Do you have a black walnut tree in your yard? Do all of those hard green balls end up on the ground come early fall, and you almost roll an ankle because of them? Annoying, right? Well don’t get frustrated and curse them, learn how to be more aware of them and the wonderful benefits they have to offer as medicine and food! In this post I will share my process for harvesting black walnuts. Stay connected by following this blog or the Wild Alex Herbs Facebook page to get future posts on how to use black walnuts for food and medicine.
I remember living in Florida, going to the local Publix to purchase a container of black walnut ice cream. My mom introduced me to this delightful flavored ice cream. That was my first and only real experience with black walnuts until my husband and I bought our home in Wisconsin.
When we first moved into our house black walnuts were everywhere. They would either remain on the ground, or we would pick them up to throw them over the fence, or in the garbage because they were everywhere becoming a bit of a pain in the ass. My in-laws told us they were black walnuts and explained how to harvest them. For the first few years my husband and I picked them, husked them, then forgot about them, until we remembered, then eventually threw them away.
One year I was determined to crack into the nuts. It would be ashamed to let them just go to waste. They are a food dropping at my feet and I would just turn them away because I didn’t understand them. Eventually, I did more research into cracking open these guys, and boy I am glad I did. I learned so many ways to use the nuts as food and medicine. And even uses for the leaves and bark.
Learning how to harvest and process your own black walnuts is not hard. Time consuming, yes. But not hard, and so worth every moment.
Black walnut time! Here we go…
It took me a few years to get the process down, but I finally figured out how to harvest black walnuts! It’s very easy, but it is a process.The nuts have to dry for a long time and labor intensive to get the nuts out. But don’t let that discourage you. If you are up to the challenge it’s pretty rewarding. Let’s begin!
Step 1. Proper Identification
Begin by properly identifying the black walnut. Consult a few different sources. Check out the entry by Wild Alex Herbs on the Botany of Black Walnuts. Once you’ve identified the black walnuts correctly, you may begin your harvest.
Step 2. Collecting
Collect all the nuts lying around. They will look like a big green ball. If they are green and a bit wilted that’s okay. You can still hull them. Once they turn black, you can still use them but they are harder to hull. I should warn you, the method which I will share to hull them may not work as well for the ones that have turned entirely black.
As for pulling nuts of the tree, if you can reach them, then go for it, but do it carefully so as not to damage the branch. Most trees are too tall to just pull the nuts off, but I do have a young one in my yard where I can easily pull off the lower black walnuts.
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Step 3. Materials
Hulling the nut is easy. You will need old sneakers (because you will be stomping on them and the juices from the nuts stain, gloves (so you don’t stain your hands, and a container with wholes to let the air circulate as they air dry, or newspaper to lay them on.
Step 4. Stomp, Roll, Squish
Find a nice spot where you can firmly step on the walnuts and roll off the husk. Driveways are good. Make sure to find a spot that you don’t mind getting stained black for a little while. The juice from the husk comes out yellow, but quickly turn black.
So, just place the black walnut on the ground, firmly step on the nut, roll it around until it squishes under your foot and the husk separates from the hard shell.
Step 5. The First Step in Drying
Using the gloves, separate the hard shell walnut from the husk. You’ll want to use the gloves because the juice from the walnuts will stain your hands black and it stays for a week or two, or even longer depending on how much and how long the juice is on you.
Let the hard shell walnut dry in a warm sunny location outside until the exterior is no longer moist. You will see that once hulled the walnut shell goes from a yellow color to a black color when it dries. If you immediately move the nuts into a dark place before letting the exterior dry they will mold. Only when the exterior is completely dry can bring them into your garage, basement or other location that you want to let them sit.
This may take a day or two depending on the weather conditions. Sometimes I hull the walnuts in the morning and they are dry enough by the afternoon to bring them inside. Other times I have to let them sit out in the sun for a few days. Just make sure to bring them in at night and then back out in the morning. This will prevent little critters from getting to them, and it will prevent the wet, moist nights from keep the nuts from drying.
Step 6. The Drying Spot
Now that the exterior is dry it is time to move them indoors and away from the reach of squirrels and chipmunks. The entire drying process can take anywhere from 4-8 weeks. The drier they are the better.
Find a nice spot in your garage or basement to put the walnuts to dry out. Don’t leave them outside because squirrels and chipmunks will get to them. I leave them in high spot in my garage and they do just fine.
When you are laying the walnuts out do not stack them. You want to make sure enough air circulations is getting through.
Do not skip this step of letting them dry in the sun for a day or two. I forgot to do this once. I immediately put them in the garage so the squirrels wouldn’t get to them. Turns out they all molded after just a few days. Make sure they are fully dry before bringing them into the garage, basement, or whatever place you picked to let your black walnuts dry.
Step 7. Decomposition
Do not compost the husk. It contains juglone which is toxic to most plants. I have read that some people do compost the husk as light, air, and heat remove juglone properties in the husks after weeks/months, but I choose not to add them to my compost bin. I usually just leave the husks to decompose next to a walnut tree or a nearby pine tree.
Step 8. In 4-8 Weeks
Once your black walnuts fully dry, visit the second part of How to Harvest and Crack Black Walnuts.
Make sure to follow my blog and follow Wild Alex Herbs Facebook page to get the updates on Black Walnuts.
See you soon!