Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Beech nuts (Fagus sylvatica)

It is now September and the beech nuts are ready for picking so we thought we would revisit the beech tree and provide some photographs of these little beauties. See beech (Fagus sylvatica) for the main article about these lovely trees.

Beech nuts hanging on the tree

We have very many beech trees of all ages from the very young saplings to the very large mature trees. Many of the larger trees are producing copious quantities of nuts at the moment. Others are producing absolutely nothing at all.

When the time is right, the burr opens up and drops the beech nuts onto the ground. Luckily some of the the nuts drop out onto tarmac and they can be easily swept up with a dustpan and brush! Those that fall into the long grass are lost to us. Some will be eaten by animals such as deer and squirrels, others will take root and grow into small trees or rot into the ground. nb a tarpaulin or other large sheet can be laid down under the trees to collect the nuts.

Here we have a bag of freshly picked beech nuts together with their fuzzy outer burr. The burr is closed and is very difficult, if not impossible, to prise open by hand. However, once the burrs have been left in a warm room for a few hours or days, they will peel open of their own accord. After opening, the two little nuts can easily be popped out.

Freshly picked beech nuts with outer casing or burr


The triangular shaped nuts are covered with a leathery casing which, thankfully, are not as difficult to remove as the casings from a sweet chestnut! One side of the casing can be fairly easily prised off with a long finger nail and the nut popped out. The nuts are small and the task a bit fiddly and time consuming. Some of the skins will contain a nut (seed) and others will often be empty.


Beech nuts with their leathery skin

Beech nuts have a brown furry astringent covering which can be eaten in moderation but is best removed.

Beech nuts with the brown astringent skins


We soak the nuts overnight and then just slide the brown skin off. Nuts can then be eaten as they are or dried for later use.

Beech nuts soaked and skinned


Don't forget that now is the time to sow the fresh beech seeds. Sow in pots outside in a coldframe or in a seedbed and they will germinate in the spring. Seeds are not viable for very long. When the seedlings are big enough prick out into individual pots and grow on for a year before planting out into their final position. Beech trees are very very large so be prepared to find a suitable final planting site for them.