Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 254-A   January 28, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Most folks think of peanuts as little roasted nuts they buy to toss at elephants and monkeys in a zoo, feed squirrels and pigeons in a park, or munch contentedly, themselves, at a circus or a ball game. Actually, a peanut is not a nut. It is a seed or fruit, like a bean or pea, and one of the few true fruits found underground: the fruit of a remarkable plant that buries its own seed.

Down south they are called "goobers". Elsewhere, in many languages, they are known as monkey nuts, ground nuts or earth nuts. The ancient pre-Incan races of Peru obtained the plant from Brazil and developed many varieties similar to the 20 or more grown today. These are pictured on the earliest specimens of Peruvian pottery and have been found, still edible, in jars beside mummies in their tombs. Magellan, in 1519, took peanuts from Peru to Asia. The Spaniards introduced them into Mexico and Europe. The Portuguese slave-traders planted them in Africa to feed their black cargoes, and from there the peanut was brought to colonial Virginia, where they were known as "pindars". It has become a major crop in our southern and southwestern states, and in the warmer portions of China, India, the East Indies, Mexico, Central and South America, Africa and Europe. Like corn, the peanut is one of the vital foods America gave the world.

The goober is a member of the Pea Family. It is a legume, with that mysterious attraction for certain bacteria which grow in lumps or nodules on the roots and have the peculiar ability to use nitrogen, store it, and thus enrich the soil. It is a bean-like plant bearing conspicuous yellow flowers on the upper parts. On the lower stems are smaller flowers each of which, after fertilization, produces a small pod. Then the flower stalk bends over, grows rapidly, and pushes the pod into the earth where it grows and ripens. These are two general types: one, grown mainly in Virginia and North Carolina, has large thick-shelled pods; the other has smaller thin-shelled pods, small round kernels, and is grown in the other southern and southwestern states.

The peanut, like corn, was originally a tropical plant which still grows best during warm weather and is very sensitive to frost. It is an ideal crop for some regions because there are few plants which will endure such prolonged droughts and yet recover to grow luxuriantly when rain falls. Further, peanuts enrich the soil instead of depleting it. In addition to several million acres planted in the United States for food and industrial uses, a million or more acres are grown for livestock feed and forage.

The late Dr. George Washington Carver, famous Negro agricultural chemist, persuaded southern farmers to diversify their crops and help their land by planting peanuts and sweet potatoes instead of cotton. Then he developed over 300 uses for peanuts, including such products as cheese, milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, soap, wood stains, insulating board, and some important plastic materials.

Peanuts are remarkably rich in food values. One pound of nuts contains more proteins than a pound of steak, as much carbohydrates as a pound of potatoes, and one-third as much fat as a pound of butter -- a total of 2700 calories. They are rich in B vitamins. The nuts are eaten as a fresh vegetable in tropical countries; dried or roasted here. They are processed to make peanut butter, candies, bakery products and -- above all -- oils for salads and cooking. The lower grades of oil are used for industrial purposes. The "cakes" remaining after some processes are valuable for fattening cattle and hogs, and for fertilizer. The stems, leaves and pods make excellent hay.

The height of restraint is to eat just one peanut.

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