Trees with Edible Leaves Foraging Guide

Trees with edible leaves foraging guide

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When it comes to foraging, the wild menu spoils us for choice. But did you know that there are also a plethora of trees with edible leaves that are just waiting to be snapped up and enjoyed? From the aromatic sassafras tree to the versatile pine, there are edible leaves to suit every occasion.

Birch (Betula spp.)

Birch (Betula spp.) foraging for leaves

The birch tree is native to almost every part of Canada and is widespread across the United States. In the cooler northern states, you will find birch growing in abundance. Get as far south as Virginia and Tennessee and the white birch is far less common.

You can identify a birch tree by its silvery/gray or white bark that has the texture of paper. The leaves are incredibly versatile and can be used in everything from teas to salads. They have a slightly bitter taste so they’re a great way to add some intensity to a milder salad. When using leaves in a salad, you can simply wash and eat. However, if you are making birch tea, it’s usually best to dry out the leaves first.

As well as the leaves, it is also possible to forage and eat the birch catkins, the sap, and the bark. You might say this was the forager’s dream!

Chinese Mahogany (Toona sinensis)

Chinese Mahogany (Toona sinensis) edible leaves

While the Chinese Mahogany is native to parts of Asia, it is more than possible to grow it in zones 6 to 11 in the USA, and it is very hardy. The great thing about harvesting the leaves of the Toona is that they are available all year round. That said, you will get the best pick during the spring months.

If you choose to grow one of these trees in your backyard, you’ll benefit from their beautiful aesthetic as they are considered an ornamental tree. New leaves come through with a beautiful reddish – gold color and there’s even a variety known as the ‘flamingo’ whose leaves have a delightful pink hue in spring.

The leaves of the Chinese Mahogany have a distinct umami flavor and a scent that is not all that dissimilar to an onion. They’re very versatile and are ideal for roasting and blanching, but most commonly, they are used in stir-frys. It’s also possible to combine them with other ingredients such as sesame oil, sugar, and salt to make a long-life paste that will keep in the fridge for up to two months.

Linden (Tilia spp.)

Linden tree edible leaves

The Linden tree may also be referred to as the common lime or even the bee tree. They are very easy to identify thanks to their greyish bark and huge leaves that are shaped like a heart. What’s great about these trees is that all parts of them are edible, including the leaves, bark, sap, and flowers.

The common lime tree can be found growing in many parts of the Northern United States. Typically between Maine and Missouri. Normally, you would find these trees growing in moist soil on an east or north-facing hill, however, it’s also not unheard of to find them growing along roadsides.

One of the best ways to eat linden leaves is to simply wash them and include them in a salad. Picking younger leaves will give you a very crisp and fresh flavor that is not all that dissimilar to iceberg lettuce. You’ll find these young leaves growing at the bottom of the tree and they can be foraged between spring and fall.

Mulberry (Morus spp.)

Mulberry tree (Morus spp.) - edible leaves

There are two types of mulberry tree; red and white. In the USA, you will find the red mulberry growing in areas east of the Rocky Mountains. They’re great for foragers as they can be harvested at any time of the year aside from winter. As well as having edible leaves, the mulberry also produces a crop of berries later on in the year and the twigs are sweet and edible.

Many people use the mulberry leaves to make a wild tea, but they can also be used for some other culinary applications. For example, they’re often used to thicken soups and sauces, and if you want to get creative, you could try stuffing them.

When it comes to identifying the mulberry, you should be looking for a rounded tree that can grow up to 18 meters.

Maple (Acer spp.)

Maple (Acer spp.) tree leaf foraging guide

Think of the maple tree, and your mind probably wanders to that sweet, delicious syrup it is so famous for. But there are other parts of the maple tree that are edible including the leaves. For example, the seeds of the maple tree have some wonderful nutritional benefits and are packed with Omega oils 3 and 6.

Maple leaves are incredibly tasty and bursting with flavor. Many people deep fry their maple leaves using a tempura batter and a recipe from Japan. It certainly makes for a sweet snack. However, you can also eat them raw or, if you prefer, can roast them, and they’ll still have a very sweet taste.

The maple is easily identifiable and grows all over the United States from Maine to Minnesota as well as into Florida and down into Texas. The large leaves have three lobes, although the silver maple leaves have five.

Pine, Spruce & Fir

Fir tree foraging

Pine, spruce, and fir trees do not have leaves but rather needles, but these are ideal for foraging and are largely edible. However, there are some varieties of these trees, such as the ponderosa pine and the Norfolk Island pine that are poisonous, so be sure that you know exactly what you are collecting.

One of the most popular ways to use the needles from these trees is to make wild tea. This is brilliant because it is a good source of vitamin C as well as containing high levels of vitamin A. It’s as simple as foraging the needles and then steeping them in hot water and voila!, you have an aromatic and health-boosting drink. If you prefer, you can dip the needles into honey for a fresh, earthy snack.

Pine, spruce, and fir trees can be found growing all over the United States with different varieties in different regions. This is why it is important to correctly identify the species before using.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) leaves foraging

No matter where you are in the United States, you won’t be too far from a redbud as these small trees can be found growing all over the country. You’ll normally find them in shaded areas of woodlands and in moist but well-drained soil.

The Eastern redbud not only has edible leaves, but the delicate little purple flowers are also a tasty treat. You will easily be able to tell the redbud apart from other trees because of these flowers but also because of the zig-zag shape of the branch growth.

The leaves and flowers of the redbud tree are perfectly eaten raw in a salad, but they’re versatile enough to add to any dish for a sweet flavor and a vitamin C boost.

Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) leaves foraging

There are three main types of beech; European, American, and Japanese, and each of these have leaves that you can eat. The best time of year to harvest beech leaves is at the beginning of spring, as the leaves begin to unfurl. You must make sure to collect younger leaves because as they age, they can become much too tough to be enjoyed.

You will find beech trees growing as far north as Nova Scotia in Canada and across the USA from Florida to Texas and Mississippi. The trees can get very tall, up to around 30 meters, and are often found in wooded areas. That said, they’re very easy to grow in your backyard. To identify these trees look for grayish bark, twisted roots, and leaves with a wavy edge.

Beech leaves have a delicate and mild flavor that is perfect for a salad. You can eat them raw, just make sure you wash them first. If you fancy a bit of a tipple, then the leaves can also be used to make an alcoholic drink known as beech leaf noyau.

Moringa (Moringa oleifera)

Moringa (Moringa oleifera) edible leaves foraging

The moringa tree has a very unique appearance and what’s amazing about it is that almost all parts of it are edible. Moreover, it is bursting with nutrients, even more so than some superfoods like carrots.

You may have heard this tree being called the drumstick tree and it is very easy to pick out thanks to the large pods that hang from it. These can grow up to 12 inches in length and contain edible fruit. However, the leaves are also edible and are great in a salad, eaten raw. They have quite a nutty taste that many compare to that of rocket. While the leaves are great, many people harvest the seeds of the moringa tree to make oil.

The moringa tree is native to parts of Asia and India. However, it now grows in zones 10 to 12 in the United States and can be found in forests, hedges, and gardens.

Willow (Salix)

Willow (Salix) foraging

The willow is one of the most common trees in the world and grows almost everywhere apart from Australia. In the USA, you’ll find many species located in the Pacific Northwest which are commonly found in wetland areas and along beach fronts.

These trees usually blend in very well with the winter landscape but come spring, they burst forth with a bright display of yellow, green, and red leaves, so are easy to tell apart from other trees. What’s great is that this tree tends to bud far earlier than other spring trees, so is great for the keen forager.

The flavor of the willow leaves and bark is a little bitter, but they’re still edible. If you want to eat them, we would suggest cooking them and including them in dishes such as spaghetti.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) leaves foraging guide

The sassafras tree is one of the most aromatic on our list, so it comes as no surprise that it’s in high demand for foragers. Moreover, this is one of the most common trees in the United States and grows all over the northeast and central parts of the country.

You will get the best harvest when foraging these trees during the spring and summer months, but it is only the leaves that you will be able to eat. When looking for the sassafras tree, make sure to check old fields, urban parks, and wooded areas. If you are in any doubt, the citrusy scent of this tree is a key giveaway.

There are lots of ways that you can enjoy sassafras leaves but most commonly they go well in a salad. They’re also ideal for use as a thickener for things like soup. In Creole cooking, there are several dishes, including gumbo that cannot be considered complete without the addition of sassafras leaves.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Crataegus monogyna leaves foraging

The hawthorn tree is a very common target for foragers in the United Kingdom as this plant is native there and in other parts of Europe. However, it now grows in the US and is most well known for its little fruits known as haws. These are used for making things like jam, but not many people know that the leaves are also a great source of nutrition.

You will be able to tell the hawthorn apart as it has a more shrub-like appearance, and in spring, it has small white flowers. However, these flowers usually come out just after the young leaves are at their best, so make sure that you forage these before the end of April. Once the flowers come through in May, these can also be picked and used in salads and other dishes.

It’s important to be careful when collecting hawthorn leaves as the tree is very thorny. Once you have your crop, you can use the leaves in a salad, thanks to their rich and nutty taste. If you prefer, you can dry out the leaves and use them to make a wild tea.

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