The word nut comes from the Latin nux, meaning “to nourish.” Nuts are a loose term for dry, hard-shelled fruits. The shells, which protect against bacteria and damage, must be removed before eating. Nuts help clean and strengthen the teeth and gums. They relieve constipation, have a “grounding” effect, calm nervousness, and tonify a weak person. They are good for bodybuilders and to increase sexual desire in both sexes. Seeds and nuts contain the genetic potential for starting a new life. Because of this, they contain much nourishment. Both contain excellent vegetarian protein per volume—they provide more protein than meat or milk. They also contain phytosterols, or plant hormones, that have a structure similar to human hormones.
Many people avoid nuts because of their high fat content. Nuts have a higher fat content than seeds, and seeds are higher in iron than nuts. Technically, all nuts are seeds. Both provide beneficial fats, vitamins, and minerals. Both nuts and seeds contain beta-carotene, B-complex vitamins, vitamins D and E, and calcium. They are high in trace minerals and help regulate blood sugar. They are cholesterol free, and eating, for example, three ounces of almonds—along with a low-fat diet—can actually help lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol) within three weeks. Raw nuts contain lipase, an enzyme that helps digest fats.
3 Nutty Recipes
Using Nuts and Seeds
The best way to use nuts is to buy them in their shells and crack them as needed. Shells free of cracks, holes, and imperfections prevent free radical damage caused by light and air. They keep in unbroken shells for about a year. Next best is to buy whole nuts and seeds that are kept refrigerated. Store nuts in glass jars (because high-oil foods can combine with plastic to form toxic compounds) away from heat and light, in a cool place, preferably the refrigerator. Slivered, cracked, blanched, and broken nut pieces are likely to be rancid. Nuts that are rubbery, moldy, rancid, or acrid should be composted. Rancid products irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, cannot be assimilated, weaken the immune system, have their vitamin A, D, and E destroyed, and can damage the health of the liver and gallbladder. Almonds are less prone to rancidity. Walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds tend to go rancid more quickly than other nuts.
Chew nuts well. Those with teeth problems can use nut butters rather than nuts. Those with sensitive digestion will find that nuts combine best when eaten alone, or combined with green or non-starchy vegetables.
Use nuts for decorating. Stir nuts and seeds into yogurt, cereal or applesauce. Enjoy them as a snack, in trail mix and baked into cookies (which adds a delightful crunch). One nut can be substituted for another in most recipes.
Varieties of Nuts and Seeds
Almonds (Prunus amygdalus, P. dulcis), one of the oldest cultivated nuts, are members of the rose family and relatives of peaches and apples. The genus name, amygdalus, is the old Latin word for almond. The nuts are believed native to Western Asia and North Africa. Almonds are anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, demulcent, emollient and tonic. They help alkalinize the blood and move liver qi stagnation. Almonds are used to lubricate the lungs, treat asthma and cough, clear phlegm, improve energy, strengthen the nervous system and increase strength. They are known as brain and bone food. Almonds contain about 18 percent protein. In Ayurvedic medicine, almond is used to strengthen the ojas—the essence that exemplifies intellect and spiritual receptivity.
Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) are native to South America and are harvested from wild trees in the Amazon Valley. The nuts fall from the trees contained in pear-shaped fruits, weighing between two and four pounds. Watch your head if walking through the jungle! Brazil nuts are a good source of the amino acids cysteine and methionine, making them beneficial in a vegetarian diet. They are a rich enough source of calcium to be considered beneficial for teeth and bones. Once, we had no birthday candles for a cake. We stuck fresh raw Brazil nuts in the cake, lit them and they burned like candles!
Cashews (Anacardium occidentale) are members of the Anacardiaceae family, relatives to mango, pistachio and poison ivy. Native to Brazil, India and the West Indies, the genus name, Anacardium, means “heart shaped.” The English word cashew is from the Brazilian Tupi-Indian word for the nut, acaju. Cashews are lower in fat then most nuts and about 20 percent protein.
Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) is a Mediterranean/Egyptian native. The genus name is from the Greek, linon, meaning cord. The species name usitatissimum means “most useful.” Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and considered analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive (stops cough), decongestant, demulcent, emollient and expectorant. Flaxseed has been used to improve arthritis, asthma, breast cysts, bronchitis, constipation, cystitis, eczema, hemorrhoids and sore throat. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Whenever flaxseeds become a regular food among the people, there will be better health.”
Hemp seed (Cannabis sativa) is one of the best sources of vegetable protein, next to soy. Yet hemp is easier to digest and unlikely to cause allergic reactions. Like flaxseed, it contains omega-3s, but hemp has longer shelf stability. By now, most people are aware of the multiple uses of hemp, including fiber, fuel, paper, and that it helps reclaim marginal soil and can easily be grown without chemicals. I have written a cookbook called The HempNut Health and Cookbook (HempNut, 2000) with Richard Rose that is resplendent with delicious hemp fare. The flavor is sweet and mild and somewhere between a sunflower seed and pine nut.
Macadamia (Macadamia tetraphylla, M. integrifolia), also known as Queensland Nut, are native to Australia. Macadamias are high in fat (70 percent) and lowest in protein (8 percent), but also contain carbohydrates, calcium, iron and phosphorus. They are considered liver rejuvenating, have been used to discourage alcohol cravings and improve anemia and convalescence.
Pecans (Carya illinoensis) are native to the Mississippi River basin and are a close relative of walnuts. The English word pecan is from the Algonquin Indian word pecan, which includes hickory and walnuts—and means something that is so hard that it must be cracked by a stone. Pecans are about 71 percent fat and a rich source of protein. They are considered especially nourishing for the nervous system and helpful in repairing damaged cells in cases of heart disease.
Pine nuts (Pinus spp.) come from pine trees that have seeds large enough to be edible. They are also known as piñon or pignoli. Pine nuts lubricate the lungs and large intestines, are 14 percent protein, and are delicious in pesto.
Pistachios (Pistacia vera) are native to the Middle East and Western Asia. The word pistachio is derived from the Persian word for this nut, pisteh. Pistachios lubricate the intestines and tonify the kidneys and liver. Pistachios are 55 percent fat and 20 percent protein. The green color of the nut is from chlorophyll.
Pumpkinseeds (Cucurbita maxima, C. pepo), also known as pepitas, are native to South and Central America. Pumpkinseeds help relieve nausea, erectile dysfunction and help rid the body of worms (tape, pin, and roundworms). They are recommended to help protect the prostate gland from enlargement, due to their high zinc content and anti-inflammatory properties, and can also help reduce the formation of calcium oxalate crystals, which can contribute to bladder and kidney stones.
Sesame (Sesamum indicum) plants are thought to be native to India. They strengthen the kidneys, liver, bones, hair, nails, and teeth and are considered demulcent, emollient, laxative,and a general tonic. They are about 50 percent oil and 25 percent to 35 percent protein. Sesame contains a lignin called sesamin that is a powerful antioxidant and can inhibit cholesterol production and absorption. Black sesame seeds are considered strengthening to the reproductive system and prevent hair from graying, according to Oriental medicine. Grinding the seeds right before use makes them more digestible.
Sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus) are members of the Asteraceae (daisy) family. The Latin name is derived from the Greek words helios (sun) and anthos (flower). The Peruvian Incas considered the sunflower a representative of the sun god, Atahualpa. They carved sunflower images into gold and solar priestesses wore sunflower crowns. As a medicinal food, sunflower seeds are antioxidant, diuretic, expectorant and nutritive.
Sunflower seeds are considered a tonic for the eyes, decreasing light sensitivity and preventing eye degeneration. They strengthen the fingernails due to their high nutrient content. Like pumpkinseeds, sunflower seeds protect the prostate gland due to their high zinc content. Eat sunflower seeds in the shell to quit smoking, as it requires satisfying oral–manual work to crack open the shell and peel it off before enjoying the tender seed.
Walnuts (Juglans nigra, black walnut; J. regia, English walnut) are native to Eurasia (English walnut) and North America (black walnut). The genus name, Juglans, is contracted from the Latin Jovis glans, or “nut of Jupiter,” in the belief that gods dined on walnuts. The Chinese refer to walnuts as “longevity fruit” because a walnut tree lives for several hundred years. Walnuts strengthen the lungs and kidneys and lubricate the large intestines. They are about 60 percent fat and 20 percent protein. Because of their resemblance to the brain, many cultures consider walnuts a good brain tonic.
Brigitte Mars, an herbalist and nutritional consultant from Boulder, Colorado, has been working with natural medicine for thirty-three years. Her tapes, through Sounds True, are called The Herbal Renaissance and Natural Remedies for a Healthy Immune System. She is the author of Addiction Free Naturally (Healing Arts, 2001), Natural First Aid (Storey, 1999), Dandelion Medicine (Storey, 1999) and Sex, Love and Health. Visit her website at brigittemars.com.