Name: Walnut (Juglans reglia)
Otherwise known as: Carya, Jupiter’s Nuts
Habitat: A deciduous tree member of the Juglandacea family growing up to 30m in open woodland in Europe and Asia. It has a silver-coloured bark, spreading branches with smooth, dark green leaflets and produces the familiar shaped fruit in pairs or in threes during autumn. Believed to be native to Persia.
What does it do: Walnut was known to the Romans as ‘Nux’ and mentioned by Pliny and Varro as being cultivated in Italy before the advent of the 1st millenia. In Asia the Walnut is regarded as a symbol of longevity and used in infusions for infections of the lung, sciatica and constipation. Because the shelled nut resembles the brain it was adopted by the practitioners of ‘The Doctrine of Signatures’ – a theory that nature indicated some plants could cure certain ailments by the shape of the leaf or seed: ie Lungwort – first established by Dioscorides and Galen, then further developed by Paracelcus until it reached its zenith in the 17th century when it was embraced by puritan physicians that believed God had ordered it so. William Cole, an exponent of the ‘Doctrine’ wrote ‘Wall-nuts have the perfect signature of the Head: The outer husk or green Covering, represent the Pericranium, or outward skin of the skull… if the Kernel be bruised, and moystened with the quintessence of Wine, and laid upon the Crown of the Head, it comforteth the brain and head mightily’.
Since mediaeval times, herbalists have recognised Walnut as an alterative and a laxative; they have used infusions from the bark to treat herpes, eczema and scrofula. The nut yields an edible oil and the leaves produce a yellow/brown dye that beggars used to stain their skin and gardeners valued as an insecticide. For millenia, a concoction of leaves, nuts, onions and other ingredients, prepared from a formula discovered in the palace of Mithridates, were applied to the bites of rabid animals and venomous creatures.
A little known use of the shell was as a method of cleansing the internal pistons and cranks of WWII aircraft engines. The shells were finely ground and fired into the machine and credited with being the most efficient method available. Currently, the same practice is still applied to aero-engines, drilling equipment, scrubbing flues and chimneys, and as a filling agent for explosives.