Beech

(Fagus sylvatica) Apparently a British native only on chalk and limestone in south-east England. Elsewhere it was planted, albeit a very long time ago, as witnessed by place names (see examples in Cameron). In spite of the early spread of the tree, there is very little folklore attached to it, but what there is shows that it is held in high regard. In Somerset, for instance, they say that if you are lost in a wood at night nothing can harm you if you sleep under a beech tree, and if you say your prayers under a beech, they will go straight to heaven. On the other hand, the tree will be avenged if you use bad language under it, for then the leaves will rustle, and a bough may even drop on you (Tongue). Like a number of other trees, beech was supposed to be proof against lightning (Dyer), or that lightning never strikes it (Sebillot). Again like other trees, beech has its protectors, as with an enormous specimen known as "The Lady's Beech", a few miles from Copenhagen. Legend says this tree was once part of a large forest. While a girl was sheltering under this tree, a white-clad figure appeared to her and prophesied that the girl would become mistress of Kokke-dal. She also made the girl give her her promise never to consent to the tree's being felled. It was said that each owner of Kokke-dal was bound to leave the tree standing (Craigie).

A potent drink, probably originating from the Chil-terns, called leaf noyau, can be made from beech leaves. A recipe given requires one to pack an earthenware or glass jar about 90% full of young, clean leaves. Pour gin into the jar, pressing the leaves down all the time, until they are just covered. Leave to steep for about a fortnight, and then strain off the gin, which will now be a brilliant green. Add sugar dissolved in boiling water, and add a dash of brandy. Mix well, and bottle when cold (Mabey. 1972).

"We must not omit to praise the mast, which fats our swine and deer, and hath in some families even supported men with bread ." (Evelyn). But one has to be careful with them, for they are toxic to some people. "The nuts, when eaten by the human species, occasion giddiness and head-ache: but when well-dried and powdered, they make wholesome bread" (Taylor). Beechmast oil can be used like any other cooking oil (Mabey. 1972), and beechnut butter is still made in some country districts of America. It was even claimed that they could be substituted for coffee.

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