Photo by AndonicO

It’s the time of year when we eat most nuts[1]roast[2] chestnuts[3], hazelnuts[4], almonds[5] and walnuts[6]. The latter[7] are some of the oldest nuts to be harvested[8] by humans. Walnuts are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids[9]. They are also beneficial in preventing[10] coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

However the walnut tree (Juglans regia) has many more uses. The wood is used for everything from the dashboards[11] on Jaguar sports cars to furniture[12]. The crushed[13] shells[14] can be used to clean runway lights[15] at airports and NASA has even used them as insulation[16] for the nose-cones[17] of their spacecraft[18]. Walnut oil can be used in cooking but the Ancient Egyptians preferred to use it to embalm their mummies.

Walnut trees are beneficial even if you don’t cut them down or harvest8 the nuts. Their leaves[19] produce a toxic vapour that drives away flies[20]. Walnut trees also produce a chemical weapon[21], juglone, to protect themselves against other plants. This can be used by humans as a natural herbicide.

Walnut trees are native to southern Europe and Asia and this explains their name in English and other Germanic languages[22]; ‘walnut’ means “foreign nut”.

With all these uses, it is not surprising that walnuts are associated with fertility. A good harvest[23] of walnuts in France traditionally means that many children will be born. The English associates walnuts with testicles (referred to as “one’s nuts” in playground parlance[24]). By contrast, Jungian psychology associates dreaming of walnuts with female genitalia. Either way, in Ancient Rome bride[25] and groom[26] were pelted with[27] walnuts to ensure their fertility. However, even if children are desired, I recommend you stick to[28] rice or confetti!

[1] nut – the edible oily kernel of a fruit with a hard shell

[2] roast – (in this case) baked, made edible by heating

[3] chestnut – the edible nut of the chestnut tree (Castanea dentata)

[4] hazelnutspherical brown nut of the hazel tree (Corylus avellana)

[5] almond – edible kernel of the almond tree (Prunus amygdalus)

[6] walnutsee photo

[7] the latter – the last mentioned, (in this case) walnuts

[8] to harvestgather, collect

[9] fatty acid – carboxylic acid occurring in edible oils

[10] to prevent – stop

[11] dashboardpanel containing the instruments and controls of a vehicle

[12] furnituretables, chairs etc.

[13] crushed – smashed, broken up, triturated

[14] shellhard outer covering

[15] runway light – illumination for aeroplanes that are taking off or landing

[16] insulation – protective material that isolates sth. from extreme temperatures

[17] nose-cone – front

[18] spacecraftvehicle for travelling through outer space

[19] leavesfoliage

[20] (house)fly – (Musca domestica) type of flying insect

[21] chemical weapon – (in this case) defensive chemical substance

[22] walnoot in Dutch, valnød in Danish, valnöt in Swedish and valnøtt in Norwegian

[23] good harvest – abundant collection, copious yield

[24] playground parlance – the language of schoolchildren

[25] bridewoman who is getting married

[26] (bride)groomman who is getting married

[27] to be pelted with sth. – have sth. thrown at you

[28] to stick to sth. (stick-stuck-stuck) – only use sth., limit oneself to sth.


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