Not many people know we have our own wild walnuts here in California. It commonly grows along roads, oak lands, hilly areas, and produces small green fruits that contains a small nut. During fall the leaves turn a beautiful red gold color and it’s a fantastic tree to plant in native gardens as it attracts birds and animals.
I have not tried eating the nuts, but read they are delicious and have a more robust walnut flavor than normal walnuts. Besides being a treat for foragers and animals alike, the green husks are used as a dye for fabric and hair. I’ve read about making ink from walnut, so it’s been a pleasure to finally make it during walnut season (mid summer to early fall).
I grabbed a couple of the fruit (mostly collecting them on the ground), being mindful to leave plenty for our animal friends. The wild walnut tree provides shelter and food for animals and one should never harvest more than you need from one tree. The fruit had a particular odor…a bit unpleasant, but the ones I harvested were also very ripe (squishy), so maybe that’s why it smelled funny.
After taking them home I smashed the fruit with a large rock to separate the nut from the husk (the green husk is where the color comes from). I wore gloves as the juice from the husk stains almost immediately.
I put the green husks in a small pot with a little water. Within minutes, the water turned a dark brown.
I let the mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes, then turned off the fire and let it steep for a few hours. The result is a nice brown ink – if I wanted a darker hue I needed more green husk. But I’m happy with this color and use it often in my natural color palette. You can see the color in the photos below.
I also bought a couple ounces of Black Walnut hull powder and shall see if that produces any color, I have no doubt it will, and I am curious if there are any differences with using the fresh fruit versus the powder.
Black walnut powder is also used to control intestinal worms and a poultice/compress of it may help with fungal infections on the skin. The dye made from the fruit makes a great hair dye for those who are looking for a deep brown/black color.