Betel Nut, areca nut
noix d’arec (French), Arecanufs (German), noce di areca (Italian), nuez de areca (Spanish), supari (Hindi/Bengali), pakku (Tamil), kun (Burmese), pinang (Malay/Indonesian), bin lang (Chinese)
(Areca catechu – Family Palmaceae)
The betel nut is a popular stimulant in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It is the fruit of the areca palm, which grows wild in Sumatra and the Philippines, but is cultivated in other regions. The nut contains a stimulating alkaloid, arecoline, and tannins, which give it an astringent taste. The nuts are gathered according to preference, either green or ripe, and then dried. The dried nuts are crushed with lime and catechu, a scarlet and astringent extract made by boiling chips of wood from the areca palm, plus some spices. The mixture is then wrapped in a betel leaf, which comes from a different tree. The Betel Pepper (Piper betel – Family Piperaceae) is cultivated for its spicy leaves. The betel nut is placed within one of these leaves and formed into small packages called “pan,” which are then chewed. The stage of preparation, the elaborate equipment used, and its preparation are considered an important element in hospitality when guests arrive, but the practice is on the decline. Packages of pan are chewed, but not swallowed, for its mild stimulating effect. It sweetens the breath,but stains the saliva a bright red and will eventually blacken the teeth. Natives believe that it aids in digestion, but there are no claims for it being a source of nutrients. Besides the nut from the Areca catechu, other species are also used in the same manner including A. concinna, A. nagensis, A. glandiformis, A. valiso, A. ipot, A. macrocalyx, A. pumila, and A. triandra.
(Staphylea trifolia – Family Staphyleaceae)
It is from a shrub common in the eastern US which bears fruits with reddish papery shells. The fruit has three cells, each containing two or three hard, shiny, non-edible seeds. They are only noticed because they hang all winter.
(Pycnocoma macrophylla – Family Euphorbiaceae)
It is a seed of an African shrub whose oil is extracted and used in tanning.
Buffalo nut, oil nut, mountain cognut
(Pyrularia pubera – Family Santalaceae)
It comes from about four species of woody plants found in the southeastern US, Chile, and the Himalayas. The flowers are inconspicuous, but the fruit hangs in dangling drupes. These are light green at first, but later turn yellow. An oil is obtained from them that resembles olive oil in appearance, but is ill-scented and poisonous.
Bush nut, earth almond, chufa nut
(Cyperus esculentus – Family Cyperaceae)
It is small edible tubers of a sedge plant native to Europe, but grown in warm climates as food for pigs.
Cape chestnut, wild chestnut
(Calodendrum capense – Family Rutaceae)
It is a shiny black, rounded or wedge-shaped seed of a subtropical tree found in southern Africa and cultivated mainly as an ornamental. The bitter oil in the seed is used in making soap. Although most animals find them too bitter to eat, monkeys tend to favour them.
(Hydnocarpus sp. formerly Tartogenos – Family Flacourtiaceae)
It comes from about forty different species in Indomalaysia, and have been treasured by people for their oil used in the treatment of leprosy. The fruits are like cannonballs and are produced on the trunk. When they ripen, they fall to the ground to be opened by animals. Bears are fond of the flesh, while swine and fish eat the seeds. Eating the flesh of these animals, after they have eaten the nuts, produces nausea and vomiting. Cases of human poisonings from consuming the oils have also been reported.
Indian gum nut, clearing nut
(Strychnos potatorum – Family Loganiaceae)
It is the seed of an ornamental tree largely used by natives to purify their water. Receptacles in which water is to be placed are vigorously rubbed with one of the nuts. Later, when the water is poured in, the impurities quickly unite and settle to the bottom, leaving the water perfectly clear. The seeds of several varieties are considered poisonous if eaten, as is the unripe fruit.
(Coelococus amicarum – Family Palmae)
It is native to the Caroline Islands and can be up to four inches in diameter. The shell has hard overlapping, shiny, brownish scales. The large kernels are also very hard and used in the manufacture of buttons.
Litchi nut, lychee, lit-chi, leechee, Chinese hazel, Dawa nut
litchi (French/German/Portuguese), litsi (Greek), euforia (Italian), mamoncillo/chino (Spanish), lichi (Hindi/Bengali/Malay), lin chi (Thai), klengkeng (Indonesian), li zhi (Chinese), reishi/raichi (Japanese)
(Litchi chinensis formerly Nephelium litchi – Family Sapindaceae)
Litchis are the best known of a group of tropical fruits native to China and Southeast Asia and related to the longan, rambutan, and pulasan. Litchi fruits are a little over an inch in diameter and have a leathery, scaly, warty, reddish coat that resembles a strawberry, but having a thin, papery outer shell. Within, is a central smooth, hard-shelled seed surrounded by a delicious, whitish, jelly-like pulp. The fruit is red when ripe but turns brownish during shipping. The sweet, fragrant flesh is wrapped around a large inedible dark brown seed, although some varieties contain tiny abortive seeds; but only the pulp is eaten. Consequently, the term “litchi nut” is a misnomer as the hard nut or seed within the dried pulp is inedible. The flavour of the fruit resembles that of a raisin or a muscat grape.
Litchis are borne by a large evergreen tree and will only fruit in a subtropical or tropical climate where there is a distinct dry season. Cultivation now spreads along a narrow belt of suitable climate through Thailand to Bangladesh and northern India. The Bengal region is especially productive. Its crop has now become larger than that of China. South Africa is now also a major producer, as well as Hawaii and New Caledonia.
In China, litchis are considered the finest of delicacies and a symbol of romance ever since the time of T’ang Emperor Hsüsan Tsung, who ruled from BCE 712-5. A special courier service, with teams of swift horses, was set up to deliver the fresh fruits hundreds of miles from Canton north to the Imperial court for his consort, the Lady Yang Kuei Fei. For over twenty years, this consort ruled the Emperor’s judgments and emotions, much to the dismay of her enemies, including the royal bodyguards, who one day cornered the two and forced the Lady Yang to hang herself from an old pear tree. After two years in exile, the emperor was allowed to return, but there is no mention whether he continued with the lichi import.
Canned litchis are sold, and often served as a dessert, in Chinese restaurants; but they have none of the fragrance, flavour, or subtlety of the fresh fruit. The fresh fruit travels well if picked just before it is fully ripe. They are also dried whole, causing the skin to become distorted, releasing the seed inside so that it rattles when shaken. These fruits were so popular in ancient China that one poet boasted of limiting himself to just 300 per day while others were eating as many as a thousand. They can cause stomach upsets, so it is wise to limit their intake – whatever that means. Today, they are still more popular than many other fruits.
Litchis are best eaten raw as a refreshing end to a meal. Diners then simply remove the shells and nibble or suck the flesh from the seeds. Lychees can be added to fruit salads or poached in a lemon-flavoured syrup and served chilled with ice cream or other fruits. They are also used in such savoury dishes as sweet and sour or with avocado in salads. Lychees are rich in Vitamin C and should be chosen when the shells are as pink or red as possible. Greenish fruits are under-ripe and brown fruits are past their prime. Although the shells act as protection, lychees dry out quickly and so too many should not be purchased at one time, but will keep up to a week in a refrigerator.
Love nut, rosary pea
(Abrus precatorius – Family Leguminosae)
The love nut is a small, bright red seed with black tips used mainly for making necklaces. It is the hardest and most indigestible product of all the pea family. If the seeds are eaten whole, they are harmless, but if they are crushed or chewed, they become extremely poisonous.
(Thevetia peruviana – Family Apocynaceae)
This nut is from a small tree native to the West Indies and Central America that has a poisonous, milky juice. The fruits are yellow when ripe and contain a single triangular seed lined around the margin and down the center. The natives carry these seeds in various ways to bring them good luck, and are put into the hands of newborns for the same purpose. In India, they are known as a cattle poison; and, in other places, the shrubs are used solely for shade and ornamental purposes.
Nicker nut, bonduc
(Caesalpinia crista – Family Leguminosae)
The nicker nut is a hard, brown, round seed, almost an inch in diameter, that is cultivated in India to produce a fruit that children use like marbles.
(Elaeocarpus ganitrus – Family Elaeocarpaceae)
Olive nuts are seeds from a tree found in India, Java, and Australia, that are used as beads for necklaces, rosaries, heads of hatpins and other ornamental objects.
Physic nut, purging nut, Barbados-nut
(Jatropha curcas – Family Euphorbiaceae)
Physic nuts are small seeds from shrubby, tropical, American trees used, to some extent, as a hedge in Florida. There are several species, but all the seeds are known to be poisonous. Oil from the kernal, called curcas oil, is used as a strong purgative, but also used for lighting purposes. The kernel is tasty, but very dangerous. Some roast the seeds, but the poisonous substance is only partially destroyed through heat, and simple roasting is not sufficient time to eliminate all the danger.
(Thespesia populnea – Family Malvaceae)
The portia nut is found throughout the world and common in such places as Florida. The fruits are inedible and produce small brown seeds that have a netted veined surface. The oil from these seeds was used for lighting purposes at one time.
(Afrolicania – Family Elaeospermaceae)
This is the fruit of a tree found in Sierra Leone. The kernels extract a yellow oil that has a high iodine content, but was used as a linseed substitute in the maufacture of paints and varnishes.
(Ophiocaryon paradoxum – Family Sabiaceae)
The snake nut is a large, roundish fruit about the size of a black walnut produced by large trees found in Guyana. The nut takes its name from the peculiar form of the seed embryo, which curls up in a spiral. Natives, thinking there must be some virtue in the form, use the nuts as antidotes for snake-bites, although success in this area has never been recorded.
(Sapium sabiferum – Family Euphorbiaceae)
The tallow nut comes from whitish-coloured fruits of a tree found in China that contain relatively large, brown seeds. The hard shells have a thick coating of a fatty substance which is used in various ways as a substitute for animal tallow (fat).
Winged walnut, caucasian walnut
(Pterocarya fraxini – Family Juglandaceae)
The winged-walnut is a small, angular, winged seed with a hard shell that is native to western Asia, but are not eaten. They are related to the true walnut, however.