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Beech

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  • Botanical: Fagus sylvatica
  • Family: Fagaceae
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Beech

Botanical

Fagus sylvatica

Family

Fagaceae

Known as

European Beech, Rothbuche, Buche

Old Use

culinary; medicinal

Collection Times

September to October

Parts Used

bark, leaves, resin, seed, wood

Medicinal

antiseptic, bronchitis, bronchitis, colds, coughs, difficulty breathing, fever, gout, indigestion, infections, infections intestinal, psoriasis, rheumatism, toothache, ulcers, urinary infections, wounds

Infection & Inflammation

fever, infections, infections intestinal, mouth inflammation, skin inflammation, throat infections

Respiratory System

bronchitis, colds, cough, pharyngitis, throat infections

Stomach & Intestinal

laxative, intestinal inflammation

Skin & Hair

dermatitis

Properties

antibacterial, antiseptic, antipyretic, expectorant

Description

It is a large tree, capable of reaching heights of up to 50 m (160 ft) tall and 3 m (9.8 ft) trunk diameter, though more typically 25–35 m (82–115 ft) tall and up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) trunk diameter. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 4 m (13 ft) tall. It has a typical lifespan of 150 to 200 years, though sometimes up to 300 years. 30 years are needed to attain full maturity (as compared to 40 for American beech).

Like most trees, its form depends on the location: in forest areas, F. sylvatica grows to over 30 m (100 ft), with branches being high up on the trunk. In open locations, it will become much shorter (typically 15–24 m (50–80 ft)) and more massive.

The leaves are alternate, simple, and entire or with a slightly crenate margin, 5–10 cm long and 3–7 cm broad, with 6-7 veins on each side of the leaf (7-10 veins in Fagus orientalis). When crenate, there is one point at each vein tip, never any points between the veins. The buds are long and slender, 15–30 mm (0.59–1.18 in) long and 2–3 mm (0.079–0.118 in) thick, but thicker (to 4–5 mm (0.16–0.20 in)) where the buds include flower buds.

The leaves of beech are often not abscissed in the autumn and instead remain on the tree until the spring. This process is called marcescence. This particularly occurs when trees are saplings or when plants are clipped as a hedge (making beech hedges attractive screens, even in winter), but it also often continues to occur on the lower branches when the tree is mature.

Small quantities of seeds may be produced around 10 years of age, but not a heavy crop until the tree is at least 30 years old. F. sylvatica male flowers are borne in the small catkins which are a hallmark of the Fagales order (beeches, chestnuts, oaks, walnuts, hickories, birches, and hornbeams). The female flowers produce beechnuts, small triangular nuts 15–20 millimetres (0.59–0.79 in) long and 7–10 mm (0.28–0.39 in) wide at the base; there are two nuts in each cupule, maturing in the autumn 5–6 months after pollination. Flower and seed production is particularly abundant in years following a hot, sunny and dry summer, though rarely for two years in a row.

Properties & Uses

The bark is antacid, antipyretic, antiseptic, antitussive, expectorant, odontalgic. A tar (or creosote), obtained by dry distillation of the branches, is stimulating and antiseptic. It is used internally as a stimulating expectorant and externally as an application to various skin diseases. The pure creosote has been used to give relief from toothache, but it should not be used without expert guidance. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies.


Other Uses

A semi-drying oil is obtained from the seed, it is used as a fuel for lighting, as a lubricant, for polishing wood etc. The seed residue is poisonous. The leaf buds harvested in the winter and dried on the twigs are used as toothpicks. The leaves are gathered in autumn and used as a stuffing material for mattresses etc. Wood - hard, heavy, strong, very durable. It is not suitable for outdoor use and is often attacked by a small beetle[4]. It has a wide range of applications, including furniture, flooring, turnery etc. It makes a very good fuel, burning with a lot of heat, and yields a charcoal known as 'Carbo Ligni Pulveratus'. The wood has often been used as a source of creosote, tar, methyl alcohol. acetic acid

Cautions

Large quantities of the seed may be toxic

Distribution

Europe, including Britain, from Norway south and east to Spain, Greece, W. Russia and the Crimea.

Constituents

The wood ash of the Beech affords a large proportion of potash. The oil of the nuts occupies a position in the fixed oils between the vegetable non-drying and the true drying oils. Like the Cotton-seed oils, it forms more or less elaidin on treatment with nitrous acid or mercuric nitrate, but does not become wholly solidified. Beech tar is completely soluble in 95 per cent. acetic acid. Turpentine oil, chloroform and absolute ether do not entirely dissolve it. The petroleum ether is not coloured by copper acetate solution. Choline is present in the seeds.