Tree of the Week - European Walnut

Wednesday 14 December 2011

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Timeline

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1. The first historical account of walnut trees growing under civilized cultivation was in ancient Babylon (Iraq) about 2000 BC, however, walnuts have evidently been attached to mankind much earlier by excavations from cave fossils as suggested by archaeologists.

2. The Egyptians used walnut kernel oil to embalm mummies by replacing the blood with walnut oil.¨

3. The Greeks are credited with the first noted improvements in the size and quality of the Persian walnut through selection and cultivation, which are now referred to as English walnut trees. The Romans established the Persian walnut tree throughout most of Europe and North Africa.

4. Juglans regia, the English walnut, was brought to California in the USA by Spanish Franciscan missionary monks in the early 1800s, who settled along the coast.

Properties

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European walnut has a high crushing strength and medium resistance to shock loads, and has medium bending strength and low stiffness, with very good steam bending qualities.

Walnut works well with hand and machine tools with a moderate blunting effect on cutting edges. It planes well and finishes cleanly, and can be turned, carved, nailed screwed and sanded. It can be moulded, bored and routed, and glues satisfactorily. It can be stained and given a good French polish finish.

Trees can live to an age of approximately 60 years and grow to about 60 feet tall at maturity. There are many other walnut species, the best known of which is the Black walnut, Juglans nigra, a native American walnut tree which is grown mainly for its value in making expensive furniture.

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Uses

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Walnut is not generally available in large fault-free boards but is prized for gunstocks, cabinetwork, bank fittings, turnery and car interiors. The figured wood can be sliced into decorative veneers. Walnut hulls have found many uses in a powdered state as a metal polish, as a thermal insulator in rocket nose cones, and as a mysterious, secret ingredient in women's cosmetics.

Food

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The English walnut orchards that were grown in the Californian Catholic missions, meant the walnuts were sold and distributed under the name 'Mission Walnuts.' California produces 65% of the world supply of English walnuts. Famous chefs of the world use walnuts in many types of cuisines including meats, vegetables, desserts, and soup preparations. A world-famous dessert made from walnuts, honey, and paper-thin buttered flakes of crusts is called Baklava.

Health

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Walnut kernels contain many antioxidants that offer health benefits and will lower cholesterol in the body, thus lowering heart damage from disease and cause a dramatic reduction of fatty coagulants in veins and arteries. The leaves have been used as a laxative since antiquity, as well as to induce vomiting, stop bleeding, stop diarrhoea, as a cure to many skin diseases and herpes, and to kill human internal worms. Walnut hull extracts have been used to treat liver problems, to kill ringworms, and to help lose weight. Walnuts are highly beneficial in providing all of the Vitamin B series, Vitamin E, and many minerals that are beneficial to keeping a healthy body.

Myth and Sayings

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1. Greek mythology records that Carya - the Latin genus name for walnut - who fell in love with the Greek God, Dionysus, was transformed into a walnut tree at her death.

2. A late 16th century English proverb, " woman, a dog, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be", was intended to mean that women require constant attention and expenditure, and reflected the position of women in society at the time - the walnut tree was beaten, firstly to bring down the fruit, then to break down long shoots and encourage short fruit-bearing ones.

Dyes

Roman black cloth was produced by dyeing of fabric or skeins in dye baths of tannic acid and iron salts, including using black walnuts. This is referred to by Pliny the Elder in his book Natural History, and there is evidence of it in the dyeworks at Pompeii. Walnut was also known as a dye during the Viking Age.