Beech Tree (Fagus sylvatica)
On my recent woodland walks with Caber, I couldn’t help but notice the large beech tree canopies. Mostly because their heavy, fruit-laden branches dangled their tantalising husks in my face! They might not be ready to open and fall yet but it doesn’t stop them flirting with me as I walk by! I’m desperate to gather the beech mast (the official name for the nuts), but I know that I need to be patient and wait for the right moment. Which, incidentally, won’t happen until around mid-August, through September. This is also a great time to look out for horse chestnuts.
Nuts On Display!
Around this time look out for the open husks on the beech tree, proudly displaying their nuts to the world, along with a light carpet of fallen fruits beneath the tree. When this happens, they’re ripe for the picking and your foraging fun can begin. We can thank last summer’s brilliant weather for this year’s abundant crop, and I haven’t seen one this good for many years! So, obviously, I plan on doing more gathering, and already have a few recipes up my sleeve, ready to go. However, there’s so much more you can do with this tree than just forage the nuts. So, without further ado, let me officially introduce this rather delightful tree to you.
Did You Know?
- There are 13 varieties of the Beech (Fagus) tree. Today we’re looking at the Fagus sylvatica, which is prevalent in the UK and Fagus sylvatica purpurea (Copper beech).
- These magnificent trees can live for hundreds of years, with some reaching the ripe old age of 1000! The average age, however, is around 300-400.
- Their bark is smooth and grey in appearance.
- And they can grow to heights of up to 40 meters.
- It produces nuts around the 40th year after it’s planted.
- Leaves and bark contain pigments, used for dyeing of fabrics.
- In early spring they display cute little red buds on the tips of their branches.
- And in late spring their new leaves display a bright lime green, slightly translucent hue.
- These young translucent leaves are edible.
- They have a slightly sticky feel and a fresh citrus flavour.
- Beeches are monoecious, which means they bear both male and female flowers on the same tree.
- The above flowers appear in spring, around April/May, shortly after new leaves show.
- The male flowers are the wind-pollinating catkins, which look like fluffy, yellow/creamy pendants hanging from the tree.
- And the female flowers grow in pairs surrounded by a delicate cup which is a green/yellow colour with hints of red.
- It’s this cup that matures into the green spiky husks which eventually bear the beechnuts.
- Each husk houses 2 nuts.
- The French roast the nuts to make coffee.
- These nuts (masts) are brown and triangular, with a slightly bitter taste because of their tannin content.
- Beechwood makes excellent firewood and will burn for quite a few hours.
- The wood is used to produce a variety of products. To be frank, what you make is limited only by your imagination!
- Their bark, leaves, nuts, branches, and flowers all have medicinal qualities.
- In 19th Century England, they used beech oil for cooking and as fuel for lamps.
- These rather wonderful trees are steeped in folklore.
- Such as…the druids believed the trees were the custodians of ancient knowledge.
- And last, but not least, we traditionally know beech trees as the Mother of the Woods. Folklore says that no harm will befall a lost traveller seeking shelter under her canopy.
3 Famous Beech Trees
- Did you know in Ballymoney, County Antrim, an avenue of ancient beech trees on The Dark Hedges Estate, have featured in various films and tv programmes? Most notable of which is the Game of Thrones.
- On the short walk up North Berwick Law, in East Lothian, sits a handful of gnarled, wind-blasted trees. These are all that remains of a woodland planted by the local laird, Sir Hew Dalrymple, to signify the union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707. (Source: Forestryandland.gov.scot)
- And finally, Nellie’s Tree
Beech Tree Recipes
I couldn’t write a post about beech trees without adding a Beech Leaf Noyau recipe! It’s the most common recipe any beech loving forager will rush to make as soon as those baby leaves pop their heads up!
That said, the young leaves also make a lovely addition to a salad. Also, if you fry them, you can have yourself some tasty beech leaf crisps! On a personal note, I like to gather the nuts, roast them, and finally grind them to a powder. I then use the ground beechnuts for the biscuit base of a rather delicious lemon cheesecake. The flavours marry well together.
Beech Leaf Noyau
- 1 ltr Bottle, Bowl/Jug, Muslin Cloth, Saucepan
- 750 ml gin
- Young fresh beech tree leaves
- 150 g sugar
- 200 ml hot water
- 125 ml brandy (you can add up to 200ml)
- Gather young beech tree leaves
- Loosley 3/4 fill a 1-litre bottle with the leaves (a recycled plastic juice bottle is perfect)
- Cover leaves with the gin, ensuring they're all submerged
- Seal bottle and store in a dark cupboard for 4 weeks
- After 4 weeks, strain the liquid through a muslin cloth into a bowl or jug and throw away the leaves
- Sterilise then refill your bottle with the strained gin
- Dissolve your sugar in hot water, leave to cool and pour into the gin.
- Add the brandy and give the bottle a good shake.
- Seal, and store in a dark cupboard for a further 4 weeks to mature.
- Chill, pour, drink, enjoy!
3 Beech Tree Health Benefits
Relief from Headaches, Aches & Pains
All you need to do is boil down some beech tree leaves to create a poultice with analgesic properties and place on the area causing you pain.
Using beech tree leaves, make yourself a decoction to boost your kidney function and stimulate urination. As a diuretic, beech can help clear out toxins from the body, including excess fat, salts, waste, and water, improving the overall efficiency of your metabolism.
Use the oil from the nuts to strengthen your hair and improve its appearance, remember to add a carrier oil (such as almond oil)
A Word of Warning: Speak to a herbalist, or your doctor, before adding any beech tree treatments to your regimen. Excessive consumption is discouraged as there is some evidence to suggest that they are toxic in large quantities.
So, there you have it then! A multitude of beech tree nonsense, that you may or may not find useful! If there are any plants, you’d like me to cover in a future post, then let me know in the comments section below. In the meantime, take care, stay safe and don’t forget to subscribe if you don’t want to miss any of my posts!