Wonderful Walnut

June 12, 2019 Molly McGuire

Long cutting board made of walnut wood

You can tell by our name that cherry wood is our favorite, but today I’d like to sing the praises of another gorgeous material you’ll find in our shop: walnut wood. Native to North America, black walnut trees (juglans nigra) can reach heights of more than 100 feet, with trunk diameters of three feet or more. These trees grow throughout most of the eastern half of the United States, but prime walnut needs rich, moist but well-drained soil such as that found in the upper Mississippi River Valley (which happens to be right where we’re located!). The species has been prized since Colonial times, both for the meaty nuts they produce and for the durability and beauty of furniture made from its wood.


A pizza paddle with contrasting stripes of light and dark walnut wood. 

Walnut’s rich, dark color is prized for traditional furniture pieces, which is probably a big part of why it’s the most expensive native hardwood. Because this color comes naturally, this wood is rarely stained—and never, in our store! Customers often express surprise, when they see the richness of the color, that our walnut spoons haven’t been stained. A little oil, such as the olive oil in our handmade spoon butta, helps bring out the wood’s radiance while sealing and protecting it.


Our handmade spoon butta contains olive oil, beeswax, and sweet orange oil to condition and protect wood spoons and cutting boards. 

Black walnut’s heartwood (the older, dead wood from the center of the tree) ranges from deep, purple-tinged brown to reddish tan. The cream-colored sapwood (the younger, outer wood) offers a sharp contrast that many woodworkers avoid—but not at Wild Cherry Spoon Co.! Because we source urban lumber, many of the boards we start with show “imperfections” that you wouldn’t find in mass-produced lumber.  Co-owner and chief artisan Tim McGuire celebrates each board’s unique character—what some people see as flaws, such as stripes of contrasting sapwood in a dark walnut board, help give our products character.


A serving tray showing the contrast between walnut's dark heartwood and light sapwood. 

While researching the species I discovered a few interesting bits of trivia. For instance, the tree secretes a toxin called juglone from its roots, which prevents other plants from growing nearby. And while the trees may repel plant life, they attract banded hairstreak butterflies and luna moths, serving as a host to the species’ caterpillars. Of course, one of the most unique things about walnut trees is the “crop” they produce. Black walnuts fall from trees inside large, bright green husks. While different from the walnuts you’ll find in the grocery store, you absolutely can forage and eat the nuts of black walnut trees. Although, considering the difficulty of breaking the shells (they’re too tough for nutcrackers), and the fact that the husks can stain skin and clothing, unless you really love walnuts, gathering your own might be more trouble than it’s worth. If you want to give it a try, read The Spruce’s guide to harvesting black walnuts.


A bowl of shelled walnuts. 

Sources: Morton Arboretum
Northern Woodlands
The Spruce
Wood Magazine

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