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Black walnut

Cures ringworm, treats athlete's foot, fights jock itch, prevents certain cancers

Expert gardeners know better than to plant under the black walnut tree.

"Have you ever seen what grows under a black walnut tree? Nothing. There's a reason for that: It contains a chemical that kills anything that it comes in contact with," says Christopher W. W. Beecher, PhD, associate professor of pharmacognosy in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Some native American Indian tribes apparently recognized black walnut bark's destructive power and turned it against conditions like ringworm, a fungal skin infection.

"For something like ringworm, a topical application of this chemical is going to go right in there and bind to the infected cells. And that should be the end of the fungus," says Dr. Beecher. Black walnut's active component may also be effective against stubborn fungal problems like athlete's foot and jock itch.

And what's bad for your fungal infections, investigators say, may also be bad for cancer. During a study conducted in the 1960s, researchers injected two of the chemicals found in the hull of the black walnut into tumors in laboratory animals. The result: Both the size and the weight of the tumors decreased dramatically. Researchers investigating the same effect obtained a German patent in 1990 for this anti-cancer treatment.

Black walnut fruit also seems to show promise in the fight against deadly disease. Although much more research needs to be done, preliminary studies conducted during the 1960s revealed that large doses of the chemicals in the nut could help lower blood pressure. And perhaps even different walnuts don't fall too far from the tree: More recent studies of the English walnut have documented its effectiveness in helping lower cholesterol when eaten as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Putting the herb to work

If you'd like to try black walnut's potent fungus-fighting power for yourself, you can purchase a liquid extract at many health food stores. Follow the package instructions before applying it to your skin.

Black walnut extract capsules are also available at health food stores. But, in view of their toxicity, Dr. Beecher suggests consulting a health professional before using them.

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