Black Walnuts

You may have seen black walnut shell in the health food store lately. That’s right, black walnut shells, ground very fine and encapsulated. It’s referred to as a cleansing herb. What’s that all about? Is black walnut really beneficial? How is it used?

The black walnut tree is native to North America and was one of the first trees brought back to Europe by early white explorers. It’s known for strong, beautiful wood and delicious nuts, which are full of B vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and those good old omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They promote cardiovascular and bone health along with healthy blood sugar balance. They also contain iodine, which is essential to thyroid function, and melatonin, an antioxidant which is best known for helping to regulate sleeping and waking cycles.

Contrary to popular belief, walnuts don’t make you fat. In fact, they can help you lose weight. The Mediterranean type diet now being recommended by many doctors for heart health traditionally includes walnuts. Try black walnut oil for cooking, especially making desserts.

But what about the shells? There have not been many scientific studies on their benefits, but Native American and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have used extract of black walnut shells for centuries. Actually they use the extract of unripe green shells, which are full of vitamin C, as you might guess from their unique citrus scent.

The extract is strongly astringent and has antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It is a laxative traditionally used to kill, or at least expel, intestinal parasites. It’s also recommended for athlete’s foot, herpes, scrofula, psoriasis, eczema, acne and dandruff. It may even cure and prevent candida albicans. One of the few scientific studies that’s been done on black walnut extract proved that it could be more effective on candida than the usual drugs. Try gargling with the extract in water for sore throat. Taken internally, it relieves constipation. Some people take it regularly to maintain a healthy intestinal balance. It also aids digestion and helps your body to use fat instead of storing it.

Did you ever boil walnut shells to make homemade ink when you were a kid? You used them because they have a very high tannin and juglone content which yields a nice smooth brown color. These two substances dye everything brown or even black, which is why boiled walnut shells are also used to make hair dye. Tannin is used in tanning leather. It kills internal worms and parasites, possibly by increasing the acid balance of the intestines. Juglone is a toxin which enables the black walnut tree to survive by killing off insects and competing plants. It’s used in a number of insecticides. It is possible that juglone also kills parasites and worms and may even be part of a cancer cure, but scientific studies have yet to prove any of this for certain.

Black walnut bark should be used with caution, although some Native Americans recommend chewing it for toothache and putting powdered bark in a decayed tooth to soothe pain. The leaves have lots of vitamin C and are used to make a paste that can be put on insect and spider bites and skin infections. You can make a tea of the leaves too. The bitter taste means that it’s good for your liver. The tea is also very astringent, and you can use it for a face wash or a poultice.

Black walnut shell is probably safest in extract form. If you want to make your own extract, take fresh unripe walnuts, clean them and immerse them in vodka or grain alcohol with a teaspoon of powdered vitamin C, cover and let steep for three days. Add more vitamin C and store in dark glass bottles. Wait six weeks before using.

Don’t use black walnut for more than three weeks without a break. Don’t use it during pregnancy or while nursing. Never give black walnut shell or extract to animals. It is especially poisonous to horses and can cause them to founder.

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