Archive for 12 November 2020

Black Walnuts, Local Ogham

The walnut, and particularly the black walnut (juglans nigra — Wikipedia link) growing in our back yard here in Vermont, isn’t included in the original ogham fews or ranks of European ritual trees and plants that Druids often work with. No surprise — the black walnut is native to North America, from where it’s been exported.

The name of the walnut itself, originally wealh hnutu “foreign nut” in Old English, supplies one hint as to why. Many Druids outside Celtic regions, where one particular set of native trees has acquired rich ritual significance, have explored sets of other trees and other attributions, sometimes coming to recognize the potential of their own local tree neighbours.

Native Americans, no slouches where natural wisdom is concerned, have their own tree lore that’s very worth delving into, and the same holds true for other regions of the globe. Trying out what actually works is a time-honoured Druid activity that can engage anyone, Druid or not, all our lives. Whether your tree neighbours are oaks and ashes, palms or olives, eucalyptus or baobab or deodar, getting to know them is often the truest part of ogham work.

One of “our” black walnuts in early October

I just finished shelling the first of two batches of nuts this morning. (The second batch arrived after a windy night of rain a few weeks ago, bringing down a second harvest from the nuts beyond our reach.) As anyone knows who’s worked with the fresh nuts, they’re messy to handle. The juices of the fleshy outer husks or drupes can stain the hands dark brown if you don’t wear gloves, and the maggots of a couple common insect pests often infest the drupe under the skin around the actual nut, without affecting the quality of nut itself.

You can find several helpful videos on Youtube about harvesting the nuts. Here’s one of the shorter and more straightforward ones that doesn’t suggest you need to buy unnecessary tools.

I choose to let the nuts sit a while before husking. They soon turn from the pale green and yellow in the video to a fairly uniform brown below. (The box lived in our breezeway for a few weeks.

The outer skins soften and the drupe may begin to decay. While husking is messier (juicier!), the skins often come off more readily.

Here are the husks from about 30 lbs. / 14 kg. of walnuts. You can readily see why the early North American settlers used the juice as a hair dye.

Several of the videos neglect to mention that you should take care where you discard the water from rinsing the husked nuts. The black walnut is allelopathic — as the Wikipedia entry notes, the tree “releases chemicals from its roots and other tissues that harm some other organisms and give the tree a competitive advantage”. For gardeners that means no garden plots within about 50 feet / 15 meters of the trunk. (With care, raised beds are exempt and can stand closer.) Blackberries and raspberries will do fine, but not much else. We learned the hard way our first year in the house, when a small plot of potatoes and corn near the walnuts amounted to nothing, yellowing within a month of germination.

Rinse the nuts a few times, then lay them out to dry and cure for several weeks. (Ours will season in the same room as our woodstove.)

Still wet from washing in our basement/utility bathroom.

Fresh or roasted, the nut meat is very flavorful. The oil is excellent in cooking, too, though we’ve never made it at home — the nuts disappear before that’s more than a passing thought.

range of juglans nigra/Wikipedia public domain

Once dried, the nuts are admittedly hard to crack. A hammer is necessary, and even the dried nuts will still stain the fingers. There’s a reason they’re pricey in stores, and worth the effort to harvest them yourself when you can.

The two walnut trees on our small acreage are yet another reason to honour the former owner of our property, who planted so wisely. Though the USDA map above excludes New England from the tree’s range, our walnuts thrive in a natural dell in our back yard, sheltered by other trees, and watered by a small nearby stream. That personal and local association shapes part of my own walnut ogham: I too can grow and flourish outside my range, with care and attention to my surroundings and neighbours, and through the wise actions of those who came before me.

If you don’t already know Dana Driscoll’s excellent blog (Dana’s the Grand Archdruid of AODA, as well as a Druid graduate of OBOD), visit A Druid’s Garden for her wonderful post on the Black Walnut.

One of the main ogham qualities of the walnut lies in its “expelling” nature mentioned earlier because of the toxins in its roots and drupes, but many other “nutty” associations exist, which Dana mines and muses on in her blogpost.

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Posted 12 November 2020 by adruidway in Druidry

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