Edible beech nuts from Epping Forest

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.

Beech nut outer shell

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.

Beech nuts in shells

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.

Beech nuts

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.

39 thoughts on “Edible beech nuts from Epping Forest

  1. We have a 40+ year old gorgeous beech tree. This year we have filled two big barrels with beech nuts and they’re still dropping. This is about 100 times more than other years. How come?

    • It’s called, “periodicity.” Most trees will have cyclical yields of seeds/nuts/cones/keys. Some years will produce an abundance of seeds whereas the next year or two there may be few, or almost none at all.
      I’ve seen conifers have so many cones one year that the upper tree actually bends somewhat from the weight. The very next year the number if comes van be counted on one hand.
      Seed collectors, who collect for propagation, either by private growers or by municipal, provincial or federal activities. These collectors are keen to the rhythms or periods of seed production.
      Thus is why one year you may see few seeds but see uncountable numbers years later.
      There’s also natural.periodicity and climate modifiers of the natural periods.

  2. I have a copper beach and weeping beech both planted in about 1954. Suddenly this year we have barrels of beech nuts from both trees – 6 so far and still falling – especially the copper beech – We have never had more than an occasional nut. The squirrels are fat and not interested in our bird feeder. Glad to know we can use them like pine nuts. BBMD

    • They could have been eaten by insects. If you look at the nut, sometimes you will see a small hole in it (this can happen to many kinds of nuts) – this is where the insects have entered and left.

    • this time of year (October) the pidgeons feed on the beech mast and the falling empty shells denote they are feeding if you stand underneath you will see them moving about up high at the top of the tree

  3. thanks for your info., we have just been on a family walk with our 6 year old son who picked the nut cases up as part of his ‘explorer’ beavers badge. We didn’t know what tree the nut case belonged too – but we do now …………….

  4. Can beechnuts be converted to oil ? I remember as a child during
    WW2 in germany collecting them in exchange for oil.
    Can you comment please? Thank you.

  5. I just found some in my yard. I was wanting to know about eating them.. I see you have made a comment about that. I will be trying them.

  6. Thank you for the great pictures. I remember as a boy in Neubrandenburg,Germany in the last year of the War, 1945, surviving on them, because the are so rich in oils. My brothers and I used to go to the close by beech woods and gathering them on the ground.

  7. Oh well in my case it’s the Possums who are feasting on the Beech nuts here in NZ!. My tree is about forty years old and I haven’t seen any nuts before.

  8. i remember going out with my grandfather to collect the beech nuts when i was a child in the surrey countryside during WW11. also collected mushrooms–lovely memories.

  9. Glad to hear squirrels like thenuts. I’m tired of them eating my bird food!! Looking forward to roasting a few (nuts, not squirrels!)

  10. Our two Beech tree’s , dropped literally “tons” of Beech nuts last year,which I am still finding in profusion.
    Thank goodness I thought, must be coming to the end of this collecting.
    However, Looked up into the tree’s yesterday and LOADED with nuts just waiting to …..drop!
    We collect and use in our log stove.
    Having read your previous comments ,is this safe to do so?

  11. Just discovered beech nuts on my tree in the back garden! I’ve only been in this house for 2 years so have no idea how old the tree is but do know there weren’t any nuts last year- I’m in Scotland! Looking forward to trying them.

  12. I found this site as I was trying to find information on why my copper beech is ‘raining’ bucket loads of nuts and casings this year. My beech is probably close to 30 yrs old. So very beautiful but so very messy presently. It partly overhangs my patio and this year I’m constantly sweeping – not good to walk on in bare feet! I live in south east Ontario, Canada. Now I know why our resident squirrels are so chubby! Thanks for all the information here.

  13. There was a wood in Germany I used to get Beechmast quite a lot from when I was a boy. No Squirrels red or grey but I don’t think they are the only ones to gather them fast, I bet corvids do too!

  14. We purchased a house (in Kentucky) about 4 years ago that has a HUGE beech tree on the property. Gauging by the size and girth of the tree trunk, I am guessing it is VERY old. It has been more of nuisance than anything because it has a lot of dead wood in the very top and the slightest breeze causes massive amounts of dead branches to fall out, some quite large. I have been keeping an eye on it for the nuts and it usually has had some every year on the very lower branches but they have never had any “seeds” inside of them. I just checked a bit ago and as usual only the lower branches have nuts but they DO have seeds and they are every bit as tasty as I remember from my childhood when we had a beech tree on the school property. I am just happy to be able to enjoy them again. There aren’t that many of them and the squirrels will be taking them soon I imagine. I was beginning to think it would never produce edible nuts.

    • The ones with nothing inside have probably been eaten by tiny insects. If you look closely you will find a hole, not much bigger than a pinhole where the insects have entered and left!

      • Generally the empty nuts have not actually been eaten by insects, the reason is that the seed has just not developed. This can vary from tree to tree, some trees producing an abundance of plump nuts, while others producing mostly empty nuts cases. Variation can also occur from year to year, depending on seasonal weather conditions, and on whether the tree cropped heavily the previous year.

    • Epping Forest is a forest, it doesn’t sell anything, although in season you can go and collect them yourself for free. I don’t know why so many people are asking me where to buy beech nuts, I can’t really think of a reason why anyone would want to buy them and I have never seen anyone selling them.

  15. I have been walking in east Yorkshire today and have come across lots of beech nuts (cob nuts as my mother used to call them) They are round and look like hazel nuts and not like pine nuts as shown above. (or are they hazelnuts?) They seem to grow mostly in 3s. Can you tell me when to pick them and how edible they are please?

    • Cob nuts is just another name for hazelnuts, not beech nuts. If they are actually hazelnuts then they are of course edible but I can’t confirm what you are actually seeing from here! Nuts are generally best once they have fallen, usually a little later in the year, you just need to fight the squirrels for them…

  16. We moved into our house last year. We have a beech tree in the backyard not too far from our deck. When we bought the house I loved the enormous beech which shaded the area and looked so majestic. Now it is becoming a real pain. There are TONS of nuts on the tree and all I do is sweep the deck daily…. they are so MESSY. Can’t wait for the leaves to fall. Luckily we will be getting someone to rake the thousands of leaves for us this fall.

    Does the amount of nuts indicate the age ? If that is the case, this is a granddaddy. Guess we’ll just have to enjoy it’s beauty and put up with those prolific nuts.

    • Well, the tree was there first! I’m sure you could turn this “pain” into something useful, like collecting the nuts and selling or giving them away? You could make coffee out of them for one thing and they have all kinds of other uses. The nuts became a food source after WWII, maybe channel your inner prepper and hold onto some just in case 😉

      Also in response to some other comments about higher yields on some years – this can also be down to periods of stress such as drought for example (this could just be a drier than usual summer fo example) – the tree’s natural reaction is to produce more seed to try and ensure its genetic continuity. Aren’t trees amazing?

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