Harvesting Black Walnuts

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The kids and I gathered black walnuts from a huge walnut tree on my dad’s part of the property last weekend. He’s had this land for over ten years now, and this is the very first time I’ve ever decided to use the walnuts for anything! Terrible, I know.

Harvesting nuts is not as easy as it sounds. It’s actually quite a process. Black Walnuts have a husk around the shell that needs to be removed before you can even get to the shell of the nut. When the walnuts are ripe, they will fall from the tree and the green husk will begin to turn dark. This usually happens late September or early October. Once they are dark they are ready for the husks to be removed.

You have to work quick though. Once the walnuts start falling to the ground, it’s a race between you and the squirrels to see who can get the most! A good tip when you are picking up black walnuts is to wear gloves! The juice from the black husks will stain your hands and clothes.

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The kids and I filled our bags with the nuts and took them home to prepare. The nuts we harvested were really wet from the rain, so I decided to lay them out in one of the kids play tables outside to dry. I covered the table with an old window screen and laid rocks on the corners to keep it in place. This was to keep the squirrels out.

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Imagine my surprise when I went out to check on the nuts the next day and found that a squirrel had dug a hole through the screen and had stolen several of the nuts! The thief!

We had to move quickly before we were robbed of any more! So, the first step is removing the husk. An easy way to do this  is to step on it and roll it around under your shoe. The husk will easily come off, leaving a wet nutshell.

Next the nutshells need to be washed. They will be covered in wet, black residue from the husk. Again, wear gloves! I dumped all of the nuts into a 5 gallon bucket, filled it with water, and stirred it well with a big stick. I dumped out the dirty water and repeated this process about 10 more times. The nuts that floated I tossed out. Supposedly those are the bad nuts.

Another note: Don’t leave the husks anywhere on the ground where you want to grow other plants. They have some sort of chemical in them that makes it really hard for some trees and plants to grow. For this reason you should not try to compost the husks either.

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Once the nuts were relatively clean, I spread them all back out in the kids table to dry in the sun. I crossed my fingers that the squirrel wouldn’t be back.

Later in the day I went out to check on the nuts. They were dry. Good. But just as I was about to go in and get a bag to collect the nuts in I spotted something creeping out of the trees… that rascally squirrel was back!

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I sat down on a bench in the yard and watched what it would do. Slowly she crept up to where the nuts were. I got my camera ready, for evidence of course. Then, in the blink of an eye, that booger grabbed a nut and ran full speed ahead back to its nest! I still got a shot of her though. (This photo cracked me up!)

So, now I’ll let the nuts dry for a couple of weeks in a cool, dry place… out of the squirrel’s reach! We did eat some of the nuts as we collected them. We used a rock to break the shells off. They are good fresh, but I think the flavor is better after they’ve cured a little while.

Anyways, I found some other interesting things that you can do with Black Walnuts:

  • You can use black walnuts to make dye.
  • You can even dye your hair darker using black walnuts!
  • You can also make a wonderful fiber dye, wood stain, ink or paint with these nut husks.
  • Black Walnuts are also used in many herbal remedies.

I plan on doing some baking with what we collected. I’m sure I can come up with some yummy Christmas gift treats!

What about you? Have you ever harvested Black Walnuts? Have any advice or recipes to share?

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8 thoughts on “Harvesting Black Walnuts”

  1. I gather black walnut every year. My Grand mother was an American Indian. Black walnut shells when green put into 100 percent grain alcohol becomes a medicine. This Medicine expells worms. She would let it cure for 2 years. It would turn black and we used it as an elixir.

    Let it sit for two weeks with the green outer remove the nut.

    Then remove the outer from the jar that was sitting in the dark area for two weeks. date and place in a dark area. After it had aged for two years she would use it. She always prepared some years in advance.

    A good crop was ever couple of years. Some years black walnut was to hard to use (green shell). I had to be removed very easily to use. for a good elixir. I use it today me and my grandchildren. to expell worms. cleaning every two years.

  2. Our black walnuts are just starting to fall and I really want to do something with them this year. I remember playing with them when I was a child & getting black hands in the process. I’ve read that you can dry the leaves and that there are also uses for the husks. If I get really adventurous I may try to preserve the husks in some way too.

  3. Gathering walnuts with my mom with my mom will always be one of my favorite pastimes. We would go out and gather then just as soon as they dropped off the trees, when the husks were still green.

    The house we lived in at the time had a crushed gravel driveway, so we’d spread them out in the driveway and allow the vehicles to run over them for a few days..breaking off those hard green husks. Then we’d gather them up and complete the husking process by hand. My mom always kept those mesh potato and onion bags on hand, so we’d fill those us and hang them in various places in the garage and barn for a few months dry out.

    When it came time to use the walnuts in various recipes from cookies to cakes and everything in between, Mom would pull out here hammer and crack a huge bowl full, then we’d sit in the living room picking the nut meat out of the shells while spending a leisurely evening together.

    Thank you for posting your blog, you’ve renewed some wonderful memories for me.

  4. I laughed my head off at the pic of the squirrel—she’s bookin’ with that nut! (Note: if you have kitties, you won’t have squirrels. We know this for a fact.)
    I admit that we have several 30-year-old black walnut trees on our property, and we are only just now becoming interested in actually using the nuts. I was interested to learn that cracking them with a vise is effective.
    My great-aunt had a lifelong scar on her forehead that occurred when she and my other great-aunt, her sister, were fighting over a hammer to crack the black walnuts with when they were kids. Aunt M. told Aunt G., “Gimme that hammer!” and, well, Aunt G. did, with considerable force.

  5. My in-laws have a black walnut tree and last year was the first time I ever harvested them. It is a process! But I candied and toasted them and they were awesome. A great little fall time snack!

  6. My mother’s best friend used Walnut husks to cover the gray in her hair.

    I remember my mother getting a big trash bag of them and we husked them in the bag. I think it was to keep us kids from getting stains all over ourselves and our clothes. I can’t seem to remember if we ever ate them. I am guessing that we did. Or my parents did when we were in bed. They always have nuts in the shells for the winter. A tradition I have not continued.

  7. The way we paid for our tractor to be serviced every year was with walnuts. We raked and bagged them up and Mr Fred repaired/serviced our tractor every year. He has since passed away but my husband says that is how they(his family) always paid him…. with walnuts!

  8. that pic of the squirrel is so funny! I can imagine what he is saying, “thanks for the hard work, now all I have to do is eat it!”


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