How to Identify and Harvest Common Tree Nuts

Walnuts, Pecans and Chestnuts... The Trees Hold Wonderful Food

Tree nuts are tasty, healthy and can be obtained for free. If you are willing to forage, then a bounty of food awaits you in the trees.

Harvesting nuts does require patience. You need to identify the best trees, wait for the nuts to drop and check for ripeness. Once you have tapped your inner squirrel and gathered your nuts, they will need to be cleaned, dried, or husked (or all three) before they are ready to eat.

Though it is not the easiest task, nut harvests are rewarding in the end. It is a fun project for the family.

Black Walnuts

Fall on farm close-up of walnut, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, USA
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Nut Description: Black walnuts are housed inside yellowish-green and brown husks (similar in color to pears) that are about two-inches in diameter. They are further housed inside a tough shell that is dark black in color.

Harvest Time: September and October

Harvesting: Allow walnut husks to fall from the tree.

  • Remove the husks and cure the nuts before storing.
  • Black walnut produces a mild toxin and husks should not be disposed of in your yard, garden or compost.


Sweet chestnuts, Castanea sativa
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Nut Description: Chestnuts are dark brown in color, smooth in texture, are pointed at one end, and have an oblong spot on the opposite end that is light brown in color. They are housed inside a spiny burr, which turns yellowish-brown and opens when the chestnuts are ready for harvest.

Harvest Time: September through December

Harvesting:  Allow chestnuts to fall from the tree.

  • Gather nuts with open burrs and remove burrs.
  • Wear gloves to protect yourself from the spines.

English Walnuts

A bowl of walnuts on a kitchen table with some apples. Late summer harvest.
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Nut Description: English walnuts are housed inside a greenish-black hull. They are further housed inside a tan shell. The nut itself is light brown to golden-brown in color.

Harvest Time: Late August through October

Harvesting:  Allow nuts to fall on the ground or lay out a blanket and shake the tree.

  • Check a few nuts for ripeness first.
  • Remove husks with gloved hands or they will stain.
  • Rinse, inspect and dry the nuts


Freshly roasted organic pecans sit on a wooden cutting board in a kitchen in Seattle, Washington.
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Nut Description: Pecans are housed in a brown oval to oblong shaped shell. The meat itself is brown in color and possess two-lobes.

Harvest Time: Mid-October through November

Harvesting: Allow nuts to fall to the ground or shake the tree.

  • Inspect pecans for damage or worms.
  • Air dry for two weeks before removing from the shell.

Pine Nuts

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Nut Description: Pine nuts are tan in color, and are tear drop in shape. They are housed in a brown to reddish-brown colored shell. 

Best found in the American West from piñon pines. Other pines produce edible nuts, but these are the most sought after.

Harvest Time: August and September

Harvesting: Collect easily accessible and green, unopened pinecones while wearing gloves.

  • Lay the cones out, one or two deep.
  • As the cones dry, they open (about 3 weeks). Remove the seeds.
  • Beware that the cones release sticky pine pitch and can be messy.