Dietribes: Walnuts


• Walnuts may have originated in Persia, but they were used and discussed at length by the Greeks and Romans (particularly by Pliny the Elder). Pliny recommended walnuts for all sorts of things, from breath fresheners to helping eliminate gas in the intestines. Walnuts were also used in wedding customs, scattered by the groom among young people while they sang "obscene songs." Paintings of walnuts and their carbonized remains in the ash of Mt Vesuvius appear to point to their popularity in that region at the time.

• During a time when the “doctrine of signatures" was popular (the principle being that plants resembling organs and body parts could aid in healing those organs or body parts), the walnut was known to the Greeks as karyon, or "head" (you can guess why). The Romans, however, thought the nut looked more like testicles, and called walunts the “glands of Jupiter." Eventually this lead to its scientific name, Juglans regia, literally, “royal nut of Jupiter.”

• When the plague hit England again in the mid-seventeenth century, walnuts (combined with other ingredients) were often recommended for those wishing to avoid “this pestilence.”

• What we do know for sure about the health benefits of this nut is that walnuts are loaded with antioxidants and may help fight breast cancer.

• Walnuts shells also have many uses: "Ground Black Walnut shell is used in soaps, cosmetics and dental cleansers, where a safe, natural, soft grit abrasive is required-to smooth and exfoliate rough skin or to polish dentures." The shells can also be used as filtration for separating crude oil from water, and for dynamite. The shell's flour can also act as an adhesive ingredient.

• Walnuts themselves can be made into natural hair dye as well as ink!

• When the walnut tree is stressed, it produces a chemical form of aspirin.
• Pickled walnuts may be a Boxing Day tradition, but it doesn't sound too appealing to me. Has anyone tried this?
• The Indiana city of Kokomo was named after a Native American chief. One translation of his name is “Black Walnut.”
• Walnuts are also just darn tasty! How do you consume yours, Flossers? My mom likes to eat them with dark chocolate chips for dessert.

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‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.