Monday, July 21, 2008

Wild about Walnut (Juglans major or J. nigra)

This months blog party is about bitters, and right now, I can't seem to wrap my head or ambition around writing about bitters. Right now, I'm obsessed with Walnut. So, this may or may not count for the blog party, but read on to learn about the sadly underused and piegon-holed wonder that is walnut.
Walnut is best known as the "parasite herb" in herbal commerce, and if you wander into a health food store you'll find black walnut hulls paired up with cloves, wormwood and other vermifuges in tinctures. That is about as much as commerce knows about walnut.

Walnut, especially black walnut is also famous for its ability to stain and dye. The bark, leaves and hulls contain juglone, an aromatic compound that will stain your skin, fabrics and other surfaces with a blackish orange color, depending on how strong the solution is. This famed juglone compound also inhibits the growth of other plant species near and around a walnut tree, even its own offspring should the walnut fall not too far from the tree. It is this property which has probably led to its famed use as a "parasite Killer", vermifuge, and in treatment of "candida". I'm not discounting this use of the walnut tree by any means, though I have not used it for that purpose myself or with clients, I have no reason to claim that walnut does not have use in this respect. It probably does, thus its long popularity as such.

I'm not sure what called me about the Walnut trees lately, but they've been on my mind a lot since I came back to Arizona. There are some amazingly large old walnut trees in the washes in the Tucson valley, and I've been going to visit them for years before this summer. I've collected walnuts when ripe in the fall to crack and eat the flavorful and nutritious nut, I've collected green hulls for tincturing, and I've climbed the big grandfather tree to sit in its branches and be with the wind and sun the spirit of the trees. I seem to have a strong attraction to the plant spirits in trees, my biggest plant allies are primarily trees, including oaks, junipers, and now walnut. I must have druid roots in my Celtic blood.

For weeks, I've been fascinatedly reading up on the uses of walnut, in traditional Physiomedical and Eclectic literature, and more modern pieces, by Matt Wood and others. Though I have tinctured walnut hulls in the past, I never really made use of the tincture, possibly due to lack of information about HOW to use it, and also because there are so many plants to use, to learn and know, and some plants call you at certain times more than others. Walnut hadn't spoken to me yet, until recently. Suddenly I can't stop thinking about, reading about and experimenting with walnut. Just yesterday during an energy work session, I was laying face down on the table, relaxing, drifting in and out of a sleepy state, and I had a vision of Walnut, and the Grandfather spirit of Walnut came to me, so clearly, so strongly. Walnut has called to me. It was clearly a grandfather, a male spirit form, that I saw. If you look at the walnut tree, it is clearly male, dangling flowers and round fruits remind me of the male reproductive organs. I have other plant spirits/guides/allies, but they have all been more of a female nature. Walnut is the first male energy I've been called to work with. I think the timing is right as well. I'm looking forward to spending more time with the walnut this year, and eagerly await the lessons walnut has for me now.

But on a more practical and less personal note, I've been diligently researching the uses of walnut, aside from its use for parasites and candida.

An infusion of the leaves is dark, brownish orange, mildly bitter, and astringent, yet also sweet, balsamic and aromatic. Have you ever smelled a walnut tree? The leaves and fruits have a very pleasant balsamic smell to them. The leaf tea retains that quality, and it has a pleasant full mouth feel, almost coating the tissues with its oily resin. It leaves a cool impression, centered in the upper digestive tract, and I have found it to be stimulating and tonic. The hull tincture has a very similar quality, but is stronger in astringent and aromatic quality. The bark is the other part of the plant traditionally used, and I haven't yet experimented with its qualities. But I expect it will be even yet stronger than the leaf, and possibly retain more bitter and astringent properties.

Juglans cinerea is the juglans species most often cited in the traditional literature, but black walnut, juglans nigra is now much more commonly used, and many of the uses of J. cinerea overlap with that of J. nigra, and our local species, J. major.

Walnut leaves, hulls and bark are astringent, stimulant and tonic, mildly antispasmodic, alterative, and have an affinity for the digestive system. It is used in small doses as an astringent for diarrhea associated with gastric irritation, inflammation and lack of tone/atonic weak digestion, especially when there is difficulty with digesting and absorbing fats, and there is associated malabsorption, and possible steatorrhea. Is is helpful when the irritated state of the digestive tract and diarrhea is associated with cramping and gas, as a mild antispasmodic. It stimulates secretions of bile from the gall bladder, and restores tone to weak and flaccid tissues.

In larger doses walnut serves as a cathartic and laxative and can be helpful in cases of chronic constipation resulting from a lack of tone and lack of secretions and liver sluggishness. This can often present as constipation, light colored stools, deficient bile secretion and muscular tone in the digestive tract with skin problems ranging from acne to eczema from lack of proper elimination. I'm not a large fan of using stimulating laxatives as a long term solution, but chronic constipation is problematic and while underlying pathology and cause of the problem is addressed, walnut is a nice choice, milder than senna or cascara, and less likely to cause griping or watery, loose stools as other laxatives can.

From Kings American Dispensatory
"very efficient in deficient gastric secretion, in atonic dyspepsia, and in indigestion accompanied with gastric irritation, sour eructations, and flatulent distension of the stomach. Administer 1 pill a day. Juglans is useful in tenesmic, burning, fetid diarrhoea and dysentery, and should be remembered in intestinal dyspepsia withirritation. The specific juglans may be given in from 1 to 10-drop doses. The same doses of the same preparation act as an efficient alterative in chronic skin affections and scrofula, being particularly
indicated in those skin affections exhibiti
ng vesicles or pustules."

Ellingwood states:

It is said to be a valuable remedy in duodenal catarrh, with
torpidity of the liver and chronic jaundice. Small doses have been
successfully employed in dysentery, bilious diarrhoea, and in intestinal
diseases, with symptoms indicating irritability, hyperemia, or a tendency
to inflammation. Chronic constipation can be successfully corrected by
medium doses of the extract, if the affection depends upon defective
elimination of bile, causing the stools to be clay-colored and dry from a
lack of biliary and glandular secretion.

William Cook mentions that it is of great benefit in hemorrhoids with constipation and weak secretions, as it is tonifying to the tissues in general, and improves digestive secretions and function overall, which is a primary contributing factor in hemorrhoids.

There is some mention of the plant being used topically on skin problems including eczema, rashes and herpes, but one must use caution as the fresh plant and juglone in walnut can cause skin irritation, redness and even blisters.

Phyllis Light, a traditional Appalachian herbalist uses Walnut for the thyroid. From Matt Wood, her use is mentioned.
"The important teaching about black walnut from Phyllis Light is, however,that it is a thyroid-activator. It not only prevents goiter but will stimulate the thyroid and thus the metabolism in the cells. This improves circulation, removes deposits in the arteries, lowers blood sugar, decreases hyperinsulinism, removes stagnant water, mucus and toxins from the system. Phyllis considers it a specific for the low thyroid/chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia complex with is so frequently found today."

As I have only begun to experiment with the virtues of this plant, long held in esteem by herbalists of earlier days and now sadly piegon-holed by herbal commerce as "the parasite herb", I cannot vouch for its virtues in hypothyroid or as a parasite herb. But my intentions of using walnut as I understand it are as a wonderful therapy for IBS, leaky gut, and general gut integrity when recovering from the ravages of a food allergy, due to its soothing and tonic properities, the antispasmodic quality and its ability to improve digestive secretions and function in weak and atonic digestive systems. I envision this as a supreme gut healing, tonic and restoring therapy when paired with another local plant, Mountain Marigold, and the soothing properties of our local mallow, Globe Mallow, as a demulcent, and perhaps a pinch of peppermint and fennel or coriander.

I also have grand plans to experiment with the plant as a dye, used somewhat like henna, for festive temporary skin decoration, and even possibly as a hair dye/ rinse for dark hair!
I feel so very fortunate to have been called to work with the local plant, and plan to spend many days up my favorite large walnut tree, who's arms just bend down and beacon to be climbed up into the branches overhanging the wash where it lives.


Livia Indica said...

Once again you've inspired me; this time I'll pursue a relationship with my local walnut tree.

Helena said...

I had several goiters growing around my thyroid causing a lot of distress-one was the inability to swallow, loss of hair, weight gain. An herbalist mentioned black walnut halls. After several months of taking bwh, I have no issues now. Sometimes I'll take Black Walnut Hulls with Pau D'Arco for cleansing.

FYI- Native Americans used Black Walnut to dye their beautiful handmade baskets.- Helena

kitchenwitch said...

Wow! You have me looking at Walnut in a whole new way... I am surrounded by Black Walnut trees, but I was indeed "pigeonholing" them in the "gets rid of worms and warts" category. I deal with food allergies and I am so happy to have a new plant ally to experiment with in this area! Hooray!

Mike said...

I so much appreciate your blog!
I have a good quantity of
ground Black Walnut hulls(Actually bought several ounces) at the local Food Coop. I have heard so much about the virtues of this tree. How would you make a solution to use as a tonic taken internally??

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~