Bayberry Family -
[Wax-myrtle, Bay-rum tree, Candleberry, Sweet Gale, Myricaceae]
A small family of waxy aromatic shrubs with three genera, two of which
(Comptonia and Myrica) have some culinary application. Most
Myrica species are used mainly for production of wax, insect
repellents and medicinals, but one is of culinary importance in China.
[Chinese Bayberry, Japanese Bayberry, Red Bayberry, or Chinese
strawberry tree; Yangmei (China); Yamamomo (Japan);
Native to China, but extending into Japan and Southeast Asia, this
subtropical tree produces edible fruit ranging from white through crimson
to dark purple-red. The fruit is roughly 1 inch diameter, both sweet and
very tart, with a single large seed in the center. The seed is not of
culinary use. It may be eaten fresh, dried, canned or steeped in alcoholic
beverages. The juice is marketed in Europe as Yumberry®. Various
parts of the tree and fruit show medicinal potential and are being
Photo © Zeping Yang from
http://www.flickr.com/photos/zeping/ - attribution required.
[Redneck reefer, Sweet bush, genus Comptonia sp.
Not, of course, a fern, but with fern-like leaves, this
plant is native to eastern North America from southern Quebec to northern
Georgia. Buds, when smoked, are reputed to be a mild relaxant, and
its presence in the U.S. Southeast accounts for the name "redneck reefer".
The nuts are like tiny pointy acorns less than 1/4 inch long, not practical
as food, but young fruits containing the seeds are edible. Young leaves
are used as a flavoring and to make an aromatic herb tea. Leaves are said
to help preserve other fruits if used as a basket lining. Crushed leaves
can be used as insect repellant, burning leaves repel mosquitos and
dried leaves are used as incense.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service = public domain.
Beech Family -
Beeches are native to the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere.
[genus Fagus, various species]
Beech is a very common, often dominant, deciduous forest tree
throughout the northern hemisphere. While beech nuts are edible, this tree
is much better known for its hard wood and as a decorative. Aside from
furniture, flooring and vernier, the wood is used for smoking some
cheeses and smoking the malt for German smoked beers. Beech wood chips
are also used to "fine" Anheuser Bush beers.
Photo © i0055
The nuts are triangular, about 1/2 inch long and have a somewhat sweet
taste and high protein content. They also contain mild toxins which can
make you sick if you eat more than around 40 of them. The nuts can be
squeezed for cooking oil, but gathering them is so labor intensive it is
only done in times of hardship. The toxins are not contained in the oil.
Southern hemisphere beeches were once though closely related to those of
the northern hemisphere but are now separated into family Nothofagus.
Oak (Acorn) -
[genus Quercus various species]
Oaks are found in temperate regions throughout the northern hemisphere,
producing nuts called Acorns. These were a major food resource in Europe
and Asia from prehistoric times almost to the modern age, particularly in
Iberia, but also in Greece, Japan and Korea. They have since fallen out
of use in most of both Europe and Asia, but in Spain they are still very
important as feed for the pigs that produce that country's famous hams.
Koreans still make an edible jelly (dotorimuk) from acorn flour, and also
noodles (dotori gooksoo). Photo ©
Acorns have always been important to the indigenous peoples of North
America, particularly in California where tribes engaged in extensive
forest management to assure a steady supply. Some tribal groups still
prepare acorns for soup and porridge, both as a normal family food and
to acknowledge ancestral traditions.
Acorns do not appear in your nut bowl because most are very bitter and
somewhat toxic, except to pigs. They must be chopped, pounded into meal or
ground into flour and soaked in running or frequently changed water to
leach out tannic acid. They are edible when the soaking water no longer
Another important culinary use for oak is wine corks, made from the
bark of the Cork Oak (Quercus suber). Without this bark Champaign
would not have been possible and wine would be difficult to keep long
enough for proper age.
[genus Castanea, various species]
This common nut is notable for being starchy rather than oily, so
it is used quite differently from other nuts. These nuts were a major food
item in parts of Europe, particularly in Spain, but in the late 1700s
blight wiped out vast chestnut forests resulting in famine. While they
have been largely replaced by potatoes for general sustenance, many
recipes still call for them.
The American Chestnut which once dominated our deciduous forests was
almost totally wiped out in the early 1900s by blight from Asia. Efforts
to develop an American variety with Asian resistance to the blight are
said near success. Meanwhile, nearly all chestnuts sold in the North
America are imported from Europe, China or Korea.
Details and Cooking.
Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos distributed under license
GNU Free Documentation License v1.2 only.
Chinquapin - [genus
Castanopsis many species (East Asia) | genus
Chrysolepis, Golden chinquapin, Giant chinquapin
C. crysophylla (California, Oregon, Washington);
Bush chinquapin, C. sempervirens (Oregon, California)]
Chinqapins were once more widely distributed, producing large
coal deposits in Germany, but they are now confined to East and Southeast Asia
and the U.S. West Coast. The trees produce edible nuts but chinquapins are
used mainly for forestry or as decoratives. Note: some members of the
chestnut genus are also called "chinquapin".
The nuts, once removed from their hard spiny chestnut-like cupule (husk),
resemble pointy acorns. They are gathered locally but seldom sold
commercially. They also serve as food for pigs, deer, rodents and other
animals. In Japan the wood is important as the preferred substrate for
growing shiitake mushrooms.
Photo by Hamachidori of Castanopsis sieboldii nuts distributed
Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.1 Japan.
Birch Family -
Birches are native to the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere,
though a few have reached the Andes region of South America. They first
appear in the fossil record in the Cretaceous (about 70 million years
ago) in central China.
[genus Alnus, various species]
Alder is a widespread tree important for cabinetry, electric guitars and
charcoal production. Although the catkins are edible and high in protein,
they are bitter so are used only as survival food. The main culinary
use for alder is for smoking fish. It is almost the only wood used for
smoking Pacific salmon.
Photo © i0057
The bark contains salicin which turns into
salicylic acid when digested, a compound very close to the active ingredient
in aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, and has been used for similar purposes.
Birch are northern temperate medium size trees and shrubs with a wide
distribution through Europe, Asia and North American. White birch is well
known in North America for use of its easily peelable white bark in American
Indian crafts, including the hulls of canoes. The bark is highly resistant
to decay and was also used as writing material in northern Europe and
Siberia. Twigs of silver birch are much used in Finland for self
flagellation in the sauna.
Photo © i0058
Birch sap and juice are used in the Frozen North (North America through
Siberia) to make beverages, many of which are at least mildly alcoholic.
In Alaska and Russia birch trees are tapped, as are maples farther south,
to make birch syrup. The syrup is used as maple syrup is, or fermented to
alcohol and/or made into vinegar. Birch is also used as a flavoring, as in
the excellent Ukrainian birch flavored vodka I have in my cabinet.
Note that the product from the Philippines called "Birch Flower" is
not actually birch. It is from a member of the Mulberry family,
Hazelnut / Filbert - [genus
Corylus, C. avellana (Common Hazel), C. maxima
Hazelnut species are found throughout the northern hemisphere and all
produce edible nuts but only the two listed above are in commercial production.
Both are native to southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia. What's the
difference? The leafy cover of filberts is much longer than the nut and is
reddish in color. The largest producer of hazelnuts by far is Turkey with
Italy second. The largest U.S. producer is Oregon state, but recent large
plantings in California are coming on-line.
The photo specimens show shelled nuts (front), nuts in shell (middle) and
nuts still in the leafy husks (involucres). Those in the husks are a rather
elongated variety compared to the other shelled specimens and were probably
grown in California.
Walnut Family -
Native to the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere, several members of
this family are of considerable culinary interest for their nuts. All these
fall into two genera, Juglans (Walnuts) and Carya (Hickory).
These trees are all also of great value for their wood.
Persian Walnut -
[English Walnut, Juglans regia]
Probably originating somewhere around Kyrgyzstan, this nut tree
was common from the Balkans to southwest China in ancient times. It was
spread farther into Europe in ancient Greek and Roman times. Important
commercial growing areas are California, China, France, Southern Europe
and Chile. The tree is highly valued both for its nuts and for very useful
Kernels of this nut are much used in baked goods particularly during
the winter holidays. They are also eaten fresh, mostly in nut mixes, and
are pressed for a flavorful cooking oil. The photo specimens were
1.6 inches long, 1.4 inches diameter and weighed about 1/2 ounce
with a nutmeat yield of 1/4 ounce. This will vary depending on freshness.
In the shell these nuts will last several months but slowly lose flavor.
When purchasing, check for rancidity.
Walnuts may have important medicinal value. They are being studied for
reducing the effects of saturated fats on arteries, as a treatment for
insulin-dependent diabetes and for treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's
Green Walnut Preserve -
These are whole immature walnut fruits, including the outer flesh
and skin, preserved in a medium sweet syrup. The shell inside has not
yet hardened, so the entire fruit is edible. It has a somewhat granular
texture, is very slightly astringent, and has a hint of walnut flavor.
I find them quite pleasant, though a bit sweet. Of the photo specimens,
the largest was 1-1/4 inchs diameter and weighted 7/8 ounce. Product
of Armenia - ingred: walnut, sugar, water, cloves, ginger, citric acid.
Black Walnut -
[American Walnut, Juglans nigra]
Native to North America, this large tree produces very hard wood,
and hard nuts as well. Flavor is excellent, intense and distinctive, but
these nuts are so difficult and messy to deal with they are not widely
appreciated. Where I lived in my childhood, in the back woods of New Jersey,
we had a large black walnut on the property. I'm very familiar with the
black stains from the husks, and shells so hard they are used as an
industrial abrasive. The meats are not easy to extract from the shells
Photo © i0059
The nuts are, however, shelled commercially and are popular for
flavoring ice cream and baked goods. The wood is used for furniture,
gunstocks, flooring and other applications. A single tree is worth well
over US $2000 as lumber so poaching is a constant problem.
[White Walnut, Juglans cinerea]
Native to eastern North America from Ontario to Alabama and west
to Minnesota and Arkansas, this tree is now considered endangered in
many areas due to a fungal disease. The oily nuts are used mainly in baking
and candies. The wood is used for furniture and woodcarving, and the nut
hulls were formerly used to dye cloth a color between light yellow and dark
Photo © i0060
Shagbark Hickory -
There are about 20 species of Hickory, most in North America but some in
China and Indochina. The nuts of most hickory trees are too bitter for
human consumption but many animals depend on them.
The nuts of the Shagbark, have excellent flavor and are much liked by
those to whom they are available. These nuts are not produced commercially
because the trees produce too seldom. The bark is also used to flavor a
sugar syrup to make it more like maple syrup. Photo by
distributed under license
Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic.
Native to North America from Illinois south through Texas and
into Mexico, these nuts are most grown in Georgia, followed by
Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. They did not become a commercial crop
until the 1880s and few are yet grown outside the United States. Pecans
are often eaten fresh but are also used in cooking, mostly for pies and
sweet deserts. The shells are very thin, so the attractively shaped meats
are fairly easy to remove without breaking, are often used decoratively.
These will keep for several months in the shell, kept in a cool dry
place, but flavor will slowly decline. The largest photo specimen was
2 inches long, 0.88 inch diameter and weighed 0.3 ounce with a nutmeat
yield of 0.16 ounce.
These nut trees are native from the Caucasus throughout temperate
Asia. The nuts grow in a string form called a "catkin", each nut having
two wings. The nuts are about the size of a chickpea and are not of
culinary importance. This tree is used mainly as a fast growing decorative
and sometimes for timber. There is also a closely related Wheel Wingnut
(Cyclocarya paliurus) with a single disk shaped wing.
Photo by Liné1 distributed under license Creative
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.
These trees are not to be confused with extreme "socially conservative"
members of the Republican Party and Tea Parties, also called "wingnuts".
I guess one that's a corporate CEO would be a "wheel wingnut".