Walnut

(Juglans regia) Not a native British tree, as the common name shows. The first syllable derives from OE wealh, foreign. Nevertheless, it has been growing in Britain since ancient times; possibly it was introduced by the Romans, from its native regions in Asia Minor or the Balkans. Juglans, the generic name, is joviglans, Jovis glans, the fruit of Jove, which was the Latin name for acorn, or rather walnut was the acorn of Zeus in ancient Greek times. That has led to confusion in translation between walnuts and chestnuts, for exactly the same name is given to the latter.

Like many another tree, it has its magically protective associations. In Bavaria, where the Easter Sunday fire used to be lit in the churchyard with flint and steel, every household would bring a walnut branch, which, after being partially burned, would be carried home to be laid on the hearth as a protection against lightning (Dyer. 1889, Kelly). Walnut leaves, gathered before sunrise on St John's Day, were believed in parts of France to protect from lightning, too (Sebillot). People from the French region of Poitou used to jump three times round the Midsummer fires with a walnut branch in their hands. The branch would be used to nail over the cowhouse door, as a protection for the beasts (Grimm). Moslem belief also recognised its protective influence, particularly the root and bark, with which Moroccan women used to paint their lips and teeth a brownish colour (Westermarck). Henna and walnut root and bark are protection against supernatural dangers. Some groups believed that the henna and walnut root were applied "so that she may enter Paradise as a bride if she dies in childbirth" (Westermarck).

Sexual magic was performed with walnuts. Arnold de Villeneuve, the Catalan physician and alchemist, who lived from 1235 to 1311, gave a receipt for "tying the knot". One takes a walnut, separates the two halves, and puts them in the marriage bed. The counter charm is to stick the two halves together, crack the nut, and then the couple eat it (Bouisson). It is because the nuts are of two halves that they were symbols of marriage. Walnuts were scattered at Roman weddings, and Pliny described them as symbols of marriage and protectors of resultant offspring. The tree remained a bridegroom's symbol in Germany until at least Evelyn's time: "in several places ... in Germany, no young farmer whatsoever is permitted to marry a wife, till he bring proof that he hath planted, and is a father of such a stated number of walnut trees, as the law is inviolably observed to this day.". It is mentioned as an aphrodisiac in Piers Plowman (I B Jones). There is a particular walnut tree in the region of Creuzay,

France, that is kissed by brides on their wedding day, to "les faire devenir bonnes nourrices" (Loux).

The Benevento tree, already mentioned, had many legends connected with it, one of which said the nuts were triangular in shape. The original tree, or at least a very ancient one, was destroyed by St Barbatus in 663. It was re-planted in the 8th century and was standing in the 16th (Summers. 1927). Guazzo mentions the "wizard walnut tree" of Benevento. Pope Paschal II ordered a large walnut in the Piazza del Popolo to be cut down and burnt owing to the superstitions that had arisen around it, one of which was apparently that the evil soul of Nero was living in its branches (Skinner). Even in England, where it is not native, there are mentions of ancient individual trees. Camden speaks of one in Glastonbury Abbey churchyard "which never buds before the feast of St Barnabas, and on that very feast-day shoots out leaves" (Wilks). And there was a particular walnut tree at St Germans, Cornwall, that formed the central part of the May Fair (held on 28 May) (Barton. 1972). Walnut trees seem to have had special treatment in East Anglia. Evans. 1966 quotes a Suffolk farmer as saying that men who travelled round felling walnut trees that had been sold to them, often found a gold coin buried near the roots.

There are other superstitions connected with walnuts. A heavy crop means a fine corn harvest next year (Waring). On the other hand, dreaming of a walnut tree means misfortune, or unfaithfulness (Dyer.1889). A belief from the Abruzzi, in Italy, says that he who plants a walnut tree will have a short life (Canziani. 1928), or, as in Portugal, he would die when the tree attains his own girth (Gallop). Perhaps it is one of the cases of a man's life going into a very long-lived tree, (hence a belief that if the tree dies, or is blown down, it is a most unlucky event (Campbell-Culver) ). One of the most engaging of walnut superstitions, for it is nothing more than that, is the belief that Yorkshire schoolboys once had. They said that if their hands were rubbed with a green walnut shell, they would not feel the schoolmaster's cane - indeed, the cane would split (Halliwell. 1869). Another one, also connected with pain killing, is that wearing a walnut in a bag round the neck would stop one from getting toothache (Waring).

According to Culpeper, burnt walnut ash, or green walnut husks mixed with oil and wine, and applied to the hair, would make it fair. From hair on the head to the head itself, and the most extreme of the medical usages taken from the doctrine of signatures: its use for mental cases, from depression and mental fatigue to outright insanity. Coles was the great presenter of the doctrine, and in his words "Wall-nuts have the perfect signature of the Head: the outer husk or green covering represent the Peribanium, or outward skin of the skull, whereon the hair groweth, and therefore salt made of these husks or basks, are exceeding good for wounds in the head. The inner woody shell hath the signature of the skull, and the little yellow skin, or Peel, that covereth the kernell of the hard meninga and Pia-mater, which are the thin scarfes that envelope the brain. The Kernal hath the very figure of the brain, and therefore it is very profitable for the Brain, and resists Poysons. For if the Kernell be bruised, and moystened with the quintessence of wine, and laid upon the Crown of the Head, it comforts the brain and head mightily". But the walnut tree was involved in so-called cures for madness long before Coles's time. A 15th century leechdom spoke of a sovereign medicine for madness and for men that be troubled with wicked spirits: Upon midsummer night betwixt midnight and the rising of the sun, gather the fairest green leaves of the walnut tree, and upon the same day between sunrise and its going down, distill thereof a water in a still between two basins. And this water is good if it be drunken for the same malady" (Dawson. 1934). Perhaps this accounts for a Sussex belief that it was not safe to sit under a walnut tree, for it might damage the mind, and sleeping under it might very well result in madness or even death:

He that would eat the fruit must climb the tree.

He that would eat the kernel must crack the nut.

He that sleepeth under a walnut doth get fits in the head (Allen).

But Andrew Boorde wrote that "the walnut and the Banocke [i.e., bannut] ... do comfort the brayne if the pyth or skyn be pylled of ..."

Even in Evelyn's time, the distillation mentioned "with honey and wine", was being used hopefully to "make hair spring on bald-heads", still harping on the connection with the head. A propos of Coles's mention of counter-poisons, it should be recorded that it is one of the chief ingredients in the antidote to poison attributed to King Mithridates (C J S Thompson. 1897). The idea occurs, too, in Neckham's late 12th century De Natura Rerum - all poison in herbs could be nullified by the walnut: it had merely to be placed among the most deadly plants for all poison to be expelled.

Skin diseases have long been treated with walnut leaves in one form or another. In parts of America they say that ringworm can be cured by rubbing it with green walnuts (Sackett & Koch; Stout). The Pennsylvania Germans do the same to get rid of a wart, and then the nut has to be buried under the eaves (Fogel). But the leaves are strongly astringent anyway, and have been used to treat a wide variety of ailments, including earache (Dyer. 1889), and even toothache, by binding on to the cheek (a practice that could certainly harm one's face).

Enneagram Essentials

Enneagram Essentials

Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment