Beech trees are large (9 to 24 meters [30 to 80 feet]), symmetrical forest trees that have smooth, light-gray bark and dark green foliage. The leaves of the Beech tree are sparsely toothed and the fruit is small, sharply three-angled nuts. The character of its bark, plus its clusters of prickly seedpods, clearly distinguish the beech tree in the field.
Where to FInd: This tree is found in the temperate zone. It grows wild in the eastern United States, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is found in moist areas, mainly in the forests. This tree is common throughout southeastern Europe and across temperate Asia. Beech relatives are also found in Chile, New Guinea, and New Zealand.
Edible Parts: The mature beechnuts readily fall out of the husklike seedpods (that look like small burrs) in the Fall. You can eat these dark-brown, triangular nuts by breaking the thin shell with your fingernail and removing the white, sweet kernel inside. Beechnuts are one of the most delicious of all wild nuts with a slightly bitter taste (they are high in tannin content). They are a most useful survival food because of the kernel’s high oil content. You can also use the beechnuts as a coffee substitute. Roast them so that the kernel becomes golden brown and quite hard. Then pulverize the kernel and, after boiling or steeping in hot water, you have a passable coffee substitute.
Other uses: Beech wood is excellent firewood, easily split and burning for many hours with bright flames (Beech wood is often used in breweries and in commercial cheese factories to smoke cheese).