Black bears love them. Porcupines love them. Even flying foxes love them. The 3-sided nut produced by the stately American beechnut tree is savored by other creatures, as well, including the human forager. Before agriculture—the labor-intensive raising of annual crops—there was arboriculture—the near-effortless raising of tree crops, i.e., fruits and nuts. It is thought that before cornbread and other grain-based goods, there was flour made from ground acorns and beechnuts that had their bitter tannin content removed through soaking.
What does it do?
The beech tree is a generous soul, offering several of its parts for food and for other uses. Mild in flavor, the young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked as a potherb. The small nut can also be consumed raw or cooked, its appreciable level of protein approaching 22%. Beechnuts can also make an exotic sprout, offering a unique sweet, crisp and nutty eating experience. A fine coffee substitute that is caffeine-free can be brewed from the roasted seeds. Dried and ground into a powder, the inner bark serves as a thickening agent for making soups and as an ingredient for making cereal-based breads. The timber is used to make furniture, parquet floors, wooden bowls and even gunpowder. The wood’s heating power rises above most other timber sources, and it was widely used to warm the home in times gone by.
About the herb
Beech is a genus that has ten species of deciduous trees within its clan. Spread across the temperate regions of Asia, Europe and North America, beech trees are wrapped in smooth, light gray bark. Often found mixed with sugar maples and oaks, the American beech tree climbs up to an impressive 100 feet above the forest floor. Its three-angled nut resembles a half-pyramid, and it grows singly or in pairs within soft-spined husks. The nut supports a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, squirrels, raccoons and grouse.
Beechnuts produce oil that is very rich in unsaturated fat and protein. Step out of your “business as usual” approach to salad making and mix beech oil and chopped beechnuts into your next table offering.