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#AdventBotany Day 5: Walnuts

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Walnut botanical print from Kohler’s Medizinal Pflanzen

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.

Roman coin showing Jupiter throwing thunderbolts

 

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.’

Culpepper’s remedy reported in John Parkinson’s ‘Teatrum Botanicum’, 1640.
Culpepper’s remedy reported in John Parkinson’s ‘Teatrum Botanicum’, 1640.

 

These fruit have turned black with drying and aging, but young, pickled walnuts also turn black.
These fruit have turned black with drying and aging, but young, pickled walnuts also turn black.
Boxed specimens from the Manchester Museum herbarium.
Boxed specimens from the Manchester Museum herbarium.

 

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.

Herbarium sheet showing pressed walnut leaves, flowers and developing fruit from the Himalayas in 1881.
Herbarium sheet showing pressed walnut leaves, flowers and developing fruit from the Himalayas in 1881.

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.

 

This blog post is part of the #AdventBotany series hosted by the Culham Research Group at the University of Reading. Get ready for the next installment in the botanical advent calendar for 2015!

References

Edible, an Illustrated reference to the World’s Foods. National Geographic

Culpepper’s Compete Herbal

The Origin of Plants by Maggie Campbell-Oliver

Forests in Iceland

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Crooked downy birch trees
Crooked downy birch trees

Iceland’s native forests are primarily composed of downy birch (Betula pubescens) with some rowan (Sorbus acuparia). The aspen (Populus tremula) is also found in Iceland, but is extremely rare and the shrubby tea-leaved willow (Salix phylicifolia) can sometimes get tall enough to be counted as a tree.

Forestry plantation, Snaefellsnes
Forestry plantation, Snaefellsnes

Beyond these species, the Iceland Forestry Service has experimented with a number of species from overseas, as well as planting more birch, and plantations of trees are now maturing. We have wandered through a few forested ares and we were privileged to meet Throstur Eysteinsson (division chief of the forestry service) who wrote this excellent description of forestry in a treeless land.

On the road to Grindavik

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On the road to Grindavik
On the road to Grindavik

While David Gelsthorpe stopped to collect some interesting basalt specimens, mine and Dmitri Logunov’s attention was drawn to this lovely juniper bush.

Juniperus communis
Juniperus communis

Growing over the rocks and through a mound of moss, this juniper has grown into a low-lying shape which gives it some protection from high winds and the winter snows.

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