The black nut that fights inflammation, obesity and more

If you’re a true health-nut (or even a part-time health nut), there’s one food you should always have on hand — nuts.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that nuts are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. In fact, I’m often astounded by what eating nuts every day can do for your health…

Protect you from atrial fibrillation and heart failure. Improve brain function. Reduce the risk of serious diseases like diabetes and cancer. Add years to your lifespan. And more.

Hopefully, you’ve already heard about all (or some) of these benefits, so your pantry’s packed with nuts. Of course, even if it is, there’s one nut you’re probably missing…

The black walnut.

Why black walnuts are better

If you live in the eastern, midwestern or southern U.S., you may find your lawn littered with a health food come fall…

The black walnut.

Black walnut trees are abundant in more than half of the continental U.S. And every year, around late September or early October, they drop their nuts. But their loss is your gain. Here’s why…

Researchers from the University of Missouri recently performed a first-of-its-kind study on the black walnut. They found that it contains lots of phytosterols.

Phytosterols are plant compounds that are proven to prevent obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also lower cholesterol and inflammation, while fighting free radicals and lowering cancer risk.

They’re amazing. In fact, they’re the primary reason English walnuts (the kind you usually find in the grocery store) are so healthy. But based on this study, certain black walnuts contain more phytosterols than English walnuts…

Researchers tested six different kinds of black walnuts. All of them contained phytosterols, but two contained more phytosterols than the English walnut — varieties known as Tomboy and Chesler.

But you should know, phytosterols aren’t the only healthy compounds in black walnuts. They also contain several essential fatty acids, antioxidants and minerals like magnesium and potassium.

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How to get your black walnut fix

Here’s the bad news…

Black walnuts are less common in grocery stores than English walnuts. But some stores do carry them. You can buy them online too. Or, if you live somewhere with black walnut trees, you can harvest some yourself next fall…

It takes effort to harvest black walnuts. First, you’ll want to make sure the tree you’re harvesting from is indeed a black walnut. I’d recommend getting your hands on a tree identification book. You can buy one or rent one from the library.

If you already know the tree is a black walnut, here’s how you harvest its healthy nuts in the early fall:

  1. Put on your nut-harvesting gear. Walnuts husks contain an inky substance that will stain your hands and clothes. So, wear a pair of gloves and clothes you’re not attached to.
  2. Shake those nuts loose. If there aren’t many nuts on the ground, you can shake the tree to encourage the process along. You can also use a long pole to get more nuts.
  3. Examine the husks. Black walnuts are ready to harvest when the outer husk softens but is still green. Press your finger against the husk. If it leaves a depression, the nut is mature.
  4. Remove the husks. Once you’ve collected mature nuts, remove the husks. There are a few ways to do that. You can:
    • Drive over them on a gravel driveway.
    • Get a piece of thick plywood and drill a hole that’s 1 5/8-inch diameter thick. Then use a hammer to force each nut through the hole. That’ll shear the husk right off.
    • Roll the husk off using a 2×4 or your foot.
  5. Fill a bucket with water and wash the nuts. At this point, they should still have their shells. Nutshells that don’t contain a nut will rise to the top. You can get rid of these.
  6. If you plan on eating the nuts right away, get a cracking device. Handheld nutcrackers might not work on the black walnut’s hard shell. If not, you can try a hammer, a block of wood, a vise or a big rock… just watch your fingers!
  7. If you don’t plan on eating the nuts right away, leave the shells on and let the nuts dry. Lay them out in a well-ventilated spot away from direct sunlight. Leave them there for several weeks.
  8. Nuts that still have their shells can be stored in bags or baskets in a cool, dry place for up to a year. So, if you’ve collected a lot, save some and dip into your stash throughout the year!

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Sources:

  1. Black walnuts contain heart-healthy nutrients that can stave off obesity and cardiovascular disease — MedicalXpress
  2. Identification and quantification of phytosterols in black walnut kernelsJournal of Food Composition and Analysis
  3. Preparing Black Walnuts for Eating — University of Illinois Extension
  4. The Benefits of Black Walnut — Verywell Health

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.