Showing posts with label Nuts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nuts. Show all posts

Acorn - Oak

Scientific Name: Quercus spp.
Abundance: common
What: nuts
How: leach out tannins with lots of water then grind to flour, roast nuts then grind for coffee
Where: oaks (white, red, live, burr, post, pin, etc)
When: fall
Nutritional Value: protein, minerals, fats and carbohydrates
Other uses: tanning leather
Dangers: very bitter if not tannic acid isn't leached

Medicinal Summary:
Galls - astringent, hemostatic; antibacterial; antifungal, may reduce symptoms of Parkinson's disease (tisane)
Acorns - astringent (tisane)
Bark - astringent (tisane)


Bur oak acorns are the biggest at over 1" across.

Shelled acorns.

These are the oak flowers that eventually become acorns.

Assorted oak leaves.

Bur oak leaf.

An oak gall, created by chemical warfare between a type of wasp and the oak tree.

Stately oak trees can grow over 100’ tall and hundreds of feet in diameter under ideal conditions. Their bark ranges from smooth to deeply fissured. Branches tend to give oak trees a round or oblong shape. They usually prefer full sun and loose, well drain soils but with fifteen different species to choose from in Texas along, there’s a good chance you’ll find an oak somewhere nearby.

The calorie-laden acorns of oaks have supplied fats, oils, and protein to mankind for thousands of years. A one ounce (28.3g) serving of shelled acorn meat contains about 110 calories in the form of 6.8g of fats and 1.7g of protein, plus a small amount of calcium. Acorns can be ground into a gluten-free, high-protein flour good for making flat breads and batter-style baked goods as well as to thicken stews and to make gravy. Roasted acorns have been used as a substitute for coffee grounds, but all that can be said about that is the resulting liquid is brown and bitter, any similarity to it and coffee is strictly due to the desperation of the brewer.

Acorn must have their tannic acid leached out before consumption. Luckily tannic acid is very water-soluble and easy leach out by placing the shelled, crushed nuts in a mesh bag then submersing them in running water for several days. An easier method is to coarsely chop them in a blender or food processor then repeatedly running them through a coffee maker until they no longer taste bitter. The hot water will extract the tannins but do not allow the acorns to cool between flushes or the tannic acid will bind more tightly to the acorn meat. Also, do not grind the acorns finely before leach them as a flour-sized particles will clog the filter.

Unfortunately, the fats and oils in acorns turn rancid fairly quickly. Fresh ground acorn flour will go bad in as little as four weeks if exposed to air and warm temperatures. Freezing the flour, especially if vacuum-packed (a messy process) can stretch its usable life to six months. You are better off freezing the un-shelled acorn and just leaching and grinding as you need it. Frozen, vacuum-packed acorns still in their shell can last up to a year.

White oaks (Quercus alba) produce the least bitter nuts, followed by Red oaks (Quercus rubra) but even both of these need the tannins leached from their acorns. White oak acorns mature in one year while Red oak acorns take two years to complete their growth. Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) are related to Red oaks while Bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) are related to White oaks. Live Oaks (Quercus fusiformis) produce the least desirable acorns as they are hard to remove from their shells and are very bitter.

To use acorns as a caffeine-free coffee substitute coarse-grind them then roast them at 400F in an oven to a dark brown color. At this point you can use them just like ground coffee.

The oak gall wasp likes to lay its eggs under the tender bark of new oak twigs. Doing so somehow triggers the formation of a round oak gall. The oak tree doesn't like this much and starts pumping assorted chemicals into the gall to try and kill the wasp larva. The end result is a small, hard ball loaded with medicinal properties. These galls were crushed and then used to make ointments, tinctures, medicated oils, and teas to fight infections inside and outside of the body. The crushed oak galls were also combined with iron salts in vinegar to create a very dark, non-fading ink.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Allegheny Chinkapin

Scientific Name(s): Castanea pumila
Abundance: rare
What: nuts
How: raw or roasted
Where: sandy, shaded areas near water
When: fall
Nutritional Value: calories, protein
Dangers: nut husks are very prickly

Allegheny Chinkapin leaves.

Close-up of leaves.

Nut pods in the fall, having dropped some of the nuts.

Close-up of pods with and without nuts.

Close-up of shelled nuts. This picture was taken a month after they had ripened and so they've begun to dry out but are still edible.
Allegheny Chinquapin

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

To stumble upon a stand of Allegheny Chinkapins is to stumble upon treasure. These large, usually multi-trunked bushes/small trees suffered from Chestnut Blight leading to reduced numbers across much of North America. A rare stand can still be found growing under larger trees in the sandy soil of tall banks overlooking water. The sandy soil gives them the drainage they need to avoid root-rot while the larger trees partially protects them from the fierce Texas sun. The long, narrow, sharply-toothed leaves, deep green on top and pale underneath, are arranged in an alternate pattern along the branches. In the spring long clusters of small, tan-yellow flowers hang from the tree. By fall these clusters have been replaced with sharp, spikey pods, each containing what looks like a small acorn.

Harvesting these nuts takes some work as they cling to the tree and are protected by the sharp, spiny remains of their outer husks. One usually has to carefully pick nuts off the shrub/tree one by one. You are likely to find some of the nuts have already germinated while still attached to the tree. Don't eat these but instead carefully plant them nearby.

Allegheny Chinkapin nuts lack tannins or other bitter compounds and so have a sweet, nutty flavor when eaten raw. Being so rare, limit yourself to just a nut or three. Take a few more to plant in similar locations so as to try and bring back this amazingly delicious treat. Animals love these nuts so getting them before squirrels, raccoons, possums and the such is tricky.

Like chestnuts, Allegheny Chinkapin nuts can be roasted to give almost a chocolatey sort of flavor. Place the uncracked nuts on a cookie sheet in an oven at 350F. After five minutes pull out a nut, crack it open and taste it. The roasting time is a personal preference but if the nuts' shells begin cracking it's definitely time to pull them out.

If you do over-roast the nuts they can still be used to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Grind the shelled nuts in a coffee grinder then either use them as is or combine them with real coffee to make a pot of brown, somewhat bitter fluid.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Bay Laurel

Scientific name: Laurus nobilis & Persea borbonia var. borbonia
Abundance: plentiful
What: nuts, leaves
How: roast nuts, used leaf as seasoning
Where: woods, borders
When: leaves all year, nuts in the fall
Nutritional Value: Calcium, iron, other minerals, vitamins A, C, B6, folate.
Other uses: nuts contain a mild stimulant
Dangers: Looks similar to the very poisonous cherry laurel. The leaves of cherry laurel smell like cherry/cyanide and have toothed edges while bay laurel leaves have smooth edges and smell like Italian seasoning.

Medicinal Summary:
Leaves - aid digestion; reduces bloating from gas; soothes skin, urinary tract and bronchial inflammations (tisane)

Young tree. They get much bigger with time.

Much older, larger bay tree!

Leaves closeup (Bay Laurel leaves have smooth edges)


Dead leaves on a bay tree suffering Laurel Wilt. This fungal disease is transferred by an alien beetle and is wiping out our native bay trees. Currently there's no cure. :-(
Bay Tree

Teeth (pointy bits along edge of leaves) + cyanide/cherry smell = poisonous cherry laurel. DO NOT EAT CHERRY LAUREL!!

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
I know these can be found in Montgomery County, TX.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Texas has multiple types of bay trees. Around Houston the most common are sweet bay (Laurus nobilis), redbay (Persea borbonia) and laurel cherry (Prunus caroliniana). All three grow in the same environment, preferably as understory trees in moist, shaded areas. Very slow growing, most you’ll find will be small trees around 20’ tall. However, mature trees can rival oaks in size and appearance. Crushed sweet bay and redbay leaves have a wonderful bay aroma while laurel cherry smells like bitter almonds or artificial cherry scent. That bitter almond smell is poisonous cyanide and the so the leaves of the laurel cherry should not be used as a seasoning or consumed in any other manner.

Besides scent, the toxic laurel cherry trees can be distinguished from safe sweet bay and redbay by the edges of their leaves. The sweet bay and redbay leaf edges will be smooth while the dangerous laurel cherry leaves will have teeth, ranging in number from two very small ones near the base to many all along the leaf edge.

The leaves of the sweet bay and redbay are available all year long and are added to sauces and other foods where one would traditionally use bay leaves. They do have a very potent flavor, so you usually don't need to add more than 3-4. They can be used fresh or dried. Add the leaves while cooking but remove them before serving as no bay leaves should actually be eaten. Supposedly these stiff, hard leaves can penetrate an intestine.

In the fall the dark nuts are toasted and then nibbled on as a strongly-flavored snack. Remove the soft flesh from the bay nut then roll the nuts around in a very hot pan until they start to split open. Remove the outer brittle husk then return the inner meat back to the pan for a final toasting. No oil or grease is needed. These toasted nuts can also be ground and used as a seasoning. 3-5 of these roasted seeds, when boiled in water then adding nutmeg and cinnamon make a very pleasant drink which tastes somewhat like coffee.

Our bay trees are currently under grave attack by a fungal disease transmitted by the invasive, Asian beetle Xyleborus glabratus. This fungal infection first shows up by branches dying and their leaves turning brown. Eventually the whole tree will die, taking with it the main birthplace of Palamedes Swallowtail butterflies. So this disease may not just wipe out one of the south's most common trees, it may also drive that butterfly to extinction, too.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.


Scientific Name(s): Fagus grandifolia
Abundance: uncommon
What: nuts, inner bark, young leaves
How: nuts raw, roasted; inner bark toasted, boiled; young leaves raw
Where: woods
When: winter, spring, summer, fall
Nutritional Value: calories
Dangers: beech nuts contain small amounts of oxalic acid and a few other compounds with minor toxicity.Small amounts of the nuts can be eaten raw but larger quantities should be roasted to remove the compounds.

Beech leaves and young nuts

Close-up of young nuts

Beech nuts ready to eat but still in husks (fall).

Peeled beech nuts.

Beech leaves

Beech leaves in fall

Underside of beech leaf in fall

Beech tree bark

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

When walking through East Texas woods always be on the lookout for the fantastic beech tree. They are definitely uncommon to almost the point of being rare but a well-trained eye will likely find one. Beech are kind of strikingly ordinary trees. Their gray, relatively smooth bark white occasional splotch of white lacks the craggy coolness of oaks. The alternating, slightly ruffled, dark green leaves rarely call attention to themselves. During most of the summer and even fall the beech nut husks can easily be mistaken for acorn husks by novice woods roamers. The most likely time a beech tree will stand out is in early to mid winter when the surrounding deciduous trees have lost most of their leaves beech beech leaves will have turned tan/brown but will be clinging tenaciously to the tree, giving it a big ball of tan color among the winter grays.

In later winter/early spring the new beech leaves make a find salad green. Be sure to use a pruning shears to harvest the leaves so as to minimize the damage to the bark, a common entry point for tree-killing fungi. I'm told the young leaves can be soaked in a mixture of brandy and gin for a few weeks to make a liquor called Beech Noyau. Unfortunately I haven't been in the presence of a beech at the right time to gather leaves for this drink.

The nuts spend most of their time completely encased in a somewhat spiked husk which doesn't split open until fall, if ever, to reveal the single, three-sided nut inside. After removing the outer husk there's a second, inner sheath encasing the nut that should be peeled off before eating. Beech nuts are loaded with fats which make them an excellent source of calories in the woods. As mentioned at the top of this article, it's best to roast beechnuts if you plan on eating a lot of them.

Think of the inner layer of bark (cambium) of beech trees as emergency oatmeal. To eat this inner bark, peel it as thinly as possible and then let it dry. Once dried, chop it up into flakes which are usually pounded into a low-grade flour or boiled like oatmeal. The flavor is on par with that of boiled paper but it will give you calories. Remember to harvest the inner bark from strips running lengthwise on branches rather than from the stem so as to minimize "tourniqueting" the sap flow, killing the tree. The inner bark can be harvested all year long.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Black Walnut

Scientific name: Juglans nigra
Abundance: common
What: nuts, sap
How: nuts raw, cooked, picked, or tinctured; sap boil to syrup
Where: forests, fields
When: fall
Nutritional Value: fats, protein, some minerals
Other uses: dye, fish poison
Dangers: shell juice stains objects and poisons fish

Black Walnut trees at a roadside rest area in east Texas.
Black Walnut

Almost ripe nuts. They are a little larger than golf balls when ripe.


Green ones picked from the tree are better than brown ones from the ground.
Black Walnut Nut Harvest

The compound leaves of Black Walnut contain an even number of leaflets.
Black Walnut

Close-up of the leaves, front and back.
Black Walnut

Branch tips with new, young leaves.
Black Walnut

Craggy, grayish bark of a Black Walnut tree.
Black Walnut Trunk IGFB12

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Standing up to 125’ tall with a rounded crown, black walnut trees cut an impressive figure across the fields of Texas. They prefer open, sunny locations but can also be found in forests. Black walnut leaves are compound with an even number of leaflets and being deciduous, drop off in the fall. The bark is grayish, dark and deeply furrowed/rough. The round nuts of this tree are contained in a thick, green cover which begins to splits open when ripe. The juice of this green coat smells like iodine and will stain skin and cotton fabric brown. Black walnut tree leaves, bark, and nut husks contain a poison which kills most other non-grass plants so do not add these materials to compost piles. The wood of black walnut trees is treasured by woodworkers and commands a premium price. This has led to many incidents of “tree rustling” where huge, old trees are cut down and stolen.

The nuts become ripe in the fall. Peeling the green husk is staining so wear gloves and avoid letting the peels come in contact with anything you don’t want turned brown. The thick shell of the walnut is very hard and most standard nut crackers can’t crack them. Waiting a few weeks after removing the husk allows the nuts to dry some, making shelling them slightly easier. The usual method of shelling black walnuts is to run over the nuts with a car followed by picking apart the shell with a nutpick. If you only have a few nuts they can be broken open with a hammer. If you have a lot of nuts it may be worthwhile to invest in a manual cracker specifically designed for black walnuts. Black walnuts have a stronger flavor than English walnuts so most people reduce the amount of nut meat used by one half in recipes.

The crushed green husks were used by Native Americans as a fish poison. Several large, woven bags of these husks were placed in a still pond or weir and the chemical juglones would seep out and stun the fish, causing them to float to the surface.

When the nuts are still green and soft enough to cut in half with a knife they can be pickled and then blended not a ketchup-substitute. As they get bigger the still-unripe notes can be soaked in vodka with a bit of lemon peel, cinnamon, star anise, and sugar syrup to create the Italian liquor "Nocino". Black walnut trees grow farther south than maples and though they produce only about 1/4 as much sap as maples, the resulting syrup made by boiling the sap down is quite delicious.

Never plants a Black Walnut near a garden as the roots, twigs, and leaves all produce a toxin which kills many other plants. Native grasses seem to resist this poison better than domesticated, decorative or food plants. My mom still nags me about the black walnut seedling I planted at the edge of her garden which eventually grew tall and wiped out a quarter of her crops even though this happens 30 years ago.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.


Scientific Name(s): Magnolia grandiflora
Abundance: common
What: flowers, leaves, maybe seeds
How: flowers pickled; leaves as tea;'re on your own!
Where: landscaping, woods
When: spring flowers, fall seeds, leaves all year
Nutritional Value:
Dangers: some sources list the seeds as edible others list them as poisonous

Medicinal Summary;
Seeds - anti-tumor; anti-inflammatory; anti-bacterial; anti-seizure; sedative (tincture)
Leaves - anti-cancer; antibacterial (tisane, tincture)

Magnolia tree. Note the green tops and brown undersides of the leaves.

Magnolia flower buds.

Flower beginning to open which I feel is the best time to pick them for use.

Open flower. Soon after they open the petals begin turning brown. I don't harvest them once several petals have become spotted.

After the flower petals drop away the fuzzy seedhead is revealed.

Come fall, the red seeds begin bursting out of the seedhead. The hard, red shell covers a light-tan interior.

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Fifty million years ago Magnolia trees dominated the Earth. Today they are found in the southeastern United States and running down into Central and South America. Oh, how the might have fallen! Yet, there's some pleasure in knowing Texas has some of the last northern holdouts of this ancient race. Looking at these trees, with their giant, ambrosial-scented flowers and thick, leathery leaves, it's not surprising they come from the time of Eocene period, when global temperatures were much hotter than today and plant life thrived.

Look for these trees both as landscaping centerpieces as well as wild in the east Texas woods. They keep their large, somewhat oval leaves all year around. Flowers appear in mid-spring followed by the clusters of hard, red seeds in the fall. The bark is relatively smooth and gray with assorted discolorations of lichen. Mature trees can have round crowns forty feet across.

The strong scent of freshly-opened magnolia flowers can be overpowering and so the flowers themselves aren't eaten raw. Shredding the flowers then pickling using the pickled okra recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, produces something similar to pickled seaweed served at sushi joints. A number of bartenders and distilleries have been experimenting with magnolia flower infused gins to create Texas-specific cocktails.

The leaves, after drying, has a long history of herbal medicinal use to fight cancers. Testing by western science has revealed magnolia leaves contain several compounds that reduce the growth of blood vessels to tumors. Lots of work still remains in turning these into an accurate, predictable medicine.

In the fall the trees are covered with clusters of bright red seeds about the size of small jelly beans. Digging through the research on the edibility of these magnolia beans, one find them listed as both poisonous and edible.Being a scientist, I've eaten three of them so far. At the first bite they have a sweet, pleasant flavor but at the second bite my mouth tasted like it was flooded with gasoline. Bleeech! The seeds have the outer, red coat surrounding pale, tan nutmeat. I suspect that the sweet flavor comes from the coat and the gasoline flavor from the nutmeat or perhaps vice-versa. More experimentation with these beans is required.

50 Million year old! Fights cancers!
Link leads to another website.

Privacy & Amazon Paid Promotion Statement

I use third-party advertising companies to serve ads when you visit this website. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address, or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by these companies, click here.

I participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. The prices you pay for the item isn't affected, my sales commission comes out of Amazon's pocket.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.