Walnuts (genus Juglans) are plants in the family Juglandaceae. They are deciduous trees, 10 - 40 meters tall (about 30-130 ft.), with pinnate leaves 200 - 900 millimetres long (about 7-35 inches), with 5 - 25 leaflets; the shoots have chambered pith, a character shared with the wingnuts (Pterocarya) but not the hickories (Carya) in the same family.
The 21 species in the genus range across the north temperate Old World from southeast Europe east to Japan, and more widely in the New World from southeast Canada west to California and south to Argentina. The Latin name ,Juglans, derives from ,Jovis glans, "Jupiter's acorn": figuratively, a nut fit for a god.
The word walnut derives from Old English wealhhnutu, literally "foreign nut", wealh meaning "foreign" (wealh is akin to the terms Welsh and Vlach; see *Walha and History of the term Vlach). The walnut was so called because it was introduced from Gaul and Italy. The previous Latin name for the walnut was nux Gallica, "Gallic nut".
The scientific name Juglans is from the Latin jovis glans, "Jupiter's acorn", and regia, "royal". Its common name, Persian walnut, indicates its origins in Persia (Iran) in southwest Asia; 'walnut' derives from the Germanic wal- for "foreign", recognising that it is not a nut native to northern Europe. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Shahmirzad orchard in Iran is the largest in the world (700-750 ha). In Kyrgyzstan alone there are 230,700 ha of walnut-fruit forest, where J. regia is the dominant overstorey (Hemery and Popov 1998). This is the species which is widely cultivated for its delicious nuts. J. regia is also called English walnut because English merchant marines once controlled its world commerce.
The Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a common species in its native eastern North America, and is also widely cultivated elsewhere. The nuts are edible, but have a smaller kernel and an extremely tough shell, and they are not widely grown for nut production.
The Butternut (Juglans cinerea) is also native to eastern North America, where it is currently endangered by an introduced disease, butternut canker, caused by the fungus Sirococcus clavigignenti. Its leaves are 40-60 cm long, and the nuts oval.
The Japanese Walnut (Juglans ailantifolia) is similar to Butternut, distinguished by the larger leaves up to 90 cm long, and round (not oval) nuts.Hybrids
The two most commercially important species are J. regia for timber and nuts, and J. nigra for timber. Both species have similar cultivation requirements and are widely grown in temperate zones.
Walnuts are light-demanding species that benefit from protection from wind. Walnuts are also very hardy against drought.
Interplanting walnut plantations with a nitrogen fixing plant such as Elaeagnus × ebbingei or E. umbellata, and various Alnus species results in a 30% increase in tree height and girth (Hemery 2001).
When grown for nuts care must be taken to select cultivars that are compatible for pollination purposes, although some cultivars are marketed as "self fertile" they will generally fruit better with a different pollination partner. There are many different cultivars available for growers, offering different growth habit, flowering and leafing, kernel flavour and shell thickness. A key trait for more northerly latitudes of N. America and Europe is phenology, with ‘late flushing’ being particularly important to avoid frost damage in Spring. Some cultivars have been developed for novel ‘hedge’ production systems developed in Europe and would not suit more traditional orchard systems.
The nuts of all the species are edible, but the walnuts commonly available in shops are from the Persian Walnut, the only species which has a large nut and thin shell. A horticultural form selected for thin nut shells and hardiness in temperate zones is sometimes known as the 'Carpathian' walnut. The nuts are rich in oil, and are widely eaten both fresh and in cookery. Walnut oil is expensive and consequently is used sparingly; most often in salad dressing. Walnuts are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, and have been shown as helpful in lowering cholesterol. They need to be kept dry and refrigerated to store well; in warm conditions they become rancid in a few weeks, particularly after shelling. Oil paint often employs walnut oil as an effective binding medium, known for its clear, glossy consistency and non-toxicity. Flour made from walnut shells is widely used in the plastics industry.
Two-thirds of the world export market and 99% of the US commercial production is grown in California's Central Valley and in Coastal Valleys, from Redding in the north to Bakersfield in the south. Over 30 varieties are grown there, but Chandler and Hartley account for over half of total production.
In California commercial production, the black walnut is used mainly as a rootstock for English walnuts, because black walnuts are more work to crack and remove from the shell. One ounce of English walnuts has 18.5 grams of total fat and 2.6 grams of omega 3’s. One ounce of black walnut has 16.7 grams of total fat and .57 grams of omega 3’s.
In some countries immature nuts in their husks are preserved in vinegar. In England these are called "pickled walnuts" and this is one of the major uses for fresh nuts from the small scale plantings. In Armenian cuisine, walnuts are preserved in sugar syrup and eaten whole. In Italy, liqueurs called Nocino and Nocello are flavoured with walnuts. In Georgia, walnuts are ground along with other ingredients to make walnut sauce.
Walnuts are heavily used in India. In Jammu, India it is used widely as a prasad (offering) to Mother Goddess Vaisnav Devi and, generally, as a dry food in the season of festivals such as Diwali.
Walnut husks are often used to create a rich yellow-brown to dark brown dye that is used for dyeing fabric and for other purposes. When picking walnuts, the husks should be handled wearing rubber gloves, to avoid dyeing one's fingers.
The Persian Walnut, and the Black Walnut and its allies, are important for their attractive timber, which is hard, dense, tight-grained and polishes to a very smooth finish. The colour ranges from creamy white in the sapwood to a dark chocolate colour in the heartwood. When kiln-dried, walnut wood tends toward a dull brown colour, but when air-dried can become a rich purplish-brown. Because of its colour, hardness and grain it is a prized furniture and carving wood. Walnut burls (or 'burrs' in Europe) are commonly used to create bowls and other turned pieces. Veneer sliced from walnut burl is one of the most valuable and highly prized by cabinet makers and prestige car manufacturers. Walnut wood has been the timber of choice for gun makers for centuries, including the Lee Enfield rifle of the First World War. It remains one the most popular choices for rifle and shotgun stocks, and is generally considered to be the premium – as well as the most traditional – wood for gun stocks. Walnut is also used in lutherie, i.e. making guitar bodies. The wood of the Butternut and related Asian species is of much lower value, softer, coarser, less strong and heavy, and paler in colour.
In North America research has been undertaken mostly on Juglans nigra aiming to improve the quality of planting stock and markets. In some areas of the US black walnut is the most valuable commercial timber species. The Walnut Council is the key body linking growers with scientists. In Europe, various EU-led scientific programs have studied walnut growing for timber.
As garden trees they have some drawbacks, in particular the falling nuts, and the releasing of the allelopathic compound juglone, though a number of gardeners do grow them. However, different walnut species vary in the amount of juglone they release from the roots and fallen leaves - the black walnut in particular is known for its toxicity. Juglone is toxic to plants such as tomato, apple, and birch and may cause stunting and death of nearby vegetation. Juglone appears to be one of the walnut's primary defence mechanisms against potential competitors for resources (water, nutrients and sunlight), and its effects are felt most strongly inside the tree's "drip line" (the circle around the tree marked by the horizontal distance of its outermost branches). However, even plants at a seemingly great distance outside the drip line can be affected, and juglone can linger in the soil for several years even after a walnut is removed as its roots slowly decompose and release juglone into the soil.
In addition, walnuts are a popular snack among woodland creatures, specifically mice and squirrels.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that eating walnuts after a meal high in unhealthy fats can reduce the damaging effects of such fats on blood vessels. Researchers from Barcelona's Hospital Clinic conducted a study on 24 adult participants, half of whom had normal cholesterol levels, and half of whom had moderately high levels of cholesterol. Each group was fed two high-fat meals of salami and cheese, eaten one week apart. During one meal, the researchers supplemented the food with five teaspoons of olive oil. The researcher added eight shelled walnuts to the other meal, the following week.
Tests after each meal showed that both the olive oil and the walnuts helped reduce the onset of dangerous inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after the meals, which were high in saturated fat. However, unlike the olive oil, the walnuts also helped the arteries maintain their elasticity and flexibility, even in the participants with higher cholesterol.
Lead researcher Dr. Emilio Ros said walnuts' protective effects could be because the nuts are high in antioxidants and ALA, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. Walnuts also contain arginine, which is an amino acid that the body uses to produce nitric oxide, necessary for keeping blood vessels flexible.
The latest scientific development has revealed that the plant leaves have the function of reducing fasting blood sugar (FBS) in diabetic rats, of which beta cells could be regenerated, indicating the promising future of the plant for medicinal use.