Lettuce, arugula, spinach, and many more salad leaves we have all heard of, if not eaten or liked. Yet, there are still many more tree leaves just waiting to be discovered and devoured. Yes, salad leaves aren’t the only edible tree leaves there are!
If you pay enough attention, you’ll realize how every natural thing contains hundreds of benefits. Those who venture into forestry and foraging are continually surprised at the many (often, unfolding) benefits of trees through their fruits and vegetables, leaves, sap, and even barks.
The research on edible tree leaves, their distinctness and taste, is still more incomplete than not. We really need people interested in the subject to research more on edible leaves, where they come from, each leaf’s unique texture and taste, and the many medicinal and other purposes they can fulfil.
Nevertheless, this will prove to be a good start. Without further ado, here’s a look at the trees which produce edible leaves.
Are Tree Leaves Edible?
It’s funny how many trees are around, but we just take them for granted. But for whatever reason, they capture our our attention & we have to wonder, “Can you eat tree leaves?”
Well, the answer is yes! Some anyhow. There are indeed trees with edible leaves, providing us with a unique opportunity to discover a whole new dimension of what we can bring into our kitchens.
I have to start by saying that not all leaves can be eaten, so don’t just start picking off leaves without knowing EXACTLY what you have on hand & if it is actually safe to eat. Knowing the species is important to avoid any potential health risks from eating toxic foliage!
Did you know that mulberry tree leaves have a vibrant flavor? Or that citrus notes are found in lemon tree leaves? Some trees even boast leaves that possess medicinal properties, further adding to their appeal.
So, which trees have edible leaves? Let’s dive into specific species of trees with edible leaves.
Popularly known as North American or American Beech, this species of tree grows abundantly in North America and some parts of Canada. American beeches are famous for their shade-providing large trunks and widespread branches. They grow slowly throughout Fall and change colors from glossy dark-green to orangish-yellow.
Traditionally, beech trees helped locals identify fertile land for foraging. These trees provide beechnut, but not many know that their leaves are also edible.
The leaves should be harvested when still immature and can be cooked separately or in combination with other salad leaves. Leaves that have grown to maturity can be a little hard in texture, and therefore, difficult to cook.
American Linden, belonging to the Tilia genus, is another species of tree that grows abundantly in North America and provides edible leaves throughout spring, summer, and fall.
The leaves of linden are almost always in a perfect heart-shape, green and glossy. They contain a mucilaginous texture.
Rich in antioxidants and vitamins, these leaves have been used in various culinary traditions and herbal remedies throughout history.
From brewing linden tea to incorporating the leaves into salads or soups, individuals have long appreciated the nutritional benefits and delicate flavor profile that the consumption of linden tree leaves can provide.
Linden leaves are very commonly used as a substitute for lettuce in salads and other dishes because of their similar tastes.
Read more: Edible Tree Saps
Sassafras tree leaves are difficult NOT to recognize! They are not only visually appealing, but sassafras tree leaves are edible, too!
They have a trident shape in the form of a leaf & are common in the eastern portion of North America in particular. They also have a distinct scent as they contain essential oils.
Sassafras leaves can be eaten dried to use in teas for example or cooked in soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Their twigs contain a mucilaginous agent and are delicious when eaten raw.
It is important to note that sassafras leaves should be consumed in moderation, as they contain a compound called safrole, which can be harmful you eat too much.
You might have heard about the willow tree in poems and other literature, often used to symbolize withering and weeping. However, the willow tree lives and thrives long, and provides us many benefits.
Willow tree leaves, often long and thin, can be eaten raw or cooked. They contain a great amount of vitamin C and are therefore, more bitter than most other tree leaves when eaten raw. In any case, willow leaves provide great nutritional value and are considered an important survival food.
Talk about jack of all trades! Mulberry trees are most famous for providing sweet and juicy fruits and berries AND it contains tender and juicy edible tree leaves you can eat, as well.
They also provide a sweet load of protein.
Mulberry tree leaves are most delicious and tender when young. Harvest it during spring and enjoy the leaves in salads, soups, and pies. When harvested at maturity, the leaves can lose their delicious taste and may even become toxic to consume.
Rose of Sharon
This has got it all: beauty, taste, and nutrition! Rose of Sharon leaves contain vitamin C and other antioxidants to provide you your much needed nutrients.
Rose of Sharon leaves can be harvested when young, used in salad dressings, as well as cooked in other dishes. Their leaves can be consumed when older too, just that the flavor may become a little strong. Older leaves may be combined with other salad leaves.
What can edible tree leaves be used for?
Leaves as Food
The most basic purpose of any edible tree part is to consume it as food. This can be done in various ways. Particularly for leaves, it can be consumed in many ways:
- With the tough parts removed, raw is possible
- Cooked into soups, pies, or gravies
- Dried and garnished in salads and other dishes
- Infused in tea, especially the leaves and inner bark of Sassafras, with its unique aroma and taste
The leaves may be used separately or in a combination of two or more different types of leaves. Some people also like to cook the leaves in a dish of itself, savoring all the nutrition it has to provide.
Most of these leaves contain a good amount of protein, vitamin A and C, and antioxidants.
As a rule of thumb, remember that tree leaves increase in flavor as they grow.
To enjoy the delicious and mild flavor of the leaves, it is best to harvest them when they are still young and tender. Otherwise, the texture is much less pleasant, and you’ll need to pull the leaf parts off of the sticks & twigs that will are not pleasant to eat!
Did you know that there is edible tree sap (beyond maple)?
Leaves as Medicines
Traditionally, natives of lands used their natural resources to fight illnesses and heal wounds. Most of these resources came from trees and shrubs.
Many tree leaves mentioned here contain a mucilaginous agent, which is a sticky and gelatinous substance that is used to soothe wounds and cuts.
Apart from that, the leaves with the soothing agent can be eaten raw to help quicken the process of healing.
The abundance of vitamin C in tree leaves helps protect against scurvy and other illnesses. Protein is an efficient source of energy which helps build muscles and fasten the recovery process.
The most obvious use of these edible leaves is that these are survival food items that help sustain the people who venture into foraging and forestry.
Read more: Edible Tree Saps
Leaves as Skincare Items
Having natural items in your diet not only helps build immunity and protect oneself against illnesses, but it also helps to keep oneself looking refreshed and clean!
Edible tree leaves can be consumed and/or applied on the face or arms for smooth and refreshing skin.
Leaves that are not necessarily edible can still be applied to face, arms, and legs to smoothen and freshen them. One of the most famous leaves in this aspect is the aloe vera. Aloe vera leaves contain a sticky gel within its large leaves and is used in various skincare products.
The aloe vera gel can separately be applied to face as well as hair to provide protein and moisture to face and hair. It helps liven the face and silken the hair. It is used in various treatments and facials as well.
Leaves aren’t the only thing edibles on trees. Some have edible tree sap, and I’m not just talking maple!