Botanical name : Fagus sylvatica
Common names : Beech, Beech Tree
Physical appearance : A decidious tree with smooth, grey bark which grows up to 40 metres in height. It has oval shaped, bright green leaves. Its male flowers are drooping with a stalked head whilst the female flowers grow in pairs. The nuts are contained inside a prickly brown husk which when ripe, opens into four lobes, revealing the ripe, three sided nut. When Beech trees fruit, they tend to produce a bumper harvest which somewhat compensates for the fact that they only fruit every three to four years.
Edible parts : Young beech leaves are edible and an interesting addition to salads. They have a delicate cabbage flavour. The nuts are also edible and have a flavour similar to walnut, although they need to be processed before consumption due to the high levels of tannins and alkaloids they contain.
Best places to find : Woodlands and and anywhere with chalky soils.
Time of year : Best harvested from September onwards. You need to get to the nuts before the squirrels have them.
Interesting factoid : The Beech tree is a favourite in horticulture as it can easily be coppiced and produces flexible wood which had been used in fencing and construction for centuries. The wood has desireable mechanical properties which makes it particularly suitable for building.
Other uses : The nuts can be roasted and salted which helps to break down many of the undesirable tannins.They can also be ground into a flour to produce various doughs but before this is done, the tannins and alkaloids need to be leached out by soaking. The nuts can be ground down and compressed to extract the oil which can be used for cooking and lighting.
NB Please be sure you know what you are picking. Many plants look similar to one another and many can be poisonous! Please seek professional instruction if you are unsure! Don't risk your life!!!
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