to 15 inches wide. These enlargements generally weigh up to five or six hundredweight. Often these outgrowths are so attractively designed that they are sold for as much as 50 to 60 pounds a ton and used for covering. While the Italian walnut timber is considered to be the best, next comes the one from the Black Sea. On the other hand the Black American walnut is deemed to be inferior to both.
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The outer hide of the walnut is broad and deeply creased on the torso. However, when the plant is young its boughs are smooth and grayish in color. The walnut normally gives rise to fresh shoots during April and May and, unlike the oak, remains actively vegetative throughout the summer. It is only owing to occasional frost during early autumn frosts the equilibrium of the tree is harmed by cold or wind.
Usually new leaves sprout and flowers blossom on the walnut tree in April. The walnut leaves comprise of five to nine leaflets that come in pairs of two, three or four and a main one. The total length of the leaf often crosses one foot in length. The apical leaves are usually the larger ones and they have an egg-shaped contour to some extent piercing ends with somewhat irregular or hollowed out borders. There is a special type of the walnut that is known as the fern-like leaved walnut which has leaflets that are profoundly separated. Although these leaves do not have the shiny polish of the Spanish chestnut, they are velvety and have an odd green hue with yellowish tint, which makes the trees soothing and cheerful to the eye as they are in contrast with the flora around it. During the hot weather or when damaged or crushed, the walnut leaves produce a strong scent that is reported to lead to sleepiness or even nausea. The roots, young bark, the umpire husk of the fruit and the leaves of the walnut possesses a caustic substance that produces a murky brown colorant that does not need any mordents.
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The pendulum-like staminate male organ of the plant, catkins grow individually from the top of the leafless stems of the previous season. This is a major difference between the genus Juglans and the Hickories (Corya). In Hickories (Corya) three catkins are produced from a single shoot, formed during the same year and they also bear female flowers and leaves. The cylinder-shaped catkin of the walnut grows to about three inches long and three-quarters of an inch in width. The walnut catkin comprises of a large number of closely-packed and minute flowers of a plain arrangement. Each of these tiny flowers has a short shoot, a supporting bract, two tangential bracteoles, and a perianth of six leaves surrounding an indefinite number of nearly stamens that are directly attached to the base without any stem.
The walnut bears female flowers in a collection of four to eight flowers at the top of the green stems that grow on the same year. Each of these female flowers comprises a supportive perianth made up of four leaves in two pairs each. In addition, their bracteoles and the twin disposition of the fruit is suggested by comparatively large plump stigmas.
Although the walnuts and the hickories belong to the Juglandeae classification, their fruits are different from the other vegetation in the group. The epicarp or the outer shell of the fruits of the walnuts and hickories are plump and green in color. When ripened, the epicarp of the walnuts burst erratically to expose the two-valve stone or endocarp. The endocarp is formed into a membrane like partition intensely separating and creasing the fleshy cotyledons of the kernel or the seed. The seed of the walnut is again enclosed in a sour brown color testa. Near the center of the seed one will find a more fragile and cream colored inner covering and the plants primary root and shoot.
Over the ages people have conserved or potted walnuts either in totality when they are young, while many others have preserved the kernels or the seeds as a sweetened delicacy. There are others who use the young walnut fruits to prepare pickles. On the other hand, the ripened nuts can be used as a dessert fruit during autumn and winter after they are peeled off well. In the southern part of Europe, people extract walnut oil from the fruit kernels and these find use in lighting lamps, washing the hair or used as a substitute for olive oil. Artists also use walnut oil to mix it with subtle colors. Even the left over oil cake serves as a good diet for sheep, pigs and the poultry. According to modest estimates, a bushel of walnuts normally produce 15 pound of kernels. And significantly, half of the kernels' weight is owing to the oil content in them.
As the walnut trees grow to great heights, it is often difficult to collect the fruits. Normally, long poles are uses to knock the branch ends where the fruits grow. In due course, any of the branch points are broken resulting to growth of new spurs. In course of time, these spurs are likely to bear female or fruit-bearing flowers. This kind of thrashing is not only useful in collecting the fruits, but also in improving the tree's fruit-yielding capability. According to a proverb, such thrashings can be applied to barren trees to make them bear.
Leaves, nut, casing, inner bark.
The best conditions for the growth of walnut trees include cavernous well-drained soil and enough of sunlight. However, the trees need to be protected from strong winds, which other wise tend to uproot the vegetation or even rummage the branches. The tree grows well in mildly alkaline heavy soil, but also flourishes in damp soils. Studies have shown that the walnut trees can withstand an annual rainfall in the range of 31 cm to 147 cm and annual temperature fluctuations from 7.0 to 21.1°C and relative pH in the range of 4.5 to 8.2. The latent or dormant walnut plant can endure much cold, so much so that it remains alive even in freezing temperatures up to -27°C without sustaining any damage. However, the young spurs coming out in spring are very sensitive to cold and may be harmed by late frostiness.
Following researches, herbalists have developed some late-leafing cultivable varieties of the walnut which are not only capable of avoiding damage from spring frosts, but also yield better quality of timber. In the temperate climes of the globe, different varieties of the walnut tree are often grown for its seeds that are edible. The newer varieties of the cultivable walnut trees begin to yield nuts in five to six years' time and by the time they are seven to eight years old, these trees give off 2.5 tons of nuts for each hectare. On the other hand, walnut trees cultivated in orchards that are having comparatively inferior soil and are not irrigated also produce 1.5 tons to 2.5 tons of seeds every hectare. But when the orchards are cultivated in well cultivated valleys the yield goes up to 6.5 tons to 7.5 tons for each hectare. A totally matured walnut tree can yield approximately 185 kg of nuts, but the average yield per tree is reported to be around 37 kg. The walnut tree grows best in most places in Britain, but they sometimes do not succeed in yielding fully ripened fruits. Even the wood quality is not strong in the cooler and damper climate as the walnut trees favor the continental climate. In England, some superior quality walnut trees can be found in Cornwall. In fact, the walnut trees grow well and healthy in most parts of Britain, but the problem is that plants sprouted from seeds are not always dependable as far as fruit produce is concerned. It may, however, be noted that over the years some European varieties of the walnut have been developed that can even sustain and flourish even in colder climes.
Unlike the new variety of cultivable walnut trees, plants that sprout from seeds take a long time to bear fruits. Seedling walnut trees normally take six to 15 years to yield fruits, but the cultivable varieties or cultivars begin cropping with a span of just five years. However, seedling trees have deep and strong taproots that are able to withstand any kind of root disturbances. From the very beginning, walnut seedlings must be planted at their permanent positions and be left undisturbed. As the young walnut plants are tender as well as very sensitive to cold, it is essential that be provided with adequate protection during the first couple of winters. It may be noted here that the flowers as well as the young spurs of the walnut can be damaged even by the brief fall in temperature to -2°C. However, it is fortunate that usually the plants come late into leaf. Normally, the flowering of the trees depends on a number of circumstances, especially the conducive condition during the previous summer.
Although, it is always advisable to grow two different varieties of cultivable walnut trees with a view to assist in and benefit from cross-pollination, an array of newly developed walnut cultivars are capable of fertility own their own. Here is a word of caution. If one desires to trim the trees, it must essentially be done either in late summer, early autumn or when the plant is completely inactive or else the plant will bleed abundantly from the gaping wounds and this may even lead to the deterioration of the tree.
Interestingly, walnut plants produce a chemical that can restrict the growth of other plants in the vicinity. These chemicals ooze out from the leaves of the trees and dissolve out of the plant with the rain water and later washed down to the floor of the orchard. When the dissolved chemicals come in contact with the ground, they stop all types of undergrowth near the walnut trees. Even the roots of the walnut tree produce certain materials that are lethal for some species of vegetation. The poisonous excretions from the walnut roots especially affect apples (Malus species), white pines (certain Pinus spp.) and members of the Ericaceae, Potentilla spp. In addition, the walnut trees have a thick covering that has the propensity to diminish the growth of other types of vegetation underneath them.
The walnuts can never be called the best of 'accompanying trees' and neither do they like to grow in clusters. The walnuts are very much 'individualists' and like to grow in isolation or at a distance from each other. The worst part is that the walnuts are reported to have restricted the growth of smaller plants like potatoes and tomatoes underneath them.
The medicinal values of walnut leaves are known to man since ages and hence for thousands of years now herbal medicine practitioners have used it to heal numerous aliments. According to the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, walnut trees reached Rome from the Middle East in the first century and since then the tree has been cultivated not only in Italy, but also in other parts of Europe. During the 17th century, famous English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper made a special past combining walnut leaf extracts, honey, onion and salt to drag out the poisons from deadly snake and spider bites. Again, during the 20th century, herbalists described the walnut leaf as one of the mildest and most effective laxatives available anywhere. While herbal medical practitioners extensively use walnut to heal various disorders, now it is even being used in homeopathy to cure liver ailments and intestinal problems.
The black walnut also known as Juglans nigra is another variety of walnut that is widely used to cure athlete's foot and parasitic infections. The black walnut has many other therapeutic uses too. The bark of this species of walnut tree is useful in relieving constipation and also beneficial against fungal and parasitic contagions. Rather than killing worms, black walnut is used to drive them out of the body during the normal cleansing of the body by inciting laxatives. This variety of walnut is also used to kill warts that are unwanted growths in the body caused by viruses. When applied externally, black walnut is useful for healing eczema, herpes, psoriasis and all types of skin parasites. When consumed, black walnut is also beneficial in harmonizing blood sugar levels in the system and also to destroy toxins and fatty substances in the body. Owing to the presence of acids and alkaloids, black walnut has also depicted properties that may be useful in preventing cancer.
The walnut leaf has various benefits for different health conditions. These leaves are useful for people suffering from acne, eczema and ringworm. Astringent tannins are important ingredients of walnut leaves and these tannins cross-link with the skin cells enabling them to be resistant to allergies and diseases caused by micro-organisms. It may be noted that the walnut leaves possess two anti-bacterial managers - walnut essential oil and juglone - that directly initiates steps against contagious micro-organisms. In addition, large concentration of vitamin C found in the walnut leaves also enables them to tackle infectious diseases.
People suffering from excessive sweating too benefit from walnut leaves. Walnut leaves help to cleanse the sweat pores and also shrink the sweat glands resulting to reduced perspiration. Tannins found in walnut leaves cross-link with the proteins found in the cells coating the sweat glands and form an effectual obstruction to prevent excessive sweat secretion.
Walnut tea may be prepared by boiling walnut leaves in water and this is used in baths, bandages as well as skin washes with a view to cleanse the skin and also to get rid of all infections. Most of the walnut herbal products are available in herb shops or can be obtained from the herb suppliers. In fact there are many walnut herb products that are prepared from the dry outer covering of the fruit, seed or nut of the walnut. These walnut hulls are blended with other herbs in tinctures and are used as intensive laxatives. Hence, it is advisable that no one should use products prepared from walnut hulls for any ailment or disorder. It is always best to use herbal products made from walnut leaves as they are not only more effective, but also do not have any side effects.