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Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America

A Complete Wild Food Guide

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Season: Fall


Urban, Rural or Both: Both


American Beech (Fagus grandifolia or Fagus americana) nuts. Some like them, some find them a bit bitter. Don't eat huge quantities of them raw – there is a small amount of a poison called “fagin” in them, though you would have to eat a lot to be affected. Roasted a bit will make them easier to shell. This is a nice snack food for the great taste when out walking in the fall, but it would be a lot of work to gather enough for adding to baked goods or similar, though it could be done. Usually the squirrels get most of them where I live, and some years the trees produce a good harvest, some years not. They come in an outer husk that has very stiff hairs. The outer husk splits when they are ready to harvest, that has to be removed first, then the leathery shell. I find a large percentage of the Beech nuts are empty.

Don't eat them from the European version of the Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) unless you soak them in water for a day or two to remove the high tannin content. They don't taste as good either, even if you do process them to get the tannin out. If the Beech you find is planted in a garden or park, is a weeping beech, or has dark reddish or purple leaves, it is most likely a European Beech. If it is in woods in North America, very likely it is an American Beech.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

Good Choice if you live where the ground does not get walked on too much, or is away from city pollution. It is slow growing, and won't produce a crop of nuts until it is about 40 years old. The European Beech is more tolerant of city conditions and faster growing, but the fruit is not edible without processing.

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website American Beech page.


American Beech (Fagus grandifolia or Fagus americana):

Description:


American Beech (Fagus grandifolia or Fagus americana) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


American Beech (Fagus grandifolia or Fagus americana) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr..


Beach Nuts 01

Close up of Beech Nuts almost ripe. Beech tree leaves are beautiful and distinctive.


Beach tree full

Beech tree laden with Beech Nuts.


beach nut ready

When Beech nuts are ready, the outer husk opens up like a four petal flower, leaving two, three sided nuts ready to be picked.


beach nut

The two on the left are Beech nuts in the husk, the next one to the right is the nut in the leathery shell, the one on the right is the edible nut you eat. Be forewarned, the vast majority of nuts are empty in my experience. You can tell before opening the leathery shell. On the ones that are empty, the three flat sides of the nut are concave - hollowed inward. On the ones that have a nut inside, the three sides are flat and not concave. Don't confuse having the wings in each of the three corners for being concave. In the one above in the leathery shell, it had a nut in it.





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Important Notes when Identifying
Rules & Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching
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