In my humble opinion, the hazelnut is OK, but in my stocking I’ll be sure to find some walnuts. Clearly I’m not the only one to put this as the king of the nuts either, as the botanical name, Juglans regia, translates as ‘royal nut of Jupiter’. One myth has the Roman god Jupiter (also known as Jove) living on walnuts during his time on Earth.
Walnuts have been used medically for centuries. In the ancient herbalist system known as the Doctrine of Signatures, plants with medicinal properties would resemble the part of the body they would be effective at curing. The walnut’s resemblance to a human skull and brain meant that it would be recommended for injuries to the head (for example by treating head wounds with walnut oil). Later remedies expand on the usefulness of walnuts, such as this recommendation by Culpepper:
‘If taken with onions, salt and honey, they help the bites of mad dogs, or poisonous bites of any kind.’
As it grows, the nut is protected by a green, fibrous fruit which splits when the nut ripens in autumn. The hard-outer case protects the rich food reserves inside. These were the produced by the plant and stored within the nut for a young seedling to use upon germination. The flesh of the nut is rich in fibre, protein and omega-3 fatty acids as well as being a source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.
The natural range of the walnut tree was throughout North and Central Asia, and into Eastern Europe. The species is thought to be declining in its Central Asian strongholds through grazing, seed collection and timber use. The species has been listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN Red List. However, walnut trees have been planted all across Europe and in the US and are often found in large parks and gardens in the UK as ornamental trees.
Edible, an Illustrated reference to the World’s Foods. National Geographic
Culpepper’s Compete Herbal
The Origin of Plants by Maggie Campbell-Oliver