Did you hear about National Cashew Day? November 23 was a few weeks ago. Since it is a brand new holiday, nobody really knows how or why it started. But, does it really matter? Not really, because cashews are delicious and healthy and this holiday gives you an excuse to eat hundreds of these yummy nuts for no reason at all. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just grow your own right in the comfort of your home? Actually, you can! It does not take much to grow one or more cashew trees (Anacardium occidentale from the Anacardiaceae family) if you live in a tropical area, but what if you live in a cooler climate such as Missouri like I do? You certainly cannot plant them in your yard or garden and expect them to survive. They need the hot and tropical weather above 50 degrees Fahrenheit or they will not live through the winter.
Well, if you live in a cooler area like I do, you can grow a cashew tree indoors. Even though they can grow up to 35 feet (10.6 m) high, if you grow the cashew tree indoors as a potted plant, you can keep it pruned back to about four or five feet tall. It usually takes about three years before they start to produce fruit. Yes, fruit. I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? The cashew tree grows fruit called cashew apples and to get a cashew nut; you have to remove it from the cashew apple. However, you have to be careful because the oil from the shells can cause a reaction similar to poison sumac, producing a burning rash and painful blisters.
So, when planting the cashew nuts you should wear protective rubber gloves, so you do not get the oil on your hands. The first thing to do is to soak the nuts in warm water for 10 minutes. If any of the seeds are floating, discard them because they will not germinate and grow. Fill large (10-20 gallon) flower pots about three-quarters of the way with potting soil. Buckets work well for this purpose. Place them on rollers, so you can move them around because this tree will get heavy. Place one seed in each pot and then fill the pot the rest of the way with soil
Growing the cashew tree from a mature seedling is an easier and much more reliable way to grow these trees indoors. Get some 20-gallon buckets or pots and fill them 75% of the way with potting soil. Just make a hole, set the seedling in the dirt and spread out the roots, and fill the pot with more potting soil. Mix the potting soil with sand to make it course because these plants grow best in course soil. Make sure that you remove the burlap wrap from the root ball and break it up to loosen the roots. Once it is planted and covered by soil, you should water it with lukewarm water.
Put the tree by a window to get full sunlight but do not put the pot close to an air conditioning vent because they cannot tolerate that kind of cold air. Continue to water the plant once a week at minimum and fertilize with a nitrogen fertilizer in the spring and fall after the first year. In a few years, you will have your own cashew apples with cashews growing from them. Since the cashew nut is inside a toxic shell, many people take them to a professional to have them shelled. However, you can do this if you are careful and you wear gloves.
The cashew apple (cashew fruit) is also delicious and may be used for making jam, preserves, curries, drinks, and many people eat them fresh from the tree. It has a sweet flavor, but it is astringent (causes a dry and chalky taste in the mouth) when eating. This is because of the chemical, urushiol in the cashew apple, which can cause irritation to the skin. Boiling the fruit for five minutes in salted water or gelatin can get rid of the astringency.
Cashews are an excellent source of many different vitamins (vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K) minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and phosphorous), starch, and protein. They are also an excellent and tasty way to get fiber and energy.
You may think it is nuts to grow a cashew tree indoors, but it is worth it whether you want to eat them or not. They are very attractive, have beautiful flowers, and are very easy to grow. So give it a try. Who knows? You might have homegrown cashews to eat on a future National Cashew Day!