We are going to start our journey with the walnut in the ancient Mediterranean world. The walnut was a pillar of a healthy diet in Greece before the modern era. Its medicinal virtues were detailed in a variety of Greek and Roman medical writings. Dioscorides, a Greek physician in the Roman army living in the first century C.E., traveled extensively and came to know many of the plants of the Mediterranean. His only surviving work, Materia Medica, was completed about the middle of the first century. Dioscorides esteemed walnuts as cures for a variety of ailments.
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Walnuts Look Like Brains And Used For Ancient Cures
It was the work in writing of Dioscorides that first considered, in his expert opinion, that walnuts look like brains and can be used to heal mental conditions. This could include a list as broad as Autism to concussions and allergies. The writings of Dioscorides talk about his belief in this as a serious medical practice. Many of these recommendations would appear in subsequent medical works for almost two thousand years.
This focus of study was shared by Aelius Galenus, also known as, Claudius Galenus, Galen of Pergamon, and Galen. He lived from approximately 129 AD to 200 AD. Dioscorides and Galen both promoted versions of the “doctrine of signatures”, which held that plants resembling various organs and features of the body made effective remedies for those parts of the body. This included a variety of foods, as well as, walnuts. The Greeks called walnuts karyon, or “head”. The most likely reason for this name is probably because the shell resembles the human skull and the kernel bears a resemblance to the brain.
The Doctrine Of Signatures Definition:
The features of a plant’s appearance or behavior correspond to what it acts upon in the body or how it cures.
The doctrine of signatures was revived and expanded in Europe during the Renaissance. It was popularized by Paracelsus, a sixteenth-century German/Swiss physician and botanist. Paracelsus, and healers in many disciplines, called walnuts “the perfect signature of the head” and “the very figure of the brain”. Using the doctrine of signatures the walnut was considered very profitable for the brain. Not only comforting the brain when ingested but also used in an oil or paste to cover the outside of the head.
Few other Renaissance era herbalists or physicians believed that walnuts could cure maladies related to the head. Some researchers are quoted, referencing walnuts within the doctrine of signatures. By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the doctrine of signatures was being referred to in a mocking way. Considered absurd and an example of a debunked science that has no place in modern medicine.
Recent studies, however, have suggested that consuming walnuts might well improve cognitive functioning. The black walnut was promoted in the past as a cancer cure on the basis it kills an unnamed “parasite”. However, according to the American Cancer Society, “available scientific evidence does not support claims that hulls from black walnuts remove parasites. [They are not] effective in treating cancer or any other disease”.
To be clear, this data on walnuts arrives as the result of studies and research. Not because the walnuts look like brains.