I was walking in the forest when I heard a pitter-patter sound, like the sound of water dripping from the leaves after it has rained. But it hadn’t rained recently so I stood still and watched to see what was falling. Beech nuts! I’ve seen the empty outer shells before but never the actual nuts – I think the squirrels get them if you’re not quick.
The individual nuts were falling out of the outer shells onto the ground. I picked up a nut and found that unlike most nuts it was very easy to open with my finger nails. The nut looks a bit like a pine nut, and surprisingly it also tasted a bit like a pine nut.
I’ve done a little research and found that beech nuts (also called beechmast) are high in tannins and shouldn’t be eaten in large quantities. Soaking them for 8 hours or more and then rinsing them removes some of the tannins and probably makes them easier to digest.
We opened and then soaked the ones we collected and made pesto with them, not quite as creamy as when made with pine nuts but still delicious.
The European beech, Fagus sylvatica, also known as the common beech, is part of the Fagaceae family which also includes oak and sweet chestnut (but interestingly not horse chestnut which is unrelated).
I found a public domain illustration of a beech branch with leaves from an old 1801 book and used it to create a t-shirt and shopping bag for my organic clothing website.