Aged Beech Leaf Tea

It’s been a chilly old Winter this year, and I trust you have had lovely festivities over the past couple of weeks.

Winter is an exciting time for me as a forager. While others bemoan the decline in wild edible plants, I, on the other hand, get all excited wondering what I can find and what I can prepare from the limited availability out on the land.

A couple of days ago, as I was taking the grand-urchins outside to play, my eyes took in the beauty of the ‘skeleton trees’ against the grey sky, and the patterns and shapes they make.

Senses open up when I do this. And I love the natural form and structure devoid of any human mingling. Natural art right in front of us.

From the corner of my eye, I noticed some honey-golden beech leaves on a hedge and was immediately taken back to working with chef Paul Wedgwood in Edinburgh back in 2013.

Paul & Lisa own Wedgwood The Restaurant which was voted restaurant of the year outside London in 2016, leaving 10 Michelin chefs in the dust. So no mediocrity there then!

At our event, Paul had served up a broth, well actually it was more like a Japanese Dashi.

Dashi is a very simple stock usually made from water, dried kelp and bonito fish flakes.

And Paul had served his forest floor Dashi as a non-alcoholic aperitif using various dried tree leaves.

So it was this ‘memory whisper’ creeping in through my mind that made me pay a bit more attention to the Beech (Fagus sylvatica) I was walking past than I usually would.

Something was tugging at me to gather some of the leaves and simply plop them into hot water.

And so I did just that, while at the same time accidentally adding a couple of pine shoots that had inadvertently got mixed in with my leaves.

Although the resulting beverage was delicious, I wanted to try the leaves on their own. That tugging was just getting more forceful.

So yesterday I went out with my camera, gathering bags and my trusty secateurs, a fancy name for pruning clippers.

I gathered Mahonia flowers, Monterey pine shoots, and also a nice bag of dried Beech leaves direct from the plant.

I’m wary of gathering straight from the forest floor, particularly in urban environments, due to the amount of domestic pet waste that seems to litter the environment.

The joy of skipping and kicking the dead leaves these days is more a hazard than when I was a boy!

So leaves in hand, I returned to my kitchen. I tested various steeping times and came to a happy balance, where the flavours came through by using 5 grams of leaves and 500ml of boiling water.

I allowed the brew to infuse for 15 minutes, and the flavours (and colour) really came out. Less time than that and you won’t experience the true delights of this slightly off-beat beech leaf recipe.

Next time I think I will try 3 grams of leaves, and allow the concoction to steep for 25 minutes.

To me, the flavours are reminiscent of sencha tea a type of Japanese ryokucha.

Someone asked me yesterday if there is any historical evidence of using beech leaves in this way. So I dug around and found a few references to a tea being brewed like this, but as a medicine.

If you think of traditional black or green teas, the flavours are developed as a result of oxidation/fermentation.

For some reason, I have a niggling in the back of my mind of someone mentioning that winter leaves left on the tree go through a similar process.

I have no evidence for this, but it is definitely something worth exploring.


Using brown dried leaves from Beech does come with some warnings, however. In the past, the plant has been used as an abortifacient, so if you are pregnant do not try this. Also, there are tannins in the leaves which give its flavour, so if you are susceptible to kidney problems, please avoid this recipe.

Although I am not your Mother, you need to know that this is very much an experimental recipe and one you try at your own risk.

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  1. Interesting and tempting, forgive me if I have missed it but is there a leave (safe) that can supply caffeine to make a proper substitute for tea or coffee? I have read that holly does but wonder.

  2. Wonderful! I will gather next time I’m out in Oversley Woods. I’ve actually been experimenting with birch bark tea to help manage rheumatic pains – all the time I’ve been a forager I didn’t know that birch could be so giving, but my intuition just told me to check it out. Wonderful to be rediscovering these things.

  3. I tried the beach leaf tea today I had left it over night and then re heated it it was delicious and reminded me of lapsangsushong tea or how ever you spell it …. smokey …. thanks Robin for the idea

  4. Hello Robin, Thanks for sharing this. Really interesting. I’ve been brewing and nibbling the spring leaves, but had never considered the dried autumnal ones. I seem to remember reading something on your site about fermenting the leaves, much like tea, but I can’t find it any more. Or was I dreaming it? Lynton

  5. This is an amazingly rich site, so happy to have come across this.
    I’m an ex-pat living in the french Pyrenees and I enjoy foraging and am ever looking for new things to try, nature is so generous to who cares to notice.
    Thankyou for this tea idea, I have a beautiful large birch tree in the center of our land and shall be trying this out this winter!

  6. Hi Robin,
    Just to let you know we tried your Aged Beach leaf tea once on Tuesday, the again Thursday (today), it was a very subtle flavour, very nice it was both days. Whether it was a coincidence, but I am now suffering with a very loose bowel, is the medicinal benefit of the tea to help with constipation. My other half had the tea too, and she has had no such response, so could be my sensitive stomach.

    Best wishes and love your foraging advice

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