Elisabeth C. Miller Library

PAL Question

PAL Question #992

Answer:

Pickled walnuts (from English walnut, Juglans regia) are a traditional British delicacy. The Royal Horticultural Society even mentions them. Alys Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Forager (2011), says the walnuts for pickling must be picked in early summer before they harden. Traditionally, walnuts for pickling were harvested June 15, St. John’s feast day. The famous 16th century herbalist John Gerard said, “the green and tender Nuts boyled in Sugar eaten as a Suckad, are a most pleasant and delectable meat, comfort the stomacke, and expell poison.”

All walnut species have edible properties, though black walnut may be more bitter than English walnut. Edible East Bay published an article by Kristen Rasmussen in summer 2015 on pickling green walnuts from a native Californian species of walnut, Juglans californica.

Anyone who is sensitive to walnuts probably should avoid the pickled ones, too. Like many plants, walnuts have both edible uses and toxic properties. If you do not consume large quantities of walnuts (pickled or otherwise), I do not think there should be dire medical consequences. Toxic Plants of North America, 2nd ed., 2013 (Burrows and Tyrl) has a section on walnut (Juglans). The main toxicity concern discussed is that to horses, and in their case, it is mainly due to the use of walnut wood shavings in horse stalls.

A word about finding random articles on the internet: Context matters, and the citation you found about cell damage is in the context of using juglone (administered in a medical research facility) to kill cancer cells. It is not the context of everyday consumption of walnuts. Reliable sources are hard to find via the internet, and I would view with skepticism any site that is primarily commercial and does not cite trustworthy sources.

I could not find any references to the effects of pickling on the chemical composition of walnuts. Certainly, pickling (like any form of food preparation) will have some effects on nutrients. But since pickled walnuts are likely an occasional snack and not a staple upon which one’s diet is founded, there is no cause for concern.