Using unripe black walnuts to create medicinal amaro

Nocino is a bittersweet Italian amaro that I first learned about from the postings of many knowledgeable and adventurous foragers I follow on Instagram. Even though I had never tasted nocino, commercial or homemade, I was drawn to making my own. That nocino could be made from the unripe nuts of our native eastern American black walnuts, Jugulans nigra, yielding a late spring/early summer harvest in addition to the well known harvest of ripe nuts in the fall, made it all the more appealing to try! Nocino is not only delicious (after proper aging) and easy to make, unripe walnuts are high in polyphenols and have many medicinal benefits, most historically noted among them as a digestive and anti-parasitic. Vin de noix, walnut wine, is nocino’s near relation traditionally made in France.

There is a centuries long documented history of harvesting unripe walnuts for liqueur, food and medicine. Unripe walnut harvesting for liqueur making and drinking by the Picts in pre-christian northern Britain was on the summer solstice, later adopted and christianized by the Romans who set their harvest date at June 24th, to align with the Feast Day of San Giovanni (John the Baptist). That’s generally the time of year when unripe walnuts are about an inch and a half in diameter, can easily be cut thru with a knife, and are ready to gather for making nocino and or vin de noix. Harvest time will be earlier or later depending on your climate zone. Unripe walnuts are sometimes referred to as “wet walnuts” as the young newly forming nut is wet as opposed to a fully ripened dry nut. That liquid and unripe husk will stain your hands and clothes. Wear rubber gloves and an apron or clothes that you don’t mind getting stained when you are making your nocino and vin de noix!

You will find many nocino recipes online that vary to a degree in their making method, type and percentage of alcohol, spices and sweeteners. My mother’s advice would be to find a nocino recipe (any recipe for that matter) that you want to try and follow it closely the first time you make it, so that you have a baseline. That is generally what I do, and also recommend. The following recipe was adapted from the recipe I followed for the first batch of nocino that I ever made. The adapted recipe below uses a higher percentage of alcohol, omits the traditional clove, and adds the sweetener after infusing the nuts with alcohol, resulting in a much cleaner aroma flavor.

Nocino Recipe

10-15 unripe black walnuts
1 vanilla bean
thinly peeled zest of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
Everclear 151 proof to cover, about half of a 750 ml bottle
Simple syrup made with 3/4 cup sugar to 10 ounces of water

Gather unripe walnuts when they can be easily cut thru with a knife. Nuts can be stored in the refrigerator in a cloth or paper bag for up to a week. Wash and dry the nuts. Cut into quarters (wear rubber gloves). Place the nuts, vanilla, lemon zest, and cinnamon into a quart glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Cover the ingredients with Everclear, cap the jar and shake well. Infuse for 40 days at room temperature (see notes) giving the jar a good shake every couple of days. Strain and filter the infusion, saving the solids to make vin de noix. Add simple syrup to the infusion and either funnel your nocino into a sterilized bottle or back into a quart glass jar and shake well to mix. Age for a minimum of 6 months giving the jar a good shake now and then. The longer it ages the more the tannins mellow, and the better it gets. Enjoy neat (in it’s pure form, no mixers, no ice), over ice, over ice-cream, in a mixed drink, or in a cocktail!

Vin de Noix

My introduction to vin de noix was from a mention on Alan Bergo’s blog, but at that time he hadn’t yet posted a recipe. So after I strained my nocino from the unripe walnuts and spices, I poured a bottle of red wine over the remaining solids and let that infuse, shaking the jar on occasion for another 10 days, straining, then mixing a glass at a time, with sparkling water, simple syrup, and ice. In my adjusted recipe below, based on recipes for vin de noix that I have since found online, I add 6 Tablespoons of sugar, allow the infusion to age longer, and skip the simple syrup when serving.

Solids remaining from Nocino infusion
A bottle of red wine
6 tablespoons of sugar

Place all the ingredients in a half gallon glass jar with a lid and shake well. Continue to shake the jar every day for the first few days and occasionally thereafter for a total of 40 days. Strain and filter the wine. Bottle, and age for 6 months. I particularly enjoy vin de noix over ice and diluted with sparkling water.

Note: Some methods call for infusing nocino and vin de noix in the sun others for infusing in a cool dark place. I infuse mine in an out of the way spot, out of direct sunlight, on the kitchen floor. Any type of walnut can be used, infusions made with black walnuts benefit from longer aging due to their higher tannin content. Nocino and vin de noix can be sweetened with maple syrup or honey instead of simple syrup, adjusting the sweetener to water ratio. Maple syrup is 33% water, raw honey is 13% water adjust your sweetening syrup with water accordingly.

This blog post contributed by POP LOV Jeannie Gerth.

For further information please visit:

The Fascinating Story of Nocino, the witches’ liqueur, Random Times

Evaluation of novel green walnut liqueur as a source of antioxidants: Multi-method approach, National Library of Medicine

How to Make Nocino, The Meat Eater

French Walnut Wine or Vin de Noix, Forager Chef