How to Husk, Shell and Utilize Black Walnuts

Make the most of black walnut season with these tips for husking, shelling, and utilizing the famously tough nut.

  • With a little know-how, you can crack the black walnut code.
    Photo by Clyde Myers
  • If you don’t have a black walnut tree on your property, go foraging, as they can often be found growing wild.
    Photo by Clyde Myers
  • Look for the telltale black shells when foraging for black walnuts.
    Photo by Clyde Myers
  • Black walnut tree trunks are very straight with grayish-brown bark.
    Photo by Clyde Myers
  • The leaves of black walnut trees are compound, meaning they have two rows of leaflets on opposite sides of a vein.
    Photo by Clyde Myers

Crouched behind a tree as walnuts whizzed through the air, their fleshy green husks exploding on impact, my 11-year-old self quickly gathered up a dozen or so. With the sound of friends’ laughter drawing closer, I knew it was now or never. I stepped out from behind the tree, walnuts at the ready, and hurled the artillery in quick succession. I fired off three quick blasts, each of them landing true, then followed up with an immediate second round, and a third, until I had but one walnut left and raised at the ready.

The “enemy” surrendered, and I won the day. We all walked home from the park that evening, laughing and slugging shoulders. Though we were bruised and beaten, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

These days, for safety’s sake, I discourage using black walnuts as projectiles. However, I certainly recommend gathering them for food. Considered a “superfood,” black walnuts are high in omega-3s and antioxidants. Plus, they pair exceedingly well with dark chocolate (or any chocolate, really).

Black walnut trees are very common and produce in enormous quantity, and you may have one right in your backyard, as I do. Black walnuts are like gifts from the heavens: food and medicine that falls from the sky. In a bygone era, they might have been celebrated for these attributes, but today they’re despised for denting parked cars and ruining mower blades. Don’t be discouraged by their bad reputation. With a little know-how, you can crack the black walnut code and get a delicious, nutritious food that’s definitely worth the effort.

The Mighty Walnut Tree

Eastern black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) have extremely straight trunks that can grow up to 150 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter, though more often you’ll see adult specimens in the 50-to-75-foot range, with diameters of 2 to 3 feet. Large and impressive, the trees reach maturity in 150 years.

The leaves of black walnut trees are compound, meaning they have two rows of leaflets on opposite sides of a vein. A leaflet is commonly thought of as a leaf, but the leaf is actually comprised of a group of 12 to 20 or so small leaflets.

9/25/2019 11:59:02 AM

Haven't tried it on Black Walnuts, however, using Vise Grips works quite well when shelling most nuts. They enable you to adjust the size so as not to over smash the nut.

4/19/2019 7:52:16 PM

I have one down side to black walnuts if you are also a gardener. On our country property we are surrounded on all four sides with black walnut trees, some are huge. Unfortunately the black walnut tree gives off something called juglone that is like poison to some vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, egg plant and others as well as some others. It can be very frustrating to not be able to grow tomatoes in particular. I have tried putting them in pots which helps some but I usually lose the plants eventually or the tomato gets a disease.

8/10/2018 12:58:58 PM

Great article. Have always loved black walnuts - the brick trick is what I've been looking for - hammer just does too much damage. much appreciated!

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