Juglans cinerea

Herbs gallery - Butternut

Common names

  • Oil nut
  • White Walnut

Butternuts are deciduous trees (shedding their leaves in fall) and grow up to a height of 20 meters, but seldom found growing to 30 meters. The stem or trunk of butternut is anything between 40 cm and 80 cm in diameter and has a pale grey bark.

The leaves of this tree are feather-like growing to a length of anything between 40 cm and 70 cm. Each leaflet is about 5 cm to 10 cm in length and about 3 cm to 5 cm in width. The entire leaf of this herb is downy-pubescent and its color is slightly brighter as well as yellowish green compared to the leaves of several other trees.

The male flowers of butternut are rather unremarkable yellowish-green catkins which emerge during spring, simultaneously when the new fresh leaves come out, while the female flowers bear pale pink hued stigma. As the name of the tree suggests, its fruit is basically a nut, which grows in clumps of anything between two to six at the same time.

The shape of these nuts vary from ovoid to oblong and are about 3 cm to 4 cm across, encircled by a greenish husk before they become mature during the middle of autumn. The butternut trees have a very rapid growth, something which is considered to be somewhat short-lived for any tree. Butternut trees have been rarely seen to live for a period of more than 75 years.

Butternut trees are in bloom during the period between April and June. However, this is also subject to the place where the trees are grown. This species is monoecious (having separate male and female flowers) in nature.

While the male flowers of butternut are thin catkins developing from the auxiliary buds, the female flowers are small terminal spikes that grow on the shoots developed in the present year. In fact, the male and female flowers of this tree usually do not mature at the same time around on any particular tree. The seeds of this tree become ripe sometime between October and November.

While the butternut trees are self-fertile, their monoecious flowers (each flower having a separate sex, but male and female flowers found on the same tree) are generally pollinated by the wind.

Parts used

Dried inner bark.


Several indigenous tribes in North America have been using butternut in the form of a laxative as well as a tonic for treating various health conditions, including headaches, arthritic and rheumatic joints, constipation, dysentery as well as wounds.

In contemporary herbal medicine, butternut is considered to be an important medication for treating persistent constipation, which mainly helps in promoting the usual bowel movements. In herbal medicine, butternut is particularly effective when it is blended with any other carminative (a remedy that removes flatulence) herb, for instance, Angelica archangelica.

The internal bark (also known as quills) of butternut is among the few very powerful laxatives, which are considered very safe for use by pregnant women.

Butternut is also effective in reducing the levels of LDL cholesterol, while promoting the elimination of waste materials from the liver - thereby lessening the load on the liver. An infusion prepared with the inner bark of this tree is used in the form of a febrifuge, cholagogue, stomachic as well as a gentle laxative.

When taken in small doses, this infusion is very effective and does not result in cramps. It is best to collect the bark during autumn, while another report says that collecting the bark during the later part of spring is better.

An infusion prepared with the dried out external bark of butternut tree is employed for treating toothache as well as dysentery. The oil extracted from the nuts (fruits of the butternut tree) is employed for treating fungal infections as well as tapeworms.

The bark of the butternut tree also possesses gentle cathartic attributes and earlier it was used in the form of a medicine instead of jalap, a further expensive cathartic that had to be imported from far away Mexico.

It may be noted that during the American Revolution, some people obtained an extract from the inner bark of butternut tree and tried to use it to avoid getting smallpox. This extract was also used for treating dysentery as well as other problems related to the stomach and the intestines.

The extract obtained from the butternut bark is believed to be a very important medicine for treating duodenal catarrh as well as chronic jaundice and torpidity of the liver.

Using it in small dosages has proved to be effective in treating bilious diarrhea, dysentery as well as a number of intestinal ailments that are accompanied by symptoms that indicate hyperemia, irritability or have an inclination to inflammation.

Using medium or moderate doses of this extract is known to be useful in successfully treating chronic constipation, provided the condition is subject to removal of bile, which makes the stool dry due to absence of glandular and biliary secretion and clay-colored.

Butternut is particularly used to prepare a remedy for skin conditions that are related to any unusual problem concerning the intestinal tract.

Some of the skin diseases that can be treated successfully with butternut include acne, herpes circinatus, rupia, impetigo, prurigomoluscum, chronic scaly skin, pemphigus and lichen. In addition, it is also useful in the treatment of conditions like noli me tangere, eruptions all over the body like scarlatina, enlarged glands, mucous membrane irritation, inflamed throat, and congestion as well as irritation of the gastric mucous membranes and those in the respiratory tract.

It is also effective for curing mouth ulcers accompanied with constipation, sore mouth, and rheumatic muscles in the lumbar area.

It has been proved that the species Juglans cinerea is very effective in curing various skin conditions, irrespective of whether they are pustular or scaly, whether they are marked by bullae or papules, as mentioned earlier, provided the lesion is related to some kind of problem associated with digestion as well as assimilation.

Butternut may also be used effectively, internally as well as topically, for treating chronic and bad-conditioned ulcers and also to promote eliminating waste materials from the body and augmenting nutrition.

Freshly obtained inner bark of butternut is used to prepare a saturated tincture to cure various skin diseases. While small doses of the tincture can be taken internally, it can also be used externally on the affected areas. In the case of stubborn chronic eczema, fresh juice of the inner bark of Juglans should be applied to the affected area topically. Doing so will accelerate the healing process.

Syrup prepared with the fresh inner bark of the tree may be taken internally to treat bowel problems in babies as well as children, constipation in lactating women as well as to treat diarrhea. On the other hand, an extract from the inner bark is possibly the most effective remedy for intermittent fevers or at any time when this herb is used in the form of a cathartic.

The herb butternut may be used together with other herbs such as berberis, podophyllin or phytolacca, especially when the health problems are brought upon by occipital (near the occipital bone) headaches.

The seed husks as well as the bark of the butternut tree yield a dye whose color may vary from yellow to orange. Often the color of the dye is deep brown and it does not need any mordant. The husks of the butternut seeds may be dried out and stored for use when needed.

The young twigs, unripe fruits, leaves and buds of the tree yield a pale brown dye, which also does not need any mordant. You can also dry up the leaves and store them for future use. The young roots of the butternut tree yield a black dye. The butternut trees produce and secrete substances that may slow down the growth of other plants in the vicinity.

Hence, the butternut tree is a bad companion plant. When it rains, these chemicals or substances are washed from the leaves and they drop on the ground, affecting the growth of plants beneath the butternut trees. Even the roots of the butternut trees produce and secrete chemicals that are toxic to several plants, particularly apples (Malus species), white pines (specifically Pinus spp.).

Potentilla spp. and plants that belong to the Ericaceae family. The butternut species is not a very important crop like the black walnut - Juglans nigra, but it is still grown for its timber, which is used to make doors, window frames, furniture and so on.

The trees start producing seeds for commercial supply when they are roughly 20 years old and they produce maximum seeds during the period between 30 years and 60 years. You can hope to receive excellent crops once in every two or three years. In between, the trees will yield light crops.

In fact, people value the white walnut more for its nuts and not so much for its timber. These nuts are consumed by humans as well as animals. Usually, the nuts produced by the white walnut trees are used in baking items as well as making candies. The texture of these nuts is oily and they have a wonderful flavour.

The timber of the butternut trees is not very heavy and requires lot of polishing. This timber is extremely resistant to rotting, but compared to the black walnut timber, it is soft. When the timber is oiled, the wood grain generally shows enough shine. The timber from the white walnut trees is usually used to make furniture. In addition, this timber is very much preferred by wood carvers.

There was a time when the bark as well as the nut rinds of the butternut tree were employed to dye cloth, as they produce a dye whose color varies from pale yellow to deep brown. In order to obtain deeper hues, the bark was boiled in water to make the color concentrated.

However, it seems that this dye was never used for commercial purposes. On the other hand, it was mostly used to dye cloths that were home spun.

Sometime during the middle of the 19th century, people living in southern Indiana and southern Illinois, many of them had migrated from the southern regions of the United States, were called 'butternuts", as some of these people wore home spun cloths and dyed using the butternut extract.

Afterwards, when the American Civil War was on, sometimes the word 'butternut' was used to refer to the Confederate soldiers. This was primarily owing to the fact that the uniforms of some Confederate soldiers faded from their original grey color to tan or even pale brown.

There is another explanation for this too which says that possibly some Confederate soldiers wore uniforms that were made from cloth dyed with the color extracted from the bark of the butternut trees. All said and done, this significant nickname has some relation to the uniforms of the Confederate soldiers, which were made from home spun cloth dyed with butternut dye.

Culinary uses

The seed of butternut can be consumed raw or even pulverized into powder and blended with cereal flour to prepare biscuits, cakes, bread, muffins and other items. The seeds are not only oily, but have a pleasant taste. As the oil contained by the seeds is very unstable/ volatile, the nuts become rancid very easily when they are opened.

Generally, the weight of the kernel comprises just roughly 20 per cent of the entire seed's weight and it is not easy to extract the kernel. The unripe butternut fruit can be used to make pickles. Each butternut seed measures anything between 3 cm and 6 cm across.

A syrupy sap is tapped from the butternut tree during spring and it may be used in the form of a rejuvenating beverage. Alternatively, you may also boil the sap to form a type of sugar or into syrup or also add it to maple syrup.

Habitat and cultivation

The scientific name of butternut or white walnut is Juglans cinerea and this species has its origin in the eastern region of the United States as well as the southeast part of neighbouring Canada. This tree can be found growing naturally in wide area ranging eastward to New Brunswick.

In addition, it is found growing in the area from southern Quebec to the western region of Minnesota as well as from the south to northern region of Alabama extending southwest to the northern areas of Arkansas. However, this herb is not found anywhere in nearly all of the southern regions of United States.

The butternut trees thrive well in deep and well-drained loamy soil. In addition, they should be grown in a place that is protected from strong winds. These trees have a liking for a somewhat alkaline soil. They also grow well in sandy or loose soil having a pH range from 6 to 7. Butternut loathes compacted or dense soil conditions or clay (heavy) sub-soils.

Apart from these, the butternut trees grow well in nearly all types of soils. Among all varieties of walnuts, the butternut is considered to be the most resistant to cold and can even endure temperatures as low as around -35°C in North America.

However, when the temperature dips so low, the trees are completely dormant. The young plants that grow during the spring may be damaged due to frosts that occur very late in the season.

Butternut is occasionally grown by people in North America for the edible seeds produced by the species. In fact, a number of named varieties produce these edible seeds. The trees start producing fruits after about six to ten years of sowing the seeds and they usually fruit biennially.

As mentioned earlier, butternut trees generally survive for a very short period when compared to other trees and are rarely found to grow beyond 80 years or, at the most, 90 years. In Romania and Denmark, butternut is sometimes cultivated for its timber. Butternut trees have a deep taproot and these roots cannot withstand any kind of disturbance.

Butternut is generally propagated commercially from its seeds and it is necessary to transplant the young seedlings into their permanent place immediately when they have grown large enough to be handled. In addition, it is essential to provide them with adequate shelter during the initial few winters of their growth, as the plants are rather tender when still young.

When they are mature enough, butternut trees create a dense shade, which may stub the growth of other plants in their vicinity. In addition, the large leaves of a number of butternut trees also discharge certain substances that may possibly slow down the development of plant growing below them.

All said and done, the butternut cannot be considered to be a beneficial companion plant at all. Nevertheless, you cannot prune the plants until they have become completely dormant during the winter months.

Alternatively, you may also prune these deciduous plants when they are completely green with leaves, as pruning during any other time may result in profuse bleeding due to cuts. Butternut can be hybridized excellently with J. ailantifolia and a number of named hybrid varieties are also cultivated in many places for the edible seeds produced by these hybrid trees.

It is best to sow butternut seeds immediately when they are mature. The seeds should be sown in deep container and placed in a cold frame. In addition, extra care is required to protect the seeds from assaults by birds, mice, squirrels and other predators. In general, the butternut seeds germinate sometime during the later part of winter or during the spring.

Ideally, the young seedlings ought to be transplanted into their permanent places outdoors during the beginning of summer. In addition, you need to ensure that they are provided adequate shelter and protection during the first couple of winters of their existence.

If you do not sow the seeds immediately when they are ripened, you can even opt to store them in cool and damp conditions, for instance, in the salad section of your refrigerator during the winter and sow them during the early part of spring. However, in this case, the seeds may require cold stratification for some period prior to their germination.


Butternut contains naphthaquinones (juglone, juglandin, juglandic acid), tannins, fixed oil, volatile oil, resins.

Usual dosage

The dried out pale grey bark as well as a liquid extracts obtained from the butternut tree are used for remedial purposes. The dried bark of the tree is used to prepare a decoction. Take about 2 gm to 6 gm of the dried bark and boil it in water to prepare the decoction.

For best results, drink the decoction three times every day. The liquid extract is blended with alcohol in a 1:1 proportion and taken in dosage of anything between 2 ml and 6 ml three times every day.

Side effects and cautions

Butternut tree encloses naphthoquinone elements and when taken internally, these may be responsible for stomach irritation. Therefore, people who have gallstones should avoid using this herb.

How it works in the body

Scientific studies have proved that medication prepared with butternut has a potent effect on the liver, colon, small intestines, and rectum, resulting in addition production, secretion as well as removal of bile. At the same time, this drug enhances the actions of the glands present in the intestinal tract.

When taken in full dosage, this drug also results in elimination of large amounts of bilious products, but does not cause much griping or pain. As far as this action of the butternut drug is concerned, it is very similar to that of iris versicolor.


To treat mild constipation, you may combine butternut with berberis and taraxacum. If necessary, this herb may also be used in combination with Rhamnus. For treating cutaneous problems, this herb is combined with Arctium root and Rumex, while hemorrhoids are treated by using a combination of butternut bark and Ranunculus.

You may also prepare a wonderful pill by combining butternut bark with other substances like belladonna, capsicum, nux vomica hyoscyamus or leptandra to treat the several health conditions mentioned above. In addition, the pill containing these combinations helps to support the stomach as well as the intestinal tract in people suffering from atonic or weakening conditions that bring about chronic dyspepsia.

When used to treat skin problems, eczematous and pustular disorders, butternut bark will work in a manner similar to that of dandelion. In addition, this herb may be combined effectively with dandelion for better results.


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