A black walnut tincture is easy to make at home, and all it takes is a fresh supply of ripe black walnuts. The walnuts themselves will still be perfectly good to eat since a black walnut tincture is made using the green outer husk rather than the nut itself. The resulting tincture is used to purge parasites and as a topical anti-bacterial. It also has the added benefit of being an emergency iodine supplement.
Harvesting Black Walnuts
Unless you have a backyard nut tree, you’ve likely never seen the green husk on a walnut. It’s a fleshy coating that grows outside of the nut itself. Inside you’ll find a hard nutshell, and then inside that is the nut meat. By the time walnuts reach the supermarkets, the soft fruit like outer coating has already been removed.
Black walnuts fall from trees right around the first fall frost. In Central Vermont that happens in mid-October, but they’re harvested a bit earlier in northern areas and later further south. Black walnut grow wild in the eastern half of the United States, and they make up whole forests in some areas. They’re a tasty cold hardy nut tree, so they’re commonly planted even in areas outside their wild range.
Beyond their nuts, black walnuts trees are one of more than two dozen trees that can be tapped for syrup, just like maples. That’s just one more great reason to plant a black walnut tree. The nuts themselves are tasty, although they have a higher tannin content than the Persian walnuts you find in the stores these days.
Black walnuts taste best if the green hulls are removed as soon as possible so they don’t leach into the nut and make them bitter. Since the outer husk of black walnuts is almost always a discarded waste product, a homemade black walnut tincture is a great way to put it to use.
Black Walnut Tincture Uses
I first learned about black walnut tincture as a natural remedy for intestinal parasites. A friend was trying to treat her dog’s intestinal worms without resorting to harsh prescription de-wormer. While I can’t speak to black walnut tincture’s supposed safety with pets, I know that it worked in this case.
In humans, a black walnut tincture is most commonly used for that same purpose. Besides it’s used as an anti-parasitic agent, a black walnut tincture is also anti-fungal and anti-bacterial due to the high levels of tannins extracted from the black walnut hulls.
If you don’t happen to have black walnut trees nearby, or they’re not currently in season, black walnut tincture is available from Starwest Botanicals. They also sell black walnut hull capsules for an easy pill form, or dried black walnut hull powder for use in topical antifungal remedies (such as salves and creams).
Black Walnuts and Iodine
Not only is black walnut tincture a potent medicine, it’s also one of the few land-based sources of iodine. While you can forage for salt deposits inland or extract salt from plant material when you’re far from ocean salt sources, most inland sources of salt lack iodine. Black walnuts, specifically black walnut husks, are a great source of iodine in a pinch.
I’ve found spotty references that suggest that black walnut hull extracts were applied to those exposed to radiation after the Chernobyl disaster. Supposedly if you apply the black walnut tincture to the skin, the iodine can be absorbed directly. I’m still looking for a good, reputable source to back up this information.
Other sources say that it contains enough iodine to be used as a topical anesthetic for wounds. Given that black walnut tincture also contains tannins which are antibacterial, and this makes sense even if iodine levels are in fact relatively low. Add in the fact that it’s in a suspension of high proof alcohol, and you’ve got a great recipe for wound sterilization.
How to Make Black Walnut Tincture
If the husk is left on the nut too long, it’ll quickly begin to spoil. The smell is not fun, and the husks more or less liquify into a slimy, highly staining mass. Choose fresh black walnuts that have just fallen from the tree within the past day or two. They should be firm and have no visible breaks or insect damage on the outside.
Using a sharp knife, cut the husks off of each black walnut. As each husk comes off the nut, it releases an exotic, almost intoxicating scent. I’ve read that the smell supposedly comes from the high iodine content, but I used to work in a surgical suite, and it didn’t bring to mind any iodine scrubs I’ve ever smelled. That said, I think it’s quite pleasant, but my husband disagrees. Keep in mind that a strong smell is normal, and it’s not a sign of a spoiled black walnut.
The hull themselves are very staining, so much so that black walnut has been used historically as a wood stain, natural ink and hair dye. Use gloves when handling black walnuts or your hands will be stained brown for weeks.
As you first cut a very fresh black walnut it can be a bit deceiving. The fresh husks are a creamy white color. As they’re broken and exposed to air, they oxidize almost immediately and begin to turn brown. I was hoping to get a picture of the white interior, but they brown in less than 2 seconds and I just couldn’t move that fast.
Once you’ve sliced the soft green husk from the outside of the black walnut shells, place the hunks of black walnut hull in a jar. Pick a jar that you don’t mind losing because the tincture will stain the glass and it will not wash off. Fill the jar to within about 2 inches of the top with black walnut husks.
Once the jar is nearly full, fill it to the top with alcohol. You don’t need anything high proof here, just a cheap bottom shelf vodka. Store the infusing tincture out of direct sunlight and allow it to infuse for 1-2 months. Give the jar a shake every time you think about it, but be extra sure the lid is on tight. If it’s not, that’s one unholy staining mess that’s much worse than your average homemade tincture.
Once the tincture has fully infused, strain it through a fine-mesh strainer and store it in amber dropper bottles until needed.
Black Walnut Tincture Dosage
Though black walnut tincture is considered a gentler way to purge parasites than conventional prescription de-wormers, it’s still hard on the system. There is some evidence that it can cause mouth or throat cancer if taken internally over long periods. Do not use black walnut tincture for more than 2 weeks at a time.
The dosage for black walnut tincture is usually set at 15-20 drops taken in water 2-3 times per day.
Black Walnut Powder
Besides a black walnut tincture, the green hulls can also be dried to make a black walnut powder. The powder is a bit more versatile since it can be mixed with water to make it into an ink, dye or wood stain. A black walnut powder can also be used for medicinal purposes just like a tincture (but without the alcohol).
I’ve also seen it made into a salve for topical antifungal use.
I covered a baking tray with black walnut husks and placed them in the oven at 300 degrees for 3-4 hours. They didn’t feel that wet in my hands when I put them on the tray, but they took a surprisingly long time to dry in the oven.
I would not suggest trying to air or sun-dry black walnut hulls. They degrade and spoil quickly, and will liquify within a day or two of cutting. Get them into an oven or near a woodstove quickly to dry.
Once they’re fully dry, allow the black walnut husks to cool completely. At this point, they can be ground into a powder with a food processor or small coffee grinder. Be careful not to use anything that cant be stained, as the powder will stain the plastic of a food processor quickly.
Out of season, you can also purchase dried black walnut hull powder and it’s rather inexpensive given that the hulls are commonly considered a waste product of nut production.