The Cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is an attractive, flowering evergreen that native to Brazil. Introduced into India in the first half of the 16th century to aid afforestation efforts, these distinctive trees produce clusters of fragrant, rose-coloured flowers that grow into edible fruit. Interested in growing your own? Read on!
You may know the cashew tree for its nuts, but it also produces the cashew apple. Interestingly, both are part of the same fruit. If you look at the fruit of a cashew tree, you’ll see a pear-shaped fruit with a kidney-shaped shell attached to it.
The shell houses the familiar cashew nut. The pear-shaped pedicel is the swollen stem of the fruit, commonly known as the cashew apple. Perfectly edible, the apple is rich in vitamin C, containing around 5 times more than an orange, as well as iron, vitamin B1, and calcium.
- How to Grow a Cashew Tree
- Growing a Cashew Tree from Seed
- Planting out Cashew Trees
- Positioning your Tree
- Planting the Tree
- Care Guide
- Fertilizing Cashew Trees
- Pruning and Training Cashew Trees
- Common Cashew Tree Problems and How to Solve Them
- Cashew Tree Companion Plants
- Plants Cashew Trees Dislike
- How to Harvest and Store Cashew Tree Fruits
- Processing Cashew Nuts
- A Few Additional Notes
- ‘Blood cashews’: the toxic truth about your favourite nut
- Cashews / Mangos
- June Plum
- Hog Plum
- Pepper Trees
- Brazilian Pepper Tree
- California / Peruvian Pepper Tree
- Sumac Spice
- Staghorn Sumac
- Lemonade Berry
- Poison Ivy | Poison Oak
- Poison Sumac
- Dragon Plum
- Kaffir Plum
- People Are Still Trying to Come to Terms With How Cashews Grow Thanks to a World-Shattering Picture
- Want to grow a cashew tree in your garden? This article has all the basic growing and planting information for your help.
- Cashew Nuts Growing Information
- How to Grow a Cashew Tree from Seeds
- Requirements for Growing Cashew Nuts Tree
- Cashew Tree Care
- Harvesting and Cashew Nut Processing
- Cashew Nuts Growing Tips
- Benefits of Cashew Nuts
- Cashew Nut Trees: Learn How To Grow Cashews
- How to Grow Cashews
- Caring for Cashew Trees
- Additional Cashew Nut Information
- Black Walnut (Juglan negia)
- Carpathian Walnut (Juglan regia)
- Manchurian Walnut (Juglans mandshurica)
- Butternut (Juglans cinerea)
- Heartnuts (Juglans ailantifolia)
- Buartnut (Juglans cinerea x Juglans ailantifolia)
- Chestnuts (Castanea sp.)
- Hickory Nuts (Carya ovata)
- American Hazelnuts (Corylus americana)
- Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis)
How to Grow a Cashew Tree
Cashew trees, categorized in the USDA Zones 10-11, are native to tropical, warm areas. They do best in areas where the daytime temperature averages about 77°F.
They can be grown in cooler climates, but ideally, the temperature shouldn’t regularly drop below 50°F. Cold weather protection can help to protect them against cold snaps, but a deep freeze will kill them off.
Trees grown from seed will take up to three years to bear fruit. A quicker method is to purchase a grafted cashew tree: these tend to bear fruit within 18 months. It’ll take up to seven years before your trees can produce their optimum yield.
Growing a Cashew Tree from Seed
Germination is an easy process: just make sure that you use fresh cashew seeds. (A cashew seed is the cashew nut still inside the kernel.) The seed should be no more than four months old—any older and it won’t germinate. Dry fresh seeds in the sun for three days before sowing.
Start cashew seeds in pots, instead of planting them straight into the ground. By doing this, you can give them a bit of extra attention and protection. You can sow seeds into pots at any time of year, as they’ll will grow happily in pots until they’re ready to be planted out.
Sow cashew seeds either into smaller individual pots or into one larger pot. Sowing more than one seed increases ther chances of producing a healthy cashew tree. Weaker seedlings can be thinned out later on.
The pot should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. Cashew tree seedlings are prone to phytophthora root rot. This means that they shouldn’t be allowed to sit in overly wet soil. If there are no drainage holes in your pot, you’ll need to drill some into the bottom.
Fill the Planter with Fresh Compost
A good, general purpose potting compost will be fine. Mix a handful of vermiculite into the soil to help to improve nutrient and moisture retention. Leave a gap of about 1 inch at the top.
Place the seeds in the pot at a slight angle, and at a depth of 5- 10cm. Cover with fresh soil and water in. Keep the pots in a warm, light location. Don’t place them in direct sunlight: too much heat can burn seedling leaves and cause plants to fail. The pots should also be regularly checked to ensure that they don’t dry out.
Germination will take anywhere from four days to three weeks.
As the seedlings grow, make sure that they get plenty of light and water. If you’re unsure of how much water to give a plant, try watering it over a sink or bucket. When water begins to drip through the drainage holes, the soil has taken on enough moisture and you can stop watering.
Planting out Cashew Trees
As the cashew trees begin to outgrow their pots, it’s time to plant them out. The best time to do this is in the spring, as this gives the tree plenty of time to establish itself before winter.
Before you plant out the young trees, allow the plants to harden off for a couple of weeks. This acclimatization period is a vital step in helping tender plants thrive in their new environment.
Positioning your Tree
Position your tree in sandy or sandy-loam soil with a pH level between 5 and 6.5. That said, cashew trees will grow well in most soils as long as it they’re well draining.
The one soil type you should avoid planting your tree in is heavy, clay soil. This soil type tends to retain moisture, meaning that it can easily become waterlogged. Cashew trees that sit in waterlogged soil will almost certainly develop root rot.
The ideal location for your tree is a frost-free spot that faces south or west. It should be protected from strong winds. The location should also be sunny, receiving at least 6 hours of light a day. While cashew trees can grow in shady spots, they’ll struggle to produce fruit in those conditions.
Planting the Tree
Rake the area carefully, and make sure that you remove any weeds. They’ll rob your cashew tree of vital nutrients and moisture, and large rocks from the area.
Dig a hole large enough to comfortably hold the sapling’s entire root ball. When removing the sapling from the pot, it’s vital that you don’t disturb the root system. Damaging it can lead to the plant struggling to establish itself, or even dying.
If you’re planting more than one cashew tree, remember that they’re not only vigorous growers, but also have extensive root system. Basically, they like their space. Mature cashew trees will require an all-round gap of 10m. When the trees are young, they can be planted at distance of 8x5m and thinned out later.
After filling in the hole, water well. Young cashew trees should be staked or given some form of support.
Temperature and Positioning
As we’ve already discussed, cashew trees are native to tropical regions, so they’re very vulnerable to frosts. Generally cashew trees will struggle to survive without protection when the temperature drops below 50°F. Therefore, you’ll need to take precautions to protect your tree from cold spells.
You should plant your tree either near a warm south- or west-facing building wall, or on a sloping incline facing either direction. Either measure will lessen the possibility of frost and cold weather damage. South and westerly facing locations tend to receive more warmth, and aren’t as frost-prone as north- or east-facing locations.
Add a 2-3 inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree to help to protect the root system from frosts. Renew these mulch layers regularly to ensure continued protection.
Cashew trees are fairly drought tolerant, especially once established. Of course, regular watering is still needed, particularly for young trees. A weekly watering will double the growth rate, allowing the trees to establish themselves more quickly. Regular watering also encourages fruit production.
In warmer climates you may need to water your trees twice a week. Be careful not to over water, as doing so can harm or even kill the plants. It’s best to wait until the soil around the base of the cashew tree feels dry before giving it a drink.
You should also cease watering temporarily after periods of heavy rain. Too much water can not only lead to root rot, but can also cause nuts to rot or fallen nuts around the tree’s base to start germinating.
Cashew trees require less watering in wintertime than during the spring and summer. You may even be able to cease watering completely for a time. As the weather warms up again, gradually increase the regularity of your watering routine.
Mulching the base of your cashew tree will help to protect it from frosts and cold weather. It can also discourage weeds from growing and help the soil conserve moisture. In fact, this is particularly helpful in sandy soils. Mulch can also help to protect plants from soil-borne pests.
If you don’t want to regularly work organic matter around your tree, black polythene covers can be placed around its base. While this won’t provide the extra nutrients that come with organic mulch, it’ll aid moisture retention and help protect against frosts.
Alternatively, stones and small pebbles can be placed around the tree’s base. These are more attractive than the black plastic covering, but are just as beneficial.
Fertilizing Cashew Trees
Regular fertilization during the growing period, particularly when the trees are in flowering and are developing their fruit.
The fertilizer that you use should contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and zinc. For best results, try a slow-release fertilizer with a NPK 8-3-9 ratio. This combination contains all the nutrients that a cashew tree needs.
The amount you apply will depend on the size of the tree and its growing conditions. Consult the instructions on the packet to work out the exact amount. Generally you will need to fertilize your tree once every two months during the growing season.
You can also work compost or farm manure into the soil around the base of mature cashew trees once a year.
Pruning and Training Cashew Trees
Remove any sprouts that come from the roots during the first year, as the cashew tree works to establish itself. If allowed to grow, these sprouts will take up valuable nutrients that could instead help the tree to grow.
Regularly remove any branches that are broken or appear diseased. This will prevent diseases from spreading and discourage pests from targeting your trees. Also remove tangled and overcrowded branches to encourage growth.
Train cashew tree branches during the first few years to take on a proper shape. This shaping will largely involve removing lower and tangled branches. The ideal time for pruning is during the late summer and early autumn.
Smear any cut surfaces with Bordeaux paste to prevent mildew, mold and fungal infestations.
Regularly remove weeds that are growing at the base of the cashew tree. This enables more moisture and nutrients to get to the tree.
Mulching, or if you have a line of cashew trees, growing grass strips between the tree lines will prevent erosion and discourage weed growth. Grass strips will require regular mowing.
Common Cashew Tree Problems and How to Solve Them
Healthy cashew trees will generally be free from pests and problems. There are, however, a few things that you need to look out for.
These trees are prone to zinc deficiency. Sandy soils, in which cashew trees flourish, often struggle to retain ample zine amounts. If caught early enough, this type of deficiency is easy to fix.
Spraying the leaves with a micronutrient foliar zinc fertilizer can help to alleviate deficiency. An organic alternative is to apply kelp extract. Cashew trees happily tolerate high zinc levels, so don’t worry about overdoing it.
While it can be easy to fix, this type of deficiency can be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms—chlorosis or leaf discoloration—are similar to signs of other nutrient deficiencies. One way in which zinc deficiency differs from others is that it usually becomes apparent on the plant’s lower leaves first.
Other nutrient deficiencies tend to initially manifest on the plant’s top leaves. The only way to confirm a zinc deficiency is to test soil levels.
The most common method boosting soil levels is to work in chelated zinc. Add compost or other organic matter to the soil on a regular basis helps to maintain all nutrient levels.
Cashew Tree Companion Plants
- Legumes, such as beans or peanuts, are popular companion plants. In fact, leguminous cover can help to enrich the soil around your cashew trees with various nutrients. It’ll also help to maintain soil moisture levels.
- Borage, comfrey, chamomile, and cowpea will also add nutrients to the soil as they decay. To establish these plants properly, make sure that you water them regularly. This is especially important if they’re sitting in sandy soil that struggles to retain moisture.
- Casuarina and coconut are also both popular companion plants for cashew trees. Not only do they help to keep nutrients in the soil, they enjoy similar growing conditions.
Plants Cashew Trees Dislike
- Millet, sorghum, and other tall inter crops should be avoided. These can stand taller than your young trees, causing shade and stunting growth.
Cashew trees will generally be pest free as long as they are in good health.
Occasionally they’ll come under attack from Tea Mosquitos, Leaf Miners, Blossom Webber, Fruit and Nut Borers, and Stem Borers. The majority of these pests can be controlled by applying fungicide or, in the case of the Fruit and Nut Borer, stem grease.
The most difficult pest to get rid of is the Western Flower Thrip. This pest has developed a resistance to many pesticides. so you may need to treat the tree more than once.
How to Harvest and Store Cashew Tree Fruits
Flowering can vary depending on the weather and climate. It can also vary from tree to tree. Two trees next to each other—that you treat exactly the same—can flower at different rates. When your tree does flower, it’ll be in bloom for up to three months.
From the point of pollination, it’ll take between six and eight weeks for the fruit to develop. The cashew nut will develop first, and the cashew apple will enlarge significantly in the final 2 weeks before ripening. The fruit will be ready to harvest when it turns dark pink or red, and the shell is a darker shade of grey.
Allow wet nuts to dry fully before storing. You can store unprocessed nuts in a cool, dry location for up to 2 years.
Processing Cashew Nuts
The cashew nut forms in a shell that contains a caustic oil. If this oil comes into contact with your skin, it can cause irritation or burns. As such, you’ll need to protect yourself when processing the nuts.
The safest method is to freeze them, after which point you can safely remove them from their shells. You should still wear a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and maybe safety glasses just in case.
Alternatively you can roast the nuts.
Before roasting, soak the cashew nuts in water. This makes the kernel slightly rubbery and also helps to rupture the shell, allowing the oil to drain away safely.
Heat the oil to 210°C in a large pan. Drop the nuts—still in their shells—into the oil for two minutes. Any longer and they’ll become too brittle. Note that the nuts may squirt out the caustic liquid when dropped in the oil, so wear protective gear.
When the nuts are ready, place them in a bucket of water to cool. They can then be removed from the shell and dried.
A Few Additional Notes
If you only end up with a few edible nuts the first time, don’t worry. It often takes a few attempts before you get the technique right.
Cashew nuts can be eaten raw, but make sure that they’ve been cleaned and aren’t contaminated with any caustic liquid. Remember that the apple part of the fruit is also edible. This highly perishable fruit is used in pickles, gin, syrup, and wine, but can also be eaten fresh from the tree.
A cashew tree is an attractive addition to any garden, with its rich green leaves and delicate pink flowers. It’s also an easy tree to grow and cultivate. Once established, it’ll require minimal attention, meaning that you’ll be able to enjoy its fruits for many years to come.
I took my first cashew pictures 3 weeks ago. At that time, the apples were still tiny and green. Now they’re ripe, so I’ll introduce them to you.
In only 3 weeks, an impressive change has occured in the cashew trees of Banuang Daan. The small cashew apples – that would deserve the name of pears, because of their shape – have grown a lot and took nice colours. Some of them are yellow, some are reddish.
Cashew apple and nut, ripe © Camille Oger
I delicately pulled a branch of the cashew tree to take this photograph of the apple. There were actually two on the end of the branch. Even though I really tried to be gentle, one of the apples, perfectly ripe, fell on the ground. It only dropped from a height of one meter, but it totally smashed, even though the ground was covered with grass and leaves. A real purée that proved right the legendary fragility of the cashew apple.
Even better with salt
Yesterday I met Irene, a young woman from Mindoro who spent her childhood around cashew trees. She was eating big slices of a funny fruit when I saw her. I came closer to have a proper look and asked what it was. It was cashew apples with salt.
Cashew apples with salt © Camille Oger
The salt helps draining the water from this fruit (or pseudofruit if you want to be precise) as it’s full of it, really. It seems like it’s only made of water, even worse than cucumber. I tried to eat some of it. It tastes like mango, cucumber (speaking of the devil), citrus fruit, it’s good, but the texture is really unpleasant.
I expected something as crunchy as cucumber. Or water apple, because it really looks like a cashew apple. But it’s in fact very fibrous, it’s like eating cotton-candy that would be more cotton than candy, changing into fibers and water in your mouth as you eat it.
I’m thinking that, after all, it’s a fruit, so I try it without any salt, and it’s not as good. Irene told me that the best way to eat it is to chop it really finely and to put some salt on it. Indeed, when it’s thinly sliced, you cannot feel the disappointing texture any more and you can focus on the aromas. Besides, it helps the salt drain the fruit thoroughly, so it will be firmer and easier to digest.
But most of all Irene gave me some ideas, some great ideas. You’ll see that in a fourth article: we’ll make acid bombs with cashew nuts and charcoal. The video’s coming soon.
‘Blood cashews’: the toxic truth about your favourite nut
Farmers harvest cashews in Guinea-Bissau (AFP)
But there’s a catch to cashews. As so often, it is those who actually produce these delicious things who are suffering.
The nuts – 60 per cent of which are processed in India – are exceptionally hard to extract. A cashew has two layers of hard shell between which are caustic substances – cardol and anacardic acid – which can cause vicious burns.
Many of the women who work in the cashew industry have permanent damage to their hands from this corrosive liquid, because factories do not routinely provide gloves. For their pains they earn about 160 rupees for a 10-hour day: £1.70.
Some Indian cashew workers have had enough. Last month 17,000 of them went on strike, demanding a 70 per cent pay increase. This will force up Indian export prices, but consumers in Europe may be unaffected, as Vietnamese cashew production increases apace.
Conditions in Vietnam may be even worse than in India. Cashews are sometimes shelled by drug addicts in forced labour camps, who are beaten and subjected to electric shocks. Time magazine has described this trade as “blood cashews”.
Cashew nut tree on a ranch near Colombia’s Bita River (ALAMY)
What is a conscientious cashew-lover to do? Sainsbury’s sells Fairtrade cashews (£4.50 for 300g). Other brands to look for are Liberation and Traidcraft. But realistically, only small numbers of consumers will pay more for cashews than they need to. As with dairy farming closer to home, supermarkets should do more to support those whose hard work drives their profits. When we buy sweet, wholesome cashews we don’t want to be colluding in human misery.
Cashews / Mangos
The Cashew is native to Brazil which is still a major grower, though long overshadowed by India which has itself been eclipsed by Vietnam. Looking at the photo at the top of the page you can see the true fruit, shaped like a cashew nut, with a false fruit, the “cashew apple” above it.
Cashews are never shipped “in the shell” because the “shell” is laced with blistering levels of the irritant urushiol. Cashews must be shelled and prepared with great care to prevent toxicity and injury to workers. While rare, there have been cases of mass rash breakouts from cans of nuts contaminated with pieces of shell.
The “cashew apple” is edible but used fresh only locally because it is highly perishable, starting to ferment within 24 hours. It is used mainly to make jams and fermented and distilled into alcoholic beverages. There is also an Australian cashew, Semecarpus australiensis with a similar structure and requiring similar care in handling, but it has a very small apple and lacks the “cashew curve”. Details and Cooking.
Native to India and Southeast Asia mangos have been cultivated since prehistory. Over 1000 varieties are recognized and hundreds are cultivated in India where the fruit is a national obsession. We see just a few varieties here in California. Mangos ripen from June to November depending on variety and where they are grown, earlier inland later on the coast.
India is by far the largest grower of mangos followed by Southeast Asia, but most sold in the U.S. are grown in Mexico. Florida production was largely wiped out by hurricane Andrew (1992) and has not been restored due to doubts Florida could be price competitive (and fear of more hurricanes). Significant production began around 2002 in Southern California, but production can not yet meet demand (2013), even at a premium price.
While all mangoes sold in North America are M. indica, the Pickling Mango M. sylvatica also figures in India and Southeast Asia. All the other species are too toxic to be exploited. We now have a separate page for Mangos, including Mango Varieties – Details & Photos.
– Spondia fruits are often gathered from the wild in their native regions, but a few are in fairly intense cultivation, particularly June Plums and Jocotes. Listed here are the most important.
Native to Melanesia and Polynesia, this fruit is now heavily planted in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. The flesh is crisp and slightly tart, surrounding a fibrous seed. Due to the seed, they cannot be easily sliced or pitted, so are often eaten out of hand. In Indonesia and Malaysia they would be accompanied by a little shrimp paste. They are also pickled, cooked for preserves, juiced, and used in sauces, soups and stews. Details and Cooking.
This tree is native to the tropical Americas, but now found in the tropics worldwide. It seldom cultivated but picked wild. The fruit flesh is eaten fresh or used for juice and jelly. In Thailand young leaves (Bai Makok), which have a slightly sour-bitter taste, are eaten raw with nam phrik, a chili condiment variously made. The fruits are used in green papaya salads in Thailand and Laos. Photo by Marco Schmidt distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.5.
This small to medium size tree is native to the tropical Americas, and now cultivated in the tropics worldwide for its fruits. Cultivars are being selected for fruit quality and yield to improve the crop. The fruit is like a tiny, round mango, sweet when ripe, very tart when not yet ripe. Unlike the mango, the skin is often eaten with the fruit.
While they are most commonly eaten ripe, either fresh or simmered in a syrup, they are also eaten not quite ripe with salt and lime juice. The photo specimens, previously frozen, were about 1.6 inches long and 1.4 inches diameter, the largest weighing about 1 ounce. They were purchased from a large multi-ethnic market in Los Angeles, 2012 US $2.85 / pound, bagged in the freezer section.
Native to Bahia state in northeastern Brazil, this is an important fruit in dry regions because of its high yield and drought resistance. The spherical fruit, which can range from 1 inch to 2 inches diameter, may be light green to light yellow when ripe. The flesh is soft, juicy and sweet, often mixed with other fruits and and used in fruit juices, jams and sorbets. It has to be harvested by hand because it is quite delicate. Photo by Daniele Gidsicki distributed under Creative Commons Attribution v2.0 Generic.
These trees are in no way related to the plants that give us black, white, green, red or Sichuan peppercorns. They provide instead the Pink Peppercorns that were so popular with the fancy chef set some years back. There has been much talk of pink peppercorns grown in Florida causing throat irritation, but in general there is almost no irritant in dried berries.
Brazilian Pepper Tree
Fruits of this tree are used in the Caribbean for both seasoning and medicinal purposes. “Pink peppercorns” from trees growing in Florida were reputed to cause an allergic reaction in some people (throat irritation) so the chefs get their berries from the Caribbean island of Réunion. Whether this is a real problem or just a move to protect a cash crop on Réunion I do not know, but I’ve had no problem with the ones from my trees here in California.
This low growing tree is extremely invasive in wet climates and almost impossible to eradicate, particularly a problem in Hawaii and Florida. It can be told from the California / Peruvian pepper tree by the rounded tips of its leaves and it’s low, dense, even sprawling growth habit. Note in the photo new spring growth with the berries on the previous year’s growth. Details and Cooking.
California / Peruvian Pepper Tree
This tree is very common in Southern California and is easy to tell from the Brazilian Pepper Tree. It grows as a large tree with drooping branches bearing very long leaves with many narrow sharply pointed leaflets. The Inca used the berries to make fermented beverages and flavoring syrups. The tree is also used as a medicinal, but is toxic to some animals and possibly small children. I get these leaves and berries from the Bank of America parking lot down on the corner, but find the berries of my Brazilian pepper trees to be much sweeter and milder. This tree is drought resistant and is a serious invasive in South Africa and Australia. Details and Cooking.
This genus is native to warmer parts of Eurasia, North America and all of Africa.
Pistachios used to come from Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. Today I see some Turkish in markets serving Mid Eastern communities, but Iranian aren’t much available due to embargos. Afghanistan seems to have found opium more profitable.
California has taken up the slack. After testing 13 varieties, Kerman and Lassen were chosen for nut bearing female trees and Peters as a male pollen producer. Kerman and Lassen produce particularly large crisp nuts. The first harvest was in 1976 and California is now the second largest producer in the world at 400 million pounds.
Some have been saying Iranian nuts are better, but we can’t know as Trump has renewed conflict with Iran. Iran does grow more varieties (C1). The Turkish I’ve found are good but often over-roasted. The photo specimens are all Californian. To the right are roasted nuts, in the center roasted kernels, and to the left are fresh whole fruits and unroasted nuts (probably not much available in North America outside California).
This small tree is the source of Mastic Resin, used widely in Greece, Turkey, the Levant and Egypt as a spice, chewing gum and medicinal. Production is very labor intensive, so mastic resin is quite expensive. Nearly all is produced on the Greek island of Chios, where production has been somewhat reduced by a forest fire in 2012. Some has always been produced on the Turkish peninsula of Çeçme, just a few miles from Chios, and production there is being ramped up. It is used in sweets, baked goods, ice cream, fruit and vegetable preserves, soups and savory dishes.
This small tree is native to Iran, and around most of the Mediterranean, but largely replaced by very similar P. palaestina in the Levant. It was the original source of turpentine, distilled from the sap. Resins from these trees were used as a preservative in wine more than 7000 years ago. in Crete the fruits are used in a special village bread, and young shoots are eaten as vegetables in a few Greek locations. Photo by MPF distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
There are many varieties of Sumac worldwide, some of which may contain sufficient amounts of the irritant urushiol to be unpleasant, even more unpleasant than poison ivy. The fruits of some are usable but reliable local knowledge is recommended. The dangerously toxic species have now been separated out as a separate genus, Toxicodendron.
Fruits of this Near Eastern species are used to make a dry purple-red souring agent used in place of lemon. It is widely used and sold in the U.S. simply as “Sumac”. It is a very important ingredient in the region, so you can easily find it in markets serving Levantine and Middle Eastern communities. Do not attempt to use common North American sumac berries for this, as they will have various levels of toxicity.
The fruits of Staghorn Sumac are soaked strained and sweetened to make a beverage similar to pink lemonade. The leaves were mixed with tobacco and smoked by Native Americans and some still use it that way. Photo U.S. Federal government = public domain.
This species grows only in dry costal regions of Southern and Baja California. The name implies a drink similar to lemonade can be made from mature berries but I’m not sure what precautions (if any) should be taken. The seeds can be ground to extract an oil which solidifies at room temperature and can be used to make candles. This plant really doesn’t look much like a sumac due to its solitary leaves. Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.5.
These highly toxic plants were formerly in Ruhs, the Sumac genus, but have been separated out. They contain significant amounts of the strong contact irritant urushiol. We do not recommend attempting to use any Toxicodendron species for food in any way. This recommendation is self enforcing.
Poison Ivy | Poison Oak
Low growing plants with leaves in sets of three, but Poison Ivy can also be a substantial tree climbing vine, easily recognizable by the dense hairs holding it to the tree trunk. They are common in forested areas of North America, and contain significant amounts of the strong contact irritant urushiol. Poison Ivy photo by Esculapio contributed to the public domain. Photo of Poison Oak by US Federal Government = public domain.
Shrubs and small trees up to 30 feet tall, native to very wet or swampy soils in eastern North America. Very little is west of the Mississippi or north of the Canadian border. They contain very significant amounts of the strong contact irritant urushiol, and are considered by some botanists to be the most toxic plants native to North America. Photo of Poison Sumac by US Department of Agriculture = public domain.
A large shrub common among the coastal chaparral of Southern and Baja California. It got the name Laurel Sumac from having leaves similar in shape to the unrelated California Laurel. It is currently used only as a decorative but the Chumash Indians once used the fruits to make a kind of flour and the bark to make a tea used to treat dysentery. Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0.
Dracontomelons are very large trees, native to Vietnam, Cambodia, parts of southern China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and the Pacific Islands. While D. duperreanum is the most eaten, I haven’t been able to find any comment on the taste of even that one. Lots about the cultural importance of the trees, nothing about the fruit. Well, they aren’t available here in North America, so I guess that’s not going to hurt us much. Photo by Nguyen Thanh Quang distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.
Native to South Africa, this plant has been established in California as a landscape accent. Small oval bright red fruit are tart and can be used to make fruit jelly. Photo by Rotational contributed to the public domain.
Native to Southern Africa, West Africa and Madagascar, this plant has been spread by the Bantu, to whom it has always been an important food. It ripens to a light yellow, with white flesh that contains 8 times as much vitamin C as an orange. It is tart and juicy, with a strong distinctive flavor. Each fruit contains a hard, roughly cylindrical stone, which eventually opens and spills seeds that have a delicate nutty flavor. Photo by Rotational contributed to the public domain.
B. lanza is native to India and Malaysia, while B. latifolia has a wider range, extending into China and Laos. Seeds of this shrub look much like pine nuts, and have a similar hard shell. Once broken out of their shells they have about the same size and soft consistency as pine nuts, but a flavor compared to almonds or hazelnuts. They are generally lightly toasted before use, which is often in sweets. They are also ground for use as a spice, flavoring and thickener in savory sauces, curries and kormas. Details and Cooking. Photo by Badagnani (cropped, edited, color balanced) distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.
This little known fruit tree, native through the wet parts of tropical Africa, is considered to have great potential for nutrition. It contains about 63% of oils, including palmitic, oleic, stearic, linolenic and linoleic fatty acids. It is also high in amino acids, triglycerides and vitamins. The flesh, which contains about 48% oil (the rest is in the seeds) may be eaten raw or cooked. Cooked it has a mouth feel similar to butter. The tree also produces excellent wood and has medicinal uses. Some of these trees are now being grown in Malaysia. Photo by uncertain, contributed to the public domain.
- C1: – Iranian Pistachios – Dorchin Co.
People Are Still Trying to Come to Terms With How Cashews Grow Thanks to a World-Shattering Picture
Certain corners of the internet are getting very nutty over the way cashews grow.
Yes, a photo of cashews minding their own business has inadvertently ushered in the social media freakout of the week.
The addictive snack of many a party bowl or trail mix pouch across the world is now the center of a heated discussion on the Internet.
It began with this picture.
“Wow! Who knew cashews look like angry, old men yelling at you to get off their lawn as they grow? They taste so much better than they look!”
Are these boomerang-shaped nuts nothing more than the faces of angry old men? Have they been growing like this in plain sight this whole time? What even are these cashews doing right now? And where have we been? All valid questions for those uninitiated with the way cashews do their thing.
To help contextualize this earth-shattering news about the addictive treat, cashews are simply the fruit of the cashew apple.
They grow on cashew trees (appropriate!) and they are harvested from these cashew apples. They’re in cahoots with the cashew apples, which grow on branches. (That’s just the accessory fruit, which is usually the color of red or yellow or green. The cashew is the main attraction.)
The cashew is not a true nut either. Let that sink in.
Join the internet on a dissonant journey through the origin story of the cashew below.
Write to Ashley Hoffman at [email protected]
Want to grow a cashew tree in your garden? This article has all the basic growing and planting information for your help.
Cashew nuts growing is easy, but it requires a more specific environment and growing conditions. If you can provide that environment, then you can plant a cashew tree and enjoy the nuts and fresh fruits that are known as cashew apple.
USDA Zones — 10 – 11
Difficulty — Moderate
Soil pH — Slightly acidic to neutral
Other names — Maranon, Noix d’anacarde, Caju, Kaju, Mundiri, Kazu, Pajuil, anacardio, Paringi mavu, 槚如树
Cashew Nuts Growing Information
Cashew or Anacardium occidentale originates from the Caribbean Islands and the North East of Brazil. But today it is grown in several other tropical parts of the world. Mostly in Africa, India and Southeast Asia for cashew nuts.
It is also called a cashew apple tree; it is part of the Anacardiaceae family, the same family that belongs to pistachio and mango.
Cashew tree can grow up to 6-12 meters (20-40 feet) high. Its evergreen leaves are oval, leathery and dark green. They have a prominent midrib.
The flowers, white and pink are gathered in inflorescence at the tips of young shoots. They are smaller in size but very fragrant.
As for the fruits of this tree, do not be fooled by appearances. The cashew apple is oval-shaped, like bell pepper: yellow, orange or red in color is a false fruit (it is also edible). The real fruit, more discreet is a nut attached to the end of the fake fruit. It is that which contains the edible kernel, which we called Cashew.
Also Read: Almond Tree Growing Information
How to Grow a Cashew Tree from Seeds
Cashew tree can be grown from seeds, air layering, and grafting. To propagate it from seeds, you will need a matured unshelled nut (seed). These seeds are viable for up to 4 months.
If you have collected the fresh seed from the tree, dry it in the sun for 3 days and soak in water overnight before sowing.
Sow the seeds in good quality seed starting mix; the seeds will germinate anywhere from 4 days to 3 weeks.
Requirements for Growing Cashew Nuts Tree
Cashew tree needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. In the shade, it grows slowly and doesn’t produce fruits.
Cashew prefers poor sandy and laterite soil with a pH level around 5 – 6.5. Never grow cashew tree in a clay-rich soil. It is heavy and encourages waterlogging, and in the case of growing cashew tree, the soil you use should be well drained in a way that water will flow smoothly.
Cashew trees are moderately drought tolerant once established, but they produce more fruits if watered regularly. During the summer, water weekly or twice and deeply. Reduce or withhold watering during winter. Overwatering can harm or even kill your cashew tree, so water only if the soil is dry and let the soil to dry out between spells of watering.
Cashew tree needs regular application of fertilizer to thrive and produce fruits. Use slow-release fertilizer with N-P-K 8 – 3 – 9 according to the product instructions given on the packet, around the base of the tree every two months during the growing season. Also apply compost or farm manure once in a year, around 30 pounds (15 kg) on the surface of the soil to a mature tree.
Cashew Tree Care
Prune cashew trees regularly to remove weak, dead and entangled branches and branches that are infested with diseases or pests. Also, cut overcrowded branches to promote vigorous growth.
Do mulching around your cashew tree with organic matters to prevent weeds and to conserve moisture.
Pests and Diseases
The cashew tree is generally pest free if it is in good health. Major pests that attack it are tea mosquito, stem and root borer, leaf Miner and blossom Webber.
Harvesting and Cashew Nut Processing
Harvest when cashew apples turn pink or red and cashew nut shells are gray. After harvesting, separate the cashew apple from the nut.
Cashew apple can be eaten raw or make juice of it. Unshelled cashew nut can be stored up to 2 years.
Do not attempt to break the shell before roasting; cashew shell contains very caustic oil which can burn skin.
When processing cashew nut at home must wear gloves and safety glasses and take special care. To learn more on how to process cashew– read this.
Also Read: How to Grow Mango Tree
Cashew Nuts Growing Tips
- Sow fresh cashew seeds for germination, as they germinate easily.
- A tree grown from seeds take 3 to 5 years to produce its first fruits. Our recommendation is to buy a potted plant from a nursery. This way you’ll not have to wait that long.
- Choose a location that is well protected from the wind.
- Cashew grows better when the temperature remains around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 C) although it can withstand temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C) and as high as 105 Fahrenheit (40.5 C) without any problem.
- Keep the area around the base of your cashew tree free from weeds, small shrubs, vines, and debris.
- Watch for sick or dead branches, prune them if necessary.
Benefits of Cashew Nuts
One of the most delicious and healthiest nuts, cashews are an amazing source of nutrients, and not only the cashew nuts but its fruit is nutritious too. It is a rich source of vitamin C, five times more than an orange. It also contains higher amounts of calcium, iron, and vitamin B1, which is more than most of the fruits. To know more about the benefits of cashew nuts, read this article.
Also Read: How to Grow Mamoncillo
Cashew Nut Trees: Learn How To Grow Cashews
Cashew nut trees (Anacardium occidentale) are native to Brazil and grow best in tropical climates. If you want to grow cashew nut trees, keep in mind that it will take two to three years from the time you plant until the time you harvest nuts. Read on for more information about how to grow cashews and other cashew nut information.
How to Grow Cashews
You can start growing cashew nuts if you live in the tropics, whether the climate is wet or dry. Ideally, your temperature should not drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C.) or rise above 105 degrees F. (40 C.). It is also possible to grow the trees in any frost-free areas.
In this temperature range, growing cashew nut trees is easy. In fact, with a little irrigation, they grow like weeds. The trees are drought resistant, and they can thrive on marginal soils. Well-draining sandy soil is best for growing cashew nuts and trees.
Caring for Cashew Trees
If you have planted cashew nut trees, you’ll need to provide your young trees with both water and fertilizer.
Give them water during dry spells. Provide fertilizer during the growing season, especially when the tree is flowering and developing nuts. Be sure to use a fertilizer that contains nitrogen and phosphorus, and also possibly zinc.
Trim the young cashew trees every now and then to remove branches that are broken or diseased. If insect pests, like the twig borer, eat the tree foliage, treat the trees with appropriate insecticide.
Additional Cashew Nut Information
Cashew nut trees grow flowers during winter, not summer. They also set their fruit during winter.
The tree produces rose-colored fragrant flowers in panicles. These develop into edible red fruits, called cashew apples. The nuts grow in shells at the bottom end of the apples. The shell of the cashew nut contains a caustic oil that causes burns and skin irritation on contact.
One method to separate the nuts from the caustic shell is to freeze the cashew nuts and separate them while they are frozen. You’ll want to don gloves and a long sleeved shirt for protection, and maybe safety glasses.
Both the cashew apples and the nuts are good for you. They are highly nutritious, with high amounts of vitamin C, calcium, iron and vitamin B1.
Days to germination: 4 to 6 days
Days to harvest: 3 years
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Sandy soil, even generally poor soil
Container: Not suitable due to the size of the plant
Cashews are a tropical plant, so you will only be able to grow them in countries like their native Brazil. Various regions such as central Africa, Southeast Asia and some parts of Australia are all well-suited for cashews. Southern Florida may be able to grow cashews depending on the immediate climate. It’s a perennial (a tree, actually) so you can’t have winter temperatures that drop below 50F (10C).
Other than the necessary tropical climate, cashews are actually very easy plants to grow. Growing cashew trees will not only provide you with the “nuts”, but also the unusual sweet fruit that grows along with them. Called the cashew apple, the fruit is edible, though quite astringent to the taste. It makes excellent fruit juice.
Cashew apples are extremely high in vitamin C, even more so than oranges. Actually, there can be 5 times as much C in a cashew apple than an orange. Cashew nuts are quite high in calories, but also provide a good dose of copper, magnesium and phosphorus.
Starting from Seed
Cashew trees can be started by seed, or you can purchase seedlings. Some fruit tree nurseries may also have grafted saplings (cashew branches grafted to another tree’s root stock) which will usually start to produce fruit sooner.
To plant a cashew, you need the entire seed not just the nut kernel. They will germinate and sprout fairly quickly, so most people just plant them out where they want their tree. No need for transplanting from a pot.
Plant your seeds in early spring, at a depth of around 3 inches. If you are planting for more than one tree, keep them about 30 feet apart. Choose a sunny location with sandy or well-drained soil. The trees will grow up to 40 feet fall, so make sure you plant there where they will have room to grow. Cashew seeds germinate well, so you shouldn’t need to plant more than one seed in each location. If you prefer, plant 2 or 3 and then thin down to 1 should they all sprout.
Sandy soils are usually poor when it comes to nutrients, but cashews will do fine without too much additional fertilizer. You can give them a feeding once or twice a year with a standard fertilizer mixture if you wish. Water your trees whenever there is a dry spell, but you shouldn’t need to water them frequently otherwise.
Even once the tree is well-established, keep the area around it free of weeds.
Pests and Diseases
There aren’t really any devastating pests specific for the cashew tree, though you can always have trouble with all sorts of general leaf-eating insects. Twig borers and leaf miners are two that can cause you problems.
The twig borers will eat into the smaller branches of the tree, eventually causing them to drop off. Leaf miners are very small insects that will bore through the leaves, creating fine little tunnels through them. Neither will really threaten a mature plant unless in very large numbers. Younger trees can have a harder time of it, so you might need to spray them with an insecticide designed for fruit trees.
Besides insects, cashews can be infected by Anthracnose fungus. It likes a lot of moisture, and is likely to strike when you’ve had a very wet season as the new leaves and fruits are developing. Infected areas start to grow watery lesions, and they eventually turn rusty brown as they grow. It can be treated with fungicide, after you have removed as much of the infected material as you can.
Once the fruits start to grow, larger pests can become a problem. All kinds of rodents as well as bats love cashew fruit. Try to pick them as soon as they are ripe, and you may need to put a fence around the tree to keep out the larger animals.
Harvest and Storage
Cashews won’t start to produce fruit until they are around 3 years old, though some grafted trees can start fruiting after only a year.
Your cashew trees will bloom during the winter, and you should have your fruit and nuts a few months later. Cashew fruits look a little bit like pears, with the nut growing at the end like a big knob.
The fruits will start off yellow, and eventually turn a deeper red. That’s when they are ripe. The nut portion should be gray. Try to get them picked before they fall to the ground. They bruise very easily and are more likely to be attacked by pests when on the ground.
Since each fruit only produces a single cashew nut, you may not want to process or shell them just a few at a time. Break the cashew pod off the end of the fruit, and you can store it like this for up to 2 years in a cool place. That way you can save up your harvest until you have enough to warrant the work involved in shelling. And they are a bit of work. You can eat or juice the fruit right away. Enjoy the fruit because there is almost no opportunity to purchase cashew apples commercially. This may be your only chance to eat one.
Inside the nut portion of the cashes is the nut meat, but also an acidic resin that will burn your hands. This makes cashew shelling a very tricky business. The easiest method is to freeze the nuts solid, and then crack open the shell. The acid will be solid and you should be able to remove the nut kernel with little mess. Even so, you must wear heavy rubber gloves and long sleeves when you shell your nuts.
Other methods include roasting the nuts over an open fire until the shells crack and the resin drips out. The fumes from this method are just as bad as the liquid itself, so don’t try it indoors.
If the processing seems too complicated, you can enjoy your cashew trees just for the sweet fruit. Many home gardeners do.
- Bill Says:
September 23rd, 2010 at 6:38 am
Can anyone give me contact info for getting grafted cashew trees????
— Bill, in Southern Florida
- Jessie Says:
June 11th, 2011 at 8:15 am
Hope you found your Cashew tree by now, if not I will think you have a better chance by searching palm beach county
To Miami dade county, my cashew tree which I planted 5 years ago from a seed is on the third year of flowering and fruits if you have the patience they grow rather quickly.
Also if you are interested I have many seeds in storage
Will be glad to send you some.
- clarence Says:
July 31st, 2011 at 5:21 am
i got some seeds off e-bay they have been planted for ten days now no sign of sprouting, they are in sandy loam mix.not sure whats up with them.
- Administrator Says:
August 2nd, 2011 at 5:22 pm
It could be the seeds are not valid. Your seller may not have been reputable.
- Tim Says:
August 13th, 2011 at 4:35 pm
I’m looking for either some cashew seeds or seedlings. Do you know of anybody in central Florida who might have some?
- clarence Says:
August 24th, 2011 at 4:56 am
well i finally got one to sprout, it took three weeks, i live in western n.c. i will bring it inside for the winter,hoping some more of them will sprout, that way i’ll plant them in the ground and keep them covered for the winter to see how cold hardy they are.i was just happy to finally get one to start.
- clarence Says:
November 12th, 2011 at 9:03 pm
here its novemeber,12,2011, cashew trees are a little under the weather,i moved the only two that made its out of the twenty i planted inside a few weeks ago, one properbly too much water,so its all but dead.the other one i’ve i cut back on only watering when soil is all but dry down to four inches, it seem to be doing only.trial and error.
- Carlos Says:
February 20th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
Jessie, you wrote you have some seeds.
I would like to get some if possible [email protected]
- Elyse Says:
February 23rd, 2012 at 11:17 am
I was interested in learning how to grow cashews.
Please advise if someone has seeds availble.
- Monica Mangones Says:
March 13th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
I have two cashew trees that bloom, give fruits, but no nut. Does anyone know why?
- Ann Says:
July 18th, 2012 at 4:10 am
Hi Jessie, can you grow Cashew trees in Southern California, can the temp drop below 50 F but not freezing? Is it possible to obtain some seeds from you? My email is [email protected] Thank you and have a nice day. 🙂
- Ed Tavares Says:
August 15th, 2012 at 4:17 pm
You did plant a cashew tree 5 yrs ago with good lucky.I would like to graft my small tree,can you let me get one sion from your tree to preform a good grafting? if yes let me know the price.
Thank you for your support
- Carla Says:
January 7th, 2013 at 2:08 pm
Hi Jessie… Trying to grow cashews in west central Florida
…any suggestions?….. Do the seeds need to be fermented first?
- isaac Says:
January 21st, 2013 at 2:04 am
i am about to engaged in cashew planting at district level.
i need advice
- tuts kennedy Says:
May 30th, 2013 at 9:59 pm
im looking to start my own plant if you have any seeds for sale please contact me at 909 589 4414. ASAP
- tuts kennedy Says:
May 30th, 2013 at 10:01 pm
my mistake my actual number is 909 522 9543
- immacula jean-paul Says:
July 27th, 2013 at 8:30 pm
i need to buy a cashew tree in miami, florida
can you tell me and address where i can find one?
- Jackson Says:
September 7th, 2013 at 5:25 pm
I want to grow a cashew tree in Northern California, Wine County. Is that possible? I’m an ameteur gardener who wants to sample the cashew fruit and have an exotic tree.
- Lynn Says:
October 27th, 2013 at 10:53 am
I am on the Gulf Coast of Florida & I would love to be able to leave some lovely and useful cashew trees here on the Earth as part of my legacy, my small contribution to my fellow man. I can buy some seeds if anyone can offer them for sale. [email protected] . Thank you!
- suzie puckett Says:
November 5th, 2013 at 10:47 am
I have a cashew tree, it was there when we moved in and a red plum tree. I wish i knew someone who wanted all the fruit this tree puts out i would love to give it to them. Its dropping fruit again, the third time this year… i dont like them.. if your in broward county and u like them, let me know..
- pooja Says:
November 11th, 2013 at 1:21 pm
Hi Suzie this is Pooja Do you have cashews you mean. If you would like to give it I am willing to pay you shipping. please give me your email. I live in nc. My email is [email protected]
- Philip Antonio Says:
February 9th, 2014 at 10:36 am
I live in the Bahamas, just a stones throw from South Florida. A few years ago I planted a Cashew seed which sprang up quite well, but when it got to about 3ft. high, it just suddenly died.
A few weeks ago I again planted a seed, which sprang up very well, but only grew to a 1ft. and died. planted another, and the same thing happened, I want to grow one so badly. Can you help with some suggestions? Many thanks.
PS. The first seed I got from Jamaica. The others I got out of the USA. and planted in another part of the yard
- Philip Antonio Says:
February 14th, 2014 at 9:12 am
Is there any hope of help concerning the above?
- winsome bright Says:
March 6th, 2014 at 4:26 pm
Hi Suzie Puckett,
I am in broward county and would love to get some of your cashew fruits I can find you in broward
- Debbie Says:
July 1st, 2014 at 7:07 am
Jessie/Suzie Pucket, I’m in Central Florida, with family in Broward County. Any chance of getting a few seeds/fruit our way? I’d like to try the fruit, but more importantly would like to try to grow a tree myself.
- Has Says:
July 8th, 2014 at 6:59 am
Hi Is it possible to store cashew seeds for about 6 months?
- C. Voni Zoubi Says:
July 23rd, 2014 at 9:23 am
Hello Jessie Is there any chance, you having seeds to pass along. If not, I would like your input as to where I may be able to obtain some.
- Dale Mills Says:
April 19th, 2015 at 1:35 am
I may get 100 pounds of seed (nut) every year from my trees here in Puerto Cabezas,Nicaragua.I mite be able to help.
- Fish Asante Says:
May 29th, 2015 at 1:38 pm
I just picked up a bunch of fresh seeds, I will store them, feel free to find me.
Fish, Cape Coral, FL.
- Raj Venkatesh Says:
June 25th, 2015 at 8:26 am
Hello Fish Asante:
How can I get some seeds from you? Can you help?
I live in South Bay Area near San Francisco.
- Raj Venkatesh Says:
June 25th, 2015 at 8:27 am
Hello Dale Mills:
How can I get some seeds from you? Can you help?
I live in South Bay Area near San Francisco.
- Toaono Says:
July 1st, 2015 at 7:14 pm
I am looking for cashew nuts to start a farm in Samoa. Can you let me know where I can get some cashew nuts for seeding, in the south pacific by Hawaii or Australia.
- TAS Says:
May 6th, 2016 at 5:53 pm
I live in central America and we have lots of cashew trees here. The reason you have trouble getting your seeds to grow is,,, we always plant them with the fruit attached to the bottom. They always grow and are very quick to sprout up. the fruit is very delicate and disintegrates very quickly.
fruit makes a lovely drink, I make it a gallon at a time. half water half juice.I add a couple of tiny iodine tablets from the drugstore to be sure there are no pests and 4 or more lemons some cider vinegar and a little honey unless the fruit is exceptionally ripe.
Do not try to shell the cashews with out first freezing them and wear heavy gloves. They are very acid and will burn your hands
- G Says:
May 10th, 2017 at 8:27 am
Hello what ph level do the trees prefer to grow in.
- Thamara. Mclaughlin Says:
June 20th, 2017 at 4:24 am
I will love to get some cashews fruit I’m in Broward county. Florida
Thanks please let me know
Leave a Response
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Black Walnut (Juglan negia)
Nuts are an excellent source of protein and healthy fats, and most store well in the root cellar and will keep well into spring. These days, most of the nuts you can find in the grocery store are warm climate fruits. Almonds are grown in mass in California, and the south is known for pecans. If you’re living in a cold northern climate, you’ll have to think beyond modern grocery store varieties to find nuts suitable for your homestead.
Wild chestnuts harvested in Central Vermont (Zone 4).
Native to northern climates, black walnuts are well adapted to the cold. Trees begin fruiting as early as 4 years old, though you won’t get a large crop until your tree is 20 years old or more. These days they’re mostly grown for their timber, but they do produce tasty edible nuts if you can find a way to crack them. I’ve known people to run them over with their cars, though personally, I couldn’t get them to crack that way. Try placing them in a doubled burlap sack on an old stump and bashing the sack with a small sledgehammer.
While some people consider them too bitter, the trick to tasty black walnut is getting them out of the husk quickly. As the husk ages, it releases bitter compounds that make the nut more astringent. Remove the outer green husk but then leave the nuts in the shell until you’re ready to eat them. Once removed from the shell, black walnuts won’t store nearly as long.
The outer husk of black walnuts is used to make natural dye and is a rich source of iodine. Just like there are few inland sources of salt, there aren’t many sources of iodine away from the coast. That makes black walnut a rarity in terms of nutritional content.
Black walnuts grow a long tap root that is easily disturbed in transplant, so it’s best to plant black walnuts from seed directly into the ground.
Carpathian Walnut (Juglan regia)
The Carpathian walnut is similar to a standard walnut, but it’s bred for increased cold hardiness. Unlike black walnuts that can be bitter and are nearly impossible to shell, Carpathian walnuts are sweet-fleshed and can be cracked with a pair of strong bare hands. Depending on the strain, they can be hardy to zone 4. Be sure to source your tree from a company that stocks very hardy strains raised in cold climates. Fedco seeds sells zone 4 Carpathian walnuts.
Manchurian Walnut (Juglans mandshurica)
As the name suggests, the Manchurian walnut is a species of walnut native to Eastern Russia, China and Korea. I honestly hadn’t heard of it until we saw a listing at our local nursery for this zone 4 hardy walnut variety. The trees are noted for their fast growth and exceptional hardiness, but the nuts are supposedly smaller than other walnuts and hard to extract from the shell.
We’re going to give them a try and hopefully, in 5-8 years I can report back on how they taste.
Butternut (Juglans cinerea)
Native to the Northeast and Canada, butternuts thrive in cold climates. They’re sweet and with a buttery rich meat similar to a walnut. Most wild butternuts are threatened because of a disease called butternut canker that’s causing their numbers to dwindle. Trees planted in isolation, however, in areas without butternuts present stand a good chance of reaching fruiting age without becoming infected.
Scientists are working on a selective breeding program, and are beginning to develop resistant strains. Butternuts have also been hybridized with other nut species and the hybrids are not susceptible to the canker. We have quite a few older butternuts on our land and they have a beautiful silver/grey cross-hatched bark that’s easy to pick out in the forest year round.
Heartnuts (Juglans ailantifolia)
A walnut native to Japan, heartnuts are hearty to zone 4. They produce a sweet nut that’s relatively easy to crack without breaking the nut inside the shell. When you crack them directly in half, the shell opening forms the shape of a heart, thus the name. Heartnuts are very similar to butternuts, and since they’ve been used as a landscape tree in the northeast, wild hybrids of heartnuts and butternuts are not uncommon. Thus, some plant breeders have started to produce them intentionally, leading to the Buartnut.
Buartnut (Juglans cinerea x Juglans ailantifolia)
A hybrid of butternuts and heartnuts, this tree is often mistaken for the native butternut. Since it’s resistant to the butternut canker that’s devastating the native butternut trees this hybrid is often used to replace dying butternut trees. Hybrid vigor means that buartnut trees actually grow faster and produce more nuts than either heartnuts or butternuts, so this tree is a good productive and disease-free choice.
Chestnuts (Castanea sp.)
American chestnuts were once common wild trees providing food for humans and wildlife alike. In the early 1900’s most of the American chestnuts were killed off by a blight, and they’re very rare in the wild. Since they’re so rare, if you plant American chestnuts away from any other chestnut species there’s a good likelihood that they’ll survive in isolation. Alternatively, a hybrid crossing the American chestnuts in with Japanese and European varieties seems to thus far be resistant to the blight. Give homegrown chestnuts a try and you’ll have something to roast over the fire this winter.
Be careful where you plant a chestnut though. The spikey outer husk around the nuts is absurdly sharp. Chestnut husks aren’t fun to step on, trust me on this one. Keep chestnut trees away from walking paths, especially if you have young children.
Hickory Nuts (Carya ovata)
Hopefully, your grandparents planned ahead and planted you a shagbark hickory tree. Though they’re amazingly hardy and produce tasty nuts, hickory trees generally don’t produce until they’re around 80 years old. They produce a particularly sweet nut that’s similar to a pecan. Though their nuts are some of the best you can get, hickory trees have never been planted commercially because they take so long to reach bearing age and crops are irregular year to year. If you want to do your grandchildren a favor, plant them a few now knowing you’ll likely never see a harvest yourself.
A hybrid of pecans and hickory nut trees, hicans occur naturally in the wild. Certain varieties have really tasty nuts and have been selected for hardiness in cold climates. The idea is that you get the hardiness of a hickory nut combined with the earlier baring of a pecan. I’ve yet to taste one, but our local nursery writes that these are “the best nuts in existence.” That’s a pretty strong compliment.
Be careful though, as they don’t come true to seed and many of the hybrid seedlings will produce empty nuts or have other flaws. Choose a grafted tree rather than a seedling for hicans.
American Hazelnuts (Corylus americana)
Though less of a tree and more of a hardy shrub, hazelnuts can be a hardy and productive addition to your northern homestead. They’re native as far north as the uppermost tips of eastern Canada. The more commonly cultivated and commercially sold filbert species have much larger nuts, but a similar taste. These nuts have a much longer storage life than most nut varieties and can last up to 2 years without spoiling in the right conditions.
An unripe hazelnut growing on a shrub in our yard in zone 4.
Korean Nut Pine (Pinus koraiensis)
Pine nuts have a sweet buttery taste without the astringency of other nuts (like walnuts). The problem is, most pine nut species aren’t particularly cold hardy. A strain of Korean nut pine is gaining popularity in permaculture circles and is said to grow anywhere white pines grow well. They may be hardy to zone 2 and 3 as well.
Korean nut pines grow slowly for the first 5 years but then begin to rapidly grow after that point. They’re a shade tree, and require shade so that they don’t burn in full sun, especially when young. I’ve read conflicting reports on when they begin to bare, but most sources say between 10 and 20 years old. Ours are just going in, so we’ll see.
Looking for more zone 4 edibles? Try these:
- Cold Hardy Peach Trees for Zone 4
- How to Grow Mulberries (even in zone 4)