By Andy Sherrod, Orchard Manager
April is National Pecan month and it comes only one week after National Pecan DAY (March 25). This is fitting, since April marks the beginning of the new pecan growing season. After the spring budbreak occurs, we keep a close watch on the trees and do our best to help them develop a new crop of naturally nutritious pecans.
Walnuts and Pistachios get their own day but not a whole month. Brazil Nuts don’t get a day OR a month. Peanuts … well, peanuts aren’t nuts. They are legumes that grow underground as root nodules. Almonds aren’t nuts either. That’s right. Almonds are related to peaches and plums. Crack open a peach seed and you will find something resembling an almond inside. Indeed, pecans are special among the tree nuts.
Pecans are native only to North America. The region encompassed by Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and northern Mexico is the only place in the whole world where pecans grow naturally. The name “pecan” originates with the Algonquin Indian tribe which means “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”
Pecan trees established by natural forces are called groves, while those established by man are called orchards. The first recorded planting of cultivated pecans was around 1711 in northern Mexico by Franciscan monks, 60 years before the first recorded planting by U.S. colonists. In 1822, Abner Landrum from South Carolina perfected a pecan budding technique and the pecan industry as we know it was born.
Health & Flavor in a Nutshell
Pecans stand alone among the tree nuts in another significant way: heart health.
According to a study at Loma Linda University, naturally-occurring antioxidants in pecans may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention. The results were published in the January 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition. The August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research published a study showing that adding just a handful of pecans to your diet each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping to prevent coronary heart disease.
The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry published a study in 2004 that found pecans ranked highest among all nuts and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity. This means that pecans may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Yes, it is easy to take this North American native we call the pecan for granted. In this area, they grow wild along our rivers and creeks. They stand tall and proud around many of our small-town courthouses. They even grace many of our yards and city parks. Wherever you are, take time in April to celebrate National Pecan Month and eat a handful of pecans a day. Your heart will thank you.