By MyKyah Vessels, Alliance for Watershed Fellow
Do you ever see people picking plants in parks or on sidewalks? They’re foraging!
Foraging is the practice of exploring an area to pick wild plants, often for food or medicine, but also for craft and other raw materials. It’s an important practice in many cultures, especially in many of the communities which live around Tacony Creek Park. We often see neighbors foraging in the park!
Foraging is also a fun hobby that many people picked up during Covid. It may be intimidating to start foraging if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for. That’s why we are introducing a series of edible plant guides, written by our Alliance for Watershed Education Fellow, MyKyah Vessels. MyKyah will lead two edible plant walks this month: Saturday, August 14 and August 21. You can register here or here!
This is the fourth of our Edible Plant Guide series which will feature these commonly-seen plants:
Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra)
Black Walnut is a deciduous perennial tree native to Eastern North America. Over time it has naturalized in the Pacific Northeast and Midwestern America. Black walnut prefers loamy, moist soil near forest edges.
Identification and Look-alikes
Black Walnut has alternate compound leaves and can reach 130 feet in height. Black Walnut has two look-alikes, Tree of Heaven and Sumac. It is hard to tell them apart when they are young, but as they age, you can distinguish Black Walnut by the cracked diamond-shaped bark. Another feature is the “Monkey faced” or “shamrock” scarring on the twigs. Black Walnut, of course, grows walnuts and the other trees do not. These walnuts can be harvested in the Fall.
Is it Edible?
Yes, the fruit, sap, and oil are edible. The fruit is first dried then shelled. The fruit has a sweet taste, and an oil can be extracted from the seed for cooking or flavoring dishes. The tree is tapped for sap in the Spring and can be turned into a syrup.
Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Copper, Selenium, Omega 3 Fatty Acid, Cholesterol, Manganese, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, Vitamin E, and Calcium.
Black Walnut hulls are used as a dark brown dye that needs no mordant (chemicals). Its wood is used in woodworking for furniture and gunstocks, among other things. The green husks may help with toothaches and can be turned into a poultice to alleviate headaches. It is anti-inflammatory, and parts like the sap and the husks have been used to ease inflammation. Black walnut is also a bug repellent, with the husks and leaves often used to ward off flies, fleas, and other insects.
Do not eat if you are allergic to tree nuts. Juglone, a chemical found in black walnuts, may cause skin irritation.
Annual – A plant that completes its life cycle in one year. When the new season comes, an entirely new plant grows from the seed of the previous plant.
Biennial – A plant that lives for two years. They flower during their second year of life and after the third, a new plant grows.
Bract – A modified leaf underneath or surrounding the flower.
Cholagogue – Stimulates and increases the flow of bile.
Deciduous – A tree or shrub that sheds its leaves.
Herbaceous – A plant stem with little to no woody tissue.
Mordant – A chemical that binds a natural dye to a natural fiber.
Moxibustion (Mandarin: 艾灸)- Is an external treatment in Chinese Traditional Medicine and other countries in East and Central Asia in which bundles of dried Mugwort or wormwood are burned over the body.
Perennial – A plant that lives for more than two years. It survives by its roots when the top portion dies back or is evergreen.
Petiole – The stalk that supports the leaf and connects the blade to the stem.
Grow It Build It: The Blog, “Black Walnut Tree – Facts, Identification, Grow and Care”
National Library of Medicine, “Identifying Antibacterial Compounds in Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra) Using a Metabolomics Approach”
NC State Extension, “Juglans nigra”
Plants For A Future, “Juglans nigra – L.”
National Library of Medicine, “Application of black walnut (Juglans nigra) husk for the removal of lead (II) ion from aqueous solution”