Black Walnuts For Food and Dye


Today I finally gathered some Black Walnuts. I’ve been watching them for weeks now, ever since I got my traps. I never really thought I would get into dyeing things but then when I got my traps, I read online that I should dye them first, with Black Walnut husk.

My friend Jana told me where to find a few trees, but they haven’t been ripe yet until the last couple days. And there has been a wind kicking up lately and so this morning I knew I could grab a bunch off the streets of good ol’ P-town.


Now inside the smushy outer shell lies the inner harder shell, and inside that a nut. Unfortunately I am allergic to nuts, so I just collect them and give them to friends. The outer soft outer shell is what you want for making dye. It will even stain your hands if you get the juice on it. I remove it by stepping on it lightly as to not break the inner nut shell, but to squish off the soft parts between my shoe and the pavement.



After a few minutes the inside oxidizes or something and starts to turn a darker color.


I gathered a few dozen and stacked them side by side.


I separated them and put them on a flat surface (the back on my minivan) to dry out. The more they dry, the more black they begin to appear. And as time goes by, my finger tips turn blacker as well.


I may collect some more in the next couple days. When they have dried I will blog about dyeing the traps so you can see that too. Maybe I’ll dye some of my clothes as well.

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16 Comments on “Black Walnuts For Food and Dye”

  1. i have yet to find a good way to process black walnuts for human eating. the nutmeats are tiny and really hard to pick out of the convoluted shell, especially after having smashed it with a hammer to get it open.

    if you have chickens, however, they happen to be experts at picking at little bits of food, so you can smash ’em and throw ’em to them.

    if anyone knows of a good way to process them for humans, i’d be interested to hear

  2. I’ve heard that black walnuts have some of the best staying power without mordant of many natural dyes. I do have one shirt dyed with straight walnut (dark, slightly purply brown) that has stayed for several years and faded little – though I always handwash it.

    What I’ve read about mordants (commercial mordants) and black walnuts:
    alum – mahogany brown
    copper – dark brown
    tin – brown
    no mordant – dark brown
    iron – dark brown (i’ve heard you can use old iron pots to help as a mordant).

    I just brought some black walnut husks out to my sister for some dying – hope to do it tomorrow! Will report if so…

  3. A little word of caution about black walnuts: I learned from experience that the tannins in black walnuts can be really harsh on some people’s skin; I peeled probably hundreds of them last year without gloves, a mistake I’ll never make again. The skin on my hands got bright red and itchy and then it fell off! I had raw, itchy, peeling hands for weeks. I tell everyone I know to be careful with black walnuts…


  4. Walnut husk make a great ink as well. Look on online for recipe.
    I’ve done a couple of tie-dye Echoes t-shirts that turned out pertty cool.
    Try dying bone and do reverse scrimshaw.
    If you boil your dye down, it just gets darker.
    Have fun with it!
    BB out!!!

  5. The tannin in black walnut hulls acts as a mordant… adding additional mordants might give nice color variations though – i find for dying buckskin i need a LOT of black walnut to make an effective dye.

  6. On that note; I love using the tannins for tanning purposes; I just learned to water them down a bit so I don’t burn my hands when using them. My favorite possum skin is tanned with my walnut tannins; it turned a lovely brown and smells really nice!

  7. For Tom Campbell and how to extract walnut nutmeats:
    Because it was unusually hot this summer in the Pac NW, I watered the huge shade trees on this old rental property for the first time in five years since I moved in (usually I just water my garden and the grass). Because of this, I discovered I had hazelnut and walnut trees! In truth, it was the birds who showed me — they were busy all day cracking open the early nuts on tree branches.
    I watered the trees regularly then, and both trees thanked me with hundreds of nuts. The walnuts were HUGE with thick, juicy nutmeats inside that put store-bought walnuts to shame! I also discovered the black-stained fingers — took me a week to figure out where I picked up the stain — it was embarrassing, because for a whole week my fingers, even under my nails, looked like I had been digging in mud!
    Because I had so many walnuts, I had to store them in boxes. The nuts had parts of the outer husk still on them, and they started to grow mold, so I baked them for maybe ten minutes at 200 degrees to kill the mold. This caused the outer shell to shrink and open a bit at the tip, much like a steamed clam! You can pry the nut open easily with your fingers then (no hammer required) and you get two half-shells. The nut meat came out whole from each side. I used a butter knife and stuck it in behind the nutmeat to gently pop them out whole from behind. Poured Hersheys chocolate all over them (they were still warm from the omven) and oh, my God — I was in heaven!!
    So be sure to give the walnut trees plenty of water (and a good fertilizer would be even better!), and your nut meats will be more juicy and abundant!

  8. Hey! I am from Seattle relocated to TN 3 wks ago and was given 700 walnuts to hull and cure, here is what I know, I love calligraphy and know that walnut ink is permanent without adding anything else, also that if you wait for the hulls to rot till they are black they will be much more effective at dying (sp) to a super dark tone, I would leave the nuts with hulls on and place in a bucket to let them decay a bit further before removing the hulls, also never worry about injuring the walnut shell as most locals de-hull by running them over with their trucks. latex gloves wont work, use dish gloves…have a great time! I will be following along to see your process…

  9. oh yes very important, do not compost the hull very important, kills other plants (tomatoes, potatoes, and most other vegetation), a survival technique Im sure, but the juglone in the husk is poisonous until completely decomposed.

  10. Where can I find shelled black walnuts in the Seattle/Bellevue area? I have been trying to hunt some down for die purposes.

  11. Be sure you can tell the difference between black walnut and English walnut. The latter is not indigenous to North America but people still plant it here. If you try running over English walnuts with an automobile you will squash them. Their shells are a LOT thinner.

    They make a nutcracker for black walnuts, typically it has a heavy wooden base and a kind of crank handle because of the thick shells. I think I like the idea of baking them even better.

    But if you don’t wanna mess with them at all, do a Google search and see if anyone’s buying them. There’s an outfit here in Ohio that does, and then they process them and sell the nutmeats and shells (which are ground for industrial purposes). If you’ve got someone in your area who buys them and you find more than you need, it’s a quick buck.