Bacchus, Dionysus, the Greek God Of Wine (and God of other worldly pleasures), fell in love with a princess named, Carya. She had sisters who were jealous of the relationship and tried to keep Carya away from him. Bacchus was vexed. In his anger, he turned the sisters into stones. Finally, he then transformed his lover into the first walnut tree. It doesn’t make much sense, but that is what he did.
If this story is true, Bacchus created one of our most valuable trees, a provider of great wood for furniture and construction, an array of tasty nuts that have sustained populations in time of need, and the ancestor of the successful walnut of commerce.
Almost all of the world’s marketable walnuts today are Juglans Regia, the Persian walnut. Men lived on acorns, it was said, and Bacchus’s fellow Gods ate the best walnuts; Juglans means “Jupiter’s Acorns” and Regia means “Royal.”
Ultimately, mythology must yield to archeology. This species of walnut is so widely scattered over the globe that it is hard to know exactly where it originated. South Central Asia seems most likely. We are not sure of Bacchus’s dates, but we know that archeologists have uncovered walnut shells 9,000 years old. The history of walnuts include being found in the ruins of Pompeii, indicating that they had come as far as southern Italy as early as ruins 2,000 years ago.
Over the centuries, the Persian Walnut was taken to and established in almost every temperate area visited by traders and explorers. Traders brought such quantities of them to England that they were sometimes called the English Walnut. It is popular everywhere because it is hardy, grows well, and is easy to crack. There may be as many as a dozen other species of walnuts around the world, including the rough, tough, and tasty black walnut that is native to North America. No other species, however, lends itself to commercial cultivation.
The Persian Walnuts came to California with Franciscan Priests probably in the late eighteenth century. It became a significant crop in the middle of the nineteenth century. By 1900, scientists were working to develop hardier and more productive cultivars. In 1912, the Diamond Walnut cooperative was established in Stockton, California.
To start new trees, nurseries often use a rootstock from a northern California black walnut species. It is a tough, hardy, and a disease-resistant tree. The cuttings from this Persian trees grow well on that stock. In the orchards, the trees are planted thirty feet apart. They produce when they are six to eight years old. When they get too big, the orchard is thinned. Mature trees need a spacing of fifty feet. The trees live a long time, with century-old trees still producing good crops.
Historical Medical Benefits Of Eating Walnuts
Our previous blog post on the history of walnuts covers the list of ancient cures that the walnut was used for. In ancient medical history, walnuts were believed to make you fertile. For that reason, in some places they are often thrown at weddings in the interest of insuring an early pregnancy. Chew walnuts if a mad dog bites you. A walnut looks like a brain, and in the Middle Ages it was thought to be a good brain food or even a brain medicine. Correspondingly, the mentally ill and people with epilepsy were advised to eat lots of walnuts.