Hickory, Pretty Good As Far As Wild Nuts Go

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Carya ovata, Shagbark Hickory nuts and leaves
Carya ovata, Shagbark Hickory nuts and leaves (Photo By: Abrahami / Wikimedia Commons)

The Hickory Tree( Genus: Carya) is a common forest tree of many parts of the United States and Canada.  Hickory trees get big, and can live up to 200 years. There are many species of Hickory trees, the most famous edible one is Carya illinoinesis the Pecan tree, yes the pecan is a type of Hickory tree.  Only some hickory trees have nuts large enough that it’s worth it for a human to dig out the “meat”, one of the best wild species is Shagbark Hickory(Carya ovata) which is easily identified by its shaggy bark.  Hickory trees are native solely to North America.  This is a food that Native Americans have been eating since they arrived thousands of years ago.

Edibility and Culinary Use

Carya glabra, Pignut Hickory Nuts
Carya glabra, Pignut Hickory Nuts

The primary edible part of the Hickory Tree is obviously the “meat” of the nut.  What makes this nut unique is that it’s often large enough to be worth the effort to get out the edible part, the Hickory is a very common tree, and the nut tastes great, better than some commercial nuts in my opinion.  The nuts can be eaten raw, or are commonly baked in pies.  The hard shell underneath the husk can be difficult to get through.  The most effective method I have found to getting to the inside is to let the husk dry and fall off, then just smash the nut with a hammer or stone and pick the edible parts out of the mess.  Hickory nuts fall off in the fall but stay viable often for months due to the shell being so protective. An often unknown fact is that Hickory tree sap can also be tapped in the spring and drunken or turned into syrup, similar to Maple Syrup.

Health Benefits

Hickory nuts are a substantial and nutritious snack. They contain a moderate to high amount of calories, about 200 per handful. They contain proteins, unsaturated fats and carbohydrates.  Hickory nuts also contain Vitamins B-1, B-6, magnesium and phosphorus.


Carya ovata, Shagbark Hickory trunks
Carya ovata, Shagbark Hickory trunks (Photo By: John B. / Wikimedia Commons)

Hickory nuts are a favorite wild edible of mine,  they are substantial, even for the small amount that you often end up with.  There are not many ways of getting protein when foraging for your own wild edible plants.  Remember to keep an eye out for Hickory trees and nuts this fall, and don’t forget your hammer.

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