There has been much controversy surrounding the use of Walnut wood for baby and children’s toys. After diving into research on the topic it has become very understandable as to why there is much confusion over this hardwood, however, it has also become very obvious that Walnut is 100% safe for humans to handle. Below are just a few points regarding walnut wood that should put your mind at ease if you own a toy that is made from this particular wood species.
Black Walnut produces a chemical called "juglone" which occurs naturally in all parts of these plants (Walnut Toxicity, 2021). Juglone, found mostly in the roots and seedlings of the Walnut tree, can cause toxic reactions with a number of other plant species that grow in their vicinity. This exact reason is why most Walnut trees stand “alone’ from other plants/trees and why it is advised to NOT plant a garden close to Walnut trees.
In addition to juglone being toxic to some plant species, it is shown that Horses can contract acute laminitis, an inflammation of the foot, where black walnut wood chips or sawdust is used for stall bedding (Walnut Toxicity, 2021). In a study found in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (Ralston, S. L. 1983), Black walnut poisoning was diagnosed in some horses exposed to Walnut wood shavings. It is important to note that ALL horses were back to normal health 48 hours after the shavings were removed. Previous reports of black walnut poisoning suggested that only fresh shavings were toxic (Ralston, S. L., 1983).
When it comes to evidence of walnut or juglone being toxic to humans, there are no
articles mentioning this with scientifically-backed studies to prove it. In fact, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs website simply states “Pollen shedding from walnut trees can cause allergic reactions in people and horses.” (Walnut Toxicity, 2021). Much like seasonal allergies, walnut pollen can affect some humans in this same manner.
In the popular and much referenced Wood Database, Wood Allergies and Toxicity article (Eric Meier, 2021), they list Walnut as an irritant and sensitizer which means the more we are exposed to a wood’s sawdust or other fine particles, the more sensitive we get to its exposure, and the more severe and adverse the reactions become. It also cautions that in rare cases, its sawdust may cause nasopharyngeal cancer, however, the article they site for this statement has no indication this is true. In fact, the link the Wood Database site brings you to is a MayoClinic page outlining the causes, risk factors and other information regarding nasopharyngeal cancer, and no where on this page does it mention sawdust of any kind (Mayoclinic, 2021). (Keep in mind sawdust is very different than the actual piece of wood. Sawdust is the small powdery particles of wood created from sawing, sanding or cutting and NOT from breaking wood, chewing, etc.).
I also believe it is important to note that at the beginning of this Wood Database article, the author states a very reasonable hesitation to his own findings… “A common question: is this wood safe to use as a plate/bowl/cutting board/etc.? Despite the very long list of woods below, very few woods are actually toxic in and of themselves. But what a great number of woods do have the potential to do is cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. This risk for finished wood projects is greatly lessened (but not eliminated) with the application of a food-safe finish (Eric Meier, 2021).
As mentioned earlier, it is understandable why there is a misconception of Walnut wood being “bad” for baby teethers or children’s toys. Once you dive into the research it becomes evidently clear that there is no real harm in using this beautiful wood. Yes, Juglone is a toxic chemical, but only to certain surrounding plant species and to horses who use walnut shavings in their stall bedding. When it comes to humans the only major findings are surrounding the sawdust (created from the sawing, sanding or cutting of wood) of walnut which can be an irritant, much like dust and pollen (both common allergies), a sensitizer and apparently in rare and extreme cases can cause nasopharyngeal cancer, although this was not sourced or scientifically-backed in the article. In conclusion it is our most honest, transparent and well-informed belief that walnut wood is SAFE for your little one’s mouthing and handling activities and SAFE for it’s use in cutting boards and bowls. Perhaps this last sentence will put things into perspective… Just because chocolate is toxic to dogs doesn’t mean we stop eating it.
Eric Meier, 2021. Wood Allergies and Toxicity | The Wood Database (wood-database.com)
Walnut Toxicity, 2021. Walnut Toxicity (gov.on.ca)
Ralston, S. L., 1983 Black walnut toxicosis in horses. (cabdirect.org)
Mayoclinic, 2021 (Nasopharyngeal carcinoma - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic)