Thursday, 24 April 2014

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a deciduous tree native to the British Isles. It is also known as common beech or European beech. Beech trees are one of the largest trees in the British Isles and are typically identified by their smooth grey bark and copper coloured leaves in the winter which hang on the tree until just before new spring growth emerges.

An image of young beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaveswhich are edible raw and used in salads
Young beech leaves are edible raw and used in salads

Hedges are often made of beech and can be treated as evergreen and used as screening. The dense shade and carpet of leaves from these trees often prevents plants underneath from growing. This is particularly the case in a beech wood.

An image of beech (Fagus sylvatica) planted as hedging
Beech planted as hedging

Growing methods

Sow fresh seeds when they are ripe in the autumn in pots outside in a coldframe or 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. Trees are slowing growing in their first few years and can be susceptible to frosts. Beech trees are shallow rooted and do well in a woodland position.

Other uses

Beech wood can be used to make tools, furniture, flooring and for turning. It is an excellent fuel burning with a great deal of heat. It can also be made into charcoal. It has been used as a source of creosote, tar, methyl alcohol and acetic acid.

The dried leaf buds picked on the twigs in the winter months can be used as toothpicks. The nuts can be used as a food for wild and domestic animals including squirrels, mice, voles, dormice, deer, boar as well as pigs and goats. Horses and ponies enjoy the young spring leaves and buds. Oil from the nuts can be used as lighting fuel, for polishing wood and as a lubricant. The dried leaves can be gathered in the autumn and used for stuffing.

Beech has certain herbal medicinal uses and is used in Bach flower remedies.

An image of mature beech (Fagus sylvatica) trees
Mature beech trees

Raw edible parts

The buds with the young leaves just emerging in the spring are edible raw and are good for salads. They have a slight lemon flavour. Leaves can become chewy as they mature so catch them early on (about now).

An image of the new growing tips of beech trees in the spring which are edible raw
New growing tips in the spring are edible raw

The triangular shaped nuts may be eaten raw but can be small and fiddly to prepare. They are best soaked to remove toxins if eaten in large quantities. They can be dried and used as a flour. They can also be pressed for a very good edible oil which stores well. The nut residue is not edible.

Every five to ten years there is a 'mast' year and a huge number of beech nuts are produced. Inbetween mast years the tree may produce empty shells. Other trees such as oak and pine also have mast years. To eat the nut (seed) remove from the green prickly burr or case and then peel the hard skin away to reveal the nut.


  1. Wow, I love this, but I am curious. Where do you find all this information? It is so hard to check all the information on the web. Their is so much just telling what is found on another web page. How do I know the gooed sites from the bad onces. Thanks for looking into this. Toos Tuin

  2. We always use reliable sources for information including edible plant experts, botanical books and research papers, herbalists and historical references ie documentation of plants being used by different cultures over a long period of time. You will find a lot of good reference material listed on Plants for a Future's database.