I must confess, I had rarely thought much about the ubiquitous walnut, beyond observing it in the occasional trendy salad or enjoying it in a chunk of honey-dripping baklava. And yes, the occasional silverware box made of walnut wood has caught my eye in an antique store. Little did I know, the uses of the walnut have been innumerable and fascinating for millennia.
Even an incomplete sampling of its uses is impressive. The wood has been used for fine furniture, yokes for oxen, shoes, gun stocks, and airplane propellers. The whole shells were employed as razors in Louis XI’s French court; ground shells have been utilized as a filling for dental cavities, as a polish for metal, and as thermal insulation in rocket nose cones. The hulls produced hair dye and pen ink, and the ancient Egyptians used the oil in the embalming process of mummies. And of course the nut itself has appeared on gourmet menus through the ages, from ancient Persia to Pompeii to Spago.
And the medicinal applications were nothing short of encyclopedic. The nut, leaves, bark, wood, and roots were variously used to treat any and all skin ailments—sores, gangrene, dandruff, hives, open wounds, lice—as well as internal problems, such as diarrhea, inflamed tonsils, and morning sickness. In Chinese medicine, the walnut is said to warm and hold chi (life force) in the lungs and help kidneys to grasp the chi.
Walnut oil is an excellent way to derive the desired health benefits—drizzle a little on salad greens with a squeeze of lemon, or use it to moisten some sliced melon. Oh, and use it sparingly—it’s intense!
You can find some of the most delicious (and easy!) walnut-based recipe ideas from the California Walnut Commission at walnuts.org.
But that is only the beginning of the enormous benefits to be derived from this least-exotic of nuts. The omega-3s have been shown to provide cardiovascular protection by reducing high cholesterol levels and arterial inflammation, as well as helping to prevent and control high blood pressure; and its anti-inflammatory properties assist in treating asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and eczema. Just 1 ounce of walnuts—five or six halves—provides 2.57 g of omega-3 fats.
Other available nutrients in walnuts include ellagic acid, which supports the immune system and provides antioxidant activity against free radicals, and L-arginine, which may mitigate the effects of hypertension. Research has also shown that walnuts help to reduce the risk of gallstones, provide bioavailable melatonin to encourage better sleep, and promote bone health by reducing bone loss.
So I think we can safely conclude that walnuts absolutely need to be a daily part of a healthful diet, and in point of fact, the much-vaunted Mediterranean diet traditionally includes generous helpings of this widely available nut.Getting and Using Walnuts
Serve this simple but delicious grill item with organic brown rice and grilled zucchini for a perfect late summer/very early autumn dinner. You can prepare the pesto ahead of time and refrigerate.
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
½ cup walnut pieces
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. walnut oil
1 tsp. lemon zest
¼ tsp. ground coriander
Scallops and Mushrooms
1 ½ lb. large fresh sea scallops
6 large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and halved
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
PER SERVING: 302 CAL; 30 G PROT; 16 G TOTAL FAT (2 G SAT FAT); 10 G CARB; 56 MG CHOL; 279 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 1 G SUGARS