December 1, 2006,
This time of year our thoughts turn to the holidays, trees and feasting. While no festive season is complete without the smell of a real home grown tree, tree nuts are also a part of many people’s holiday celebrations. I’m not talking about inviting your arborist over to enjoy holiday cheer, although that’s one way to ensure you will have a certified tree nut in your house!
Almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and Brazil nuts are the tree nuts associated with this time of year. Although many people enjoy these delicious treats few stop to think of the origins of these delicious treats.
The ancient practice of eating nuts and other fatty foods is tied to the winter solstice festivals of ancient Europe. In the winter days are short and nights are long. Nuts, a food that causes the body to release endorphins, can create a feeling of well being and mirth. In addition nuts increase the amount of serotonin in the brain. In Low serotonin levels in people have been related to despondent, lethargic and irritable behavior. Eating nuts makes you feel happy!
The almonds in your store typically come from California. This fruit of the tree Prunus dulcis,
is known as “sweet almond”. This nut was carried as a ground mixture on the ancient caravan routes between Europe and Asia. Travelers spread this seed from its origins in Mesopotamia to Greece and the entire Mediterranean climate area of Europe. It is a distant relative of stone fruits like peaches and plums.
Hazelnuts typically come from growers in Oregon, although varieties are native to eastern North America right up to the sub arctic. All hazelnuts are from the genus Corylus and are also called filberts. Filberts are native to the higher elevations of the Mediterranean. They are delicious roasted or ground into a flavoring in lamb stews.
Walnuts have been in cultivation for over 8000 years. The Romans referred to walnuts as Jupiter’s royal acorns. The most popular ones we eat are European walnuts grown in California. All walnuts are in the family Jugulans. Locally you can find Jugulans niger, the black walnut. The fruit of this variety is more shell than meat.
The most intriguing nut story goes to the Brazil nut, the nut that a country was named after. Brazil nuts grow only in the intact rain forest of South America. The Brazil nut, Bertholletia excelsa is a major non timber forest product for the peoples of Brazil as well as Peru. These giants of the rain forest can reach 150 feet in height and can be over 800 years old. In the rain forest only one species of bee can pollinate the Brazil nut tree. This bee needs a specific orchid to complete its life cycle. These orchids only row in association with the Brazil nut tree in areas of intact rainforest. The Brazil nuts come in hard pods, harder than the shell of the nut. Only one rodent indigenous to the region can chew through this shell and disperse the seeds. The Brazil nut tree is at the top of this unique ecological web. If one species is missing from this triangle the Brazil nut is doomed.
So if you want to carry on a long holiday tradition, feel good while doing it, and save the rain forest, get a bag of mixed nuts this holiday season. You could invite a certified tree nut to join you, your Arborist.