European Beech – Fagus sylvatica
Other Names: Common Beech, the Beech Queen (consort to the King Oak).
Distinctive Characteristics: This common deciduous tree has a distinctive smooth gray bark that easily scars to a darker color. As it increases in age, the European Beech can form a gnarled, flared base and a shallow root system, often with large, exposed, snake-like roots spreading out in all directions, giving the tree much character. With great age, trunks can hollow and split at the base into what appears to be distinct trees.
Distribution: Native and common to Southern England and most of mainland Europe into Turkey. Elevation: sea level to 5,900 ft. (1,800 m).
Ecosystem: Prefers moist, shady woodlands. Usually found in pure stands, but also with English Oak, Sessile Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Large-Leaved Lime, Common Alder, Sycamore, Scots Pine, Norway Spruce and White Fir. Shades out wildflowers and understory plants.
Maximum Age: Approximately 300 years.
Maximum Height and Girth: 160 ft. (49 m) in height; 31 ft. (9.4 m) in circumference.
Animal Community: Beechnuts are an important food source for a variety of rodents and birds.
Medicine: Folk medicine includes: use as an antacid, an antiseptic, an expectorant, as well as to reduce fever, and as a treatment for toothaches and certain skin diseases.
Food: After leaching out the tannins and roasting the nuts, their flavor improves and they can be ground to make a kind of flour. Bitter beechnuts are slightly toxic if eaten in large quantities due to their tannins and low concentrations of trimethylamine. The oil was pressed for cooking.
Tools and Objects: In European folklore and folk medicine, the beech has quite a history. The Anglo-Saxon word for book has the same origin as the word beech: "Bok" or "Buche"; it is said that the bark was cut into thin slices to write upon to become the very first books in Europe. In 19th-century England the nuts were pressed for oil in lamps.
Art and Ceremony: Beech branches were believed to make good divining and dowsing rods and, according to Druidic lore, pieces of beech were also worn as a good luck charm.
Modern Uses: Today, the wood is used as a building material for furniture, flooring, and handles for implements. In France the nuts are still sometimes roasted to make a coffee substitute.
Threats and Conservation: Not threatened.