This native American nut grows in New England and is also know as the white walnut. It has a rich, oily meat which is generally used in candies and baked goods. Because of the high oil content, butternuts become rancid quickly.
Juglans cinerea, commonly known as Butternut or White Walnut, is a species of walnut native to the eastern United States and southeast Canada. Its range extends east to New Brunswick, and from southern Quebec west to Minnesota, south to northern Alabama and southwest to northern Arkansas. It is absent from most of the Southern United States.
Commercial seed-bearing age begins at about 20 years and is optimum from age 30 to 60 years. Good crops can be expected every 2 to 3 years, with light crops during intervening years. The white walnut is more valued for its nuts than its lumber. The nuts are eaten by humans and animals. The nuts are usually used in baking and making candies, having an oily texture and pleasant flavor.
Butternut wood is light in weight and takes polish well, is highly rot resistant, but is much softer than black walnut wood. Oiled, the grain of the wood usually shows much light. It is often used to make furniture, and is a favorite of woodcarvers.
Butternut bark and nut rinds were once often used to dye cloth to colors between light yellow and dark brown. To produce the darker colors, the bark is boiled to concentrate the color. This appears to never have been used as a commercial dye, but rather was used to color homespun cloth.
In the mid-19th century, inhabitants of areas such as southern Illinois and southern Indiana – many of whom had moved there from the Southern United States – were known as “butternuts” from the butternut-dyed homespun cloth that some of them wore. Later, during the American Civil War, the term “butternut” was sometimes applied to Confederate soldiers. Some Confederate uniforms apparently faded from gray to a tan or light brown. It is also possible that butternut was used to color the cloth worn by a small number of Confederate soldiers. The resemblance of these uniforms to butternut-dyed clothing, and the association of butternut dye with home-made clothing, resulted in this derisive nickname.
Butternut bark has mild cathartic properties and was once used medicinally in place of jalap, a more expensive cathartic which was imported from Mexico. During the American Revolution, a butternut extract made from the inner bark of the tree was used in an attempt to prevent smallpox, and to treat dysentery and other stomach and intestinal discomfort.