The History of Wood: The Walnut


Trees are a symbol of durability, of growth, and of the life they sustain. And while we often credit trees as the provider of wood, we tend to forget about tree’s other valuable resources.

Our next post in the History of Wood series shines a light on one tree that plays an integral part in our everyday lives, from the use of its wood down to the shell of its nuts.
The Walnut tree – or Juglans major – is sought after for both its nuts and attractive timber. Because of its colour, hardness and grain it is a prized furniture wood.
Walnut trees originate from Gaul, a region of Western Europe that encompasses present day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Italy, and Switzerland. Its name derived from Old English and literally means foreign nut. The Latin name for the Wanlut is nut Gallica meaning Gallic nut – or Gaul nut – as a nod to its origins.
Tradition dictates that walnut trees should be beaten. This originates from the practice of harvesting by beating with long poles, helping the tree grow by the removing dead wood and stimulating shoot formation.
This tree is most known for the hardy and versatile nuts it produces. Walnuts are an inexpensive and nutritionally-rich food option providing an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and several dietary minerals.
Walnuts are the oldest tree food, dating back to 7000 B.C. The oldest archaeological site showing traces of walnuts is in the Shanidar caves in northern Iraq.

Symbolism & Spiritual/Medicinal purposes:

The Walnut tree is a symbol of intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, and inspiration. It’s synonymous with intellect and mental aptitude – even the nuts resemble the brain!
Native Americans see the Walnut as a symbol clarity and focus, gathering of energy, and beginning new projects.
The husks and leaves are very bitter which make it a sustainable and chemical free way to treat worm infestations on your lawn without injuring the grass itself.
The laxative, astringent and detergent properties of its bark and leaves are used to treat:

  • skin troubles such as eczema
  • mouth and throat issues
  • colic
  • skin wounds and gangrenes
  • fevers and chills
  • tooth pain and decay

Historical mentions:

Mesopotamia, the area that is now modern Iraq, boasted of walnut groves in the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon about 2,000 BCE.
Native American Indians enjoyed the pleasures and health benefits long before European explorers arrived. Evidence of walnut consumption in the upper Great Lakes region dates back to 2000 BC.
From 500 AD to the end of the 18th century Europeans used walnuts to create a rich, inexpensive, nutritious milk, a common household staple. Rich families were able to afford the larger, cultivated variety while the poor foraged for wild walnuts.
During the fourteenth century, walnuts started to appear on the dessert list at French royal banquets.
King Louis XI’s barber used the heated edge of a walnut shell instead of a razor as he thought it would prevent nicks.
In the 17th century, walnuts became an important and necessary staple in France. During the famine of 1663 poorer families resorted to grinding up shells to create unappetizing bread.
In the early days of jet transportation, crushed walnut shells were used to scour the compressor airfoils clean.
During war times the Europeans made gunstocks from the firm wood of the walnut tree. During World War I, hardy black walnut was used for airplane propellers.
In World War II, many French families turned to walnuts for a source of protein when they had little to eat.

Practical uses:

Walnuts are one of the most widely consumed nut types. Picked walnuts are popular in the UK while preserved, sweetened, unripe walnuts are an Armenian treat. Italy produces Nocino, a renowned cordial made from green walnuts, and Salsa di Noci (walnut sauce) is popular in Italy, Georgia and France.
Integral to Indian culture, walnuts are found in offerings and food sources in the season of festivals such as Diwali.
Walnut oil is expensive and is used sparingly; most often in salad dressings. It’s also used oil paint as a binding medium.
Walnut shells are used to clean soft metals, fiberglass, plastics, wood and stone. This sustainable, soft grit is used in air blasting, descaling, and polishing because of its resilience. It’s also used to clean automobile and jet engines, electronic circuit boards, and paint and graffiti removal. The shell is used widely in oil well drilling.
Walnut shell flour is popular in the plastics industry. And Walnut shells act as a thickener for plaster effects in painting.
Walnut shells are used as dynamite filler and occasionally in soap and exfoliating cleansers
Muddled husks create a popular rich yellow-brown to dark brown dye.
Walnut wood is exceptionally hard, making it ideal for fine furniture, wainscoting, wall paneling, musical instruments, and even wooden shoes.

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