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Fagaceae (beeches, oaks, etc.) Beeches, oaks, stone oaks, chestnuts and other members of the beech family.

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Old July 28th, 2003, 04:19 PM
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Daniel Mosquin Daniel Mosquin is offline
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Edibility of beech nuts

The following was received via email:

Hello.

I was curious as to the edibility of beech nuts. I have come up with some conflicting information.

An article I've read, "The Bounty of Beech" - by Linda Gabris, states that creosote is derived from beech. I was under the impression that creosote was carcinogenic.

Also, a book I have "Magic and Medicine of Plants by Reader's Digest" states that large doses of nuts may be poisonous .
So my questions are:

1) Are there any known toxins/poisons in beech nuts?
2) Would roasting them neutralize these toxins?
3) Would cooking with beech nut oil be harmful?

Thanks for any insight or direction you could offer.

Last edited by Eric La Fountaine; March 1st, 2006 at 09:57 AM.
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Old July 30th, 2003, 02:03 PM
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Beechnuts appear to be safe, if perhaps not all that palatable. They are usually pressed for oil, as they have a high oil content, and can also be roasted for coffee. The oil is used in cooking in Europe, and the nuts are often fed to farm animals. As for creosote... it didn't come up in any of the searches that we did regarding edibility, but it is very possible that it is a compound produced by the wood or leaves, for example. There are a large number of plants that are toxic or poisonous in some part though humans eat other parts - for example, the green parts of tomato plants, or cherry pits.

Hope that's helpful!

UBC Hortline

Last edited by Eric La Fountaine; March 1st, 2006 at 10:04 AM.
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Old March 1st, 2006, 10:10 AM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

I came across this old post as I was moving threads into the new Beech forum. It brought back fond memories of eating beech nuts in the family woods when I was a kid. My family found them quite palatable, but we only ate them fresh - never tried roasting or an infusion. They are quite tedious to peel though. If someone could develop a mechanized way to peel them, there might be a market for the nuts and the products that could be made from them.
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Old March 1st, 2006, 01:15 PM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

I've eaten them too. Not very palatable - astringent and somewhat bitter. They might be better cooked, but that would be so fiddly it isn't worth trying.

European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) was almost certainly introduced to Britain by stone-age man, presumably as a food crop; it doesn't appear in the post-glacial fossil pollen record until 2000 years after the English Channel formed.
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Old March 1st, 2006, 01:44 PM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

I guess either my youthful palate was undeveloped or the nuts from our trees were somehow superior in taste. I remember them as being sweet. If they are bitter and astringent, I guess that explains the recipes for toasting and making nut butter etc.

Sounds like Linda Gabris likes them, although she has the childhood memory thing going on too.
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Old March 1st, 2006, 06:13 PM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

I suspect a lot may also depend on peeling the inner skin off too - that is also somewhat bitter/astringent on Castanea sativa nuts too. I usually remove it before eating chestnuts, but is again too fiddly to take off with beech nuts
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Old August 1st, 2007, 01:14 PM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

I, too, have always found beech nuts to be quite palatable. The main problem is finding them when they are ripe and before they are grabbed up by the squirrels and chipmunks. The green pods are not ripe until they turn brown and crack open. Then the forest creatures are quick to grab them up and leave nothing but empty husks. It's possible that the nuts are bitter when not fully ripe or when they have been sitting on the ground too long.

As some have already said, they are a bit of work to extract from the shell, but it can be a good activity to undertake while on a walk or hike through the woods.
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Old August 2nd, 2007, 06:41 PM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

The wikipedia article on the European Beech says "Slightly toxic to man if eaten in large quantities due to the tannins they contain, the nuts were nonetheless pressed to obtain an oil in 19th century England that was used for cooking and in lamps. They were also ground to make flour, which could be eaten after the tannins were leached out by soaking."

There are no sources listed on the article, though the discussion page says it was mostly translated from the French page on the topic. Not sure if that's to be trusted or not, but figured I'd put the info out there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_beech
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Old September 23rd, 2007, 12:51 PM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

Young leaves - raw (don't eat them when brown, slightly toxic then). A very nice mild flavour, they go well in a mixed salad. However, the leaves quickly become tough so only the youngest should be used. New growth is usually produced for 2 periods of 3 weeks each year, one in spring and one in mid-summer.

Seed - raw or cooked (should not be eaten in large quantities). A pleasant sweet flavour, though rather small and fiddly. The seed can also be dried and ground into a powder and then used with cereal flours when making bread, cakes etc. The seed is rich in oil, contains 17 - 20% of an edible semi-drying oil. This stores well without going rancid and is said to be equal in delicacy to olive oil. It is used as a dressing for salads and also for cooking. The seed residue is poisonous. The roasted seed is used as a coffee substitute.

compiled from various sources of literature
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Old April 6th, 2008, 10:15 AM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

The difference of opinion here about the edibility of beechnuts seems to stem from a confusion between the European and American beech. "The nuts of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) are sweet... and is reported to be one of the sweetest, most delicious products of northern forests.... The nuts of European beech (F. sylvatica), on the other hand, have never been a popular food item for human consumption and were only eaten when driven by extreme hunger." (from Non-wood forest products from temperate broad-leaved trees, http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/005/Y4351E/y4351e0c.htm).

I'm interested in beechnuts as a source of oil, which by all accounts is delicious and has a long shelf life. From the same document quoted above: "An important use of beechnuts in Europe, however, was as a source of oil, especially in France. During the early 1800s, some beech forests produced as much as two million bushels of nuts that, when properly treated, yielded oil equal to 1/6 the bulk of the original nuts. Beechnut oil was said to be equal to olive oil in flavour."

If anyone has any information on the extraction of oil from beechnuts, I would appreciate it. I'm particularly interested in learning whether the nuts need to be ground before expelling the oil, or if, with sufficiently high pressure (in my case about 1400 psi), oil can be expelled from whole nuts.
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Old April 9th, 2008, 03:02 PM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

In my experience you'll get a higher yield if you grind or at least slightly fragment the nutmeat first; this comes from my own experiments in expelling walnut oils for use in oil paints.

I was expressing at about 1200 psi, and whole nuts gave me a distinctly lower yield than the ones I had pulsed in the blender first.
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Old August 18th, 2012, 07:09 AM
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Re: Edibility of beech nuts

In the children's book series "Little House on the Prairie" one book entitled "Farmer Boy" is about Laura Ingalls Wilder's husband Almonzo when he was a young boy growing up in the state of New York. One story was of how they hitched a wagon to horses, went into the woods and gathered up beechnuts. They took them home to eat. I don't recall details of how they prepared them. This would have been the American Beechnut. The story would have been sometime around 1860 or so.
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