The Beech tree, also known as Fagus Syvatica, is a beautiful tree but it can sustain human life too. The tree has leaves that range in colour from lime green in spring to dark green in summer. In autumn the leaves dry-up on the tree and turn a beautiful coppery colour. As this copper color is so distinctive it is much easier to spot a beech tree late autumn than any other season.
It is during this time also that the beech’s fruit become ripe. Beech fruit is called a mast. When mature the masts open to reveal three beech nuts that if left unpicked eventually fall to the ground. The nuts themselves are covered in a thin husk which is easy to peel with fingers. Inside you will find the white flesh of the nut which is sweet and delicious to eat.
You can also process beechnut into oil. It takes about 500 masts to make a cup of oil. The younger the leaves are the better this is going to work for you. You need to somehow mill or grind the leaves finely and then place them in a fine muslin bag and let the oil drip out into a metal tray. Once you have the oil you can use it for frying or as you would any cooking oil or you can use it to make mayonnaise or a salad dressing. This oil can last for a couple of years or more.
You can also make a salad of the very young leaves on the tree. Although they are a little bitter they are also very refreshing to eat.
Beechnut leaves are part of a very old Celtic recipe called Spring Fritters. This is 1 egg, beech leaves, a bit of beer, a cup of flour all rolled up into a batter that is cookie like. It is then dumped into oil and fried to make fritters. Along with beech leaves the ancient Celts added cleavers, nettles that had been boiled first to remove the stings, gorse flowers, hawthorn flowers, broom flowers and varieties of nettle.
The Celts also made a “noyau” out of beech leaf. A noyau is a cordial that is made from alcohols, sugar and any type of herb, bark, root or leaf. Beechnut Tree Noyau tastes best made with equal parts of gin and brandy, a handful of young beech leaves and a great deal of sugar.