Forage Friday #84 Hornbeam

Hello Friends! Tonight’s Feature Image is titled “New Hornbeam Leaves 41620” and is available for purchase by clicking the thumbnail and reaching out to me on the contact page.

Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.

One of the most interesting trees on my mountain is the hornbeam on the edge of my yard. This mature tree has limbs that twist and bend in ways that give it a unique character. Not to mention that instead of growing up it’s growing out horizontally.

My Hornbeam growing sideways. When the leaves are off you can see how twisty the limbs are.

These trees go by several different names. Hornbeam, Hop Hornbeam, Blue Beech, Musclewood and Ironwood. Hornbeam is said to be a reference to the hardness of the wood. Horn of course implies the horns of an animal and Beam is the anglicized version of the German Baum ( as in Tannenbaum). Ironwood comes from the same idea. The wood is so hard that it was once used to make wagon wheels.

Detail of the muscle-like texture of the tree.

The fluted texture of the tree really does resemble ripped look of a professional body builder giving it the name Musclewood.

The dense wood has also been used for tool handles and walking sticks. Once the bark is peeled the wood looks like bone. In spite of the fact that it’s notoriously hard to work because of the hardness and density it is said to be good for making bowls and such because it resists cracking.

The wood itself doesn’t really have a taste so it’s not going to taint the flavor of food. I think that it would also make a good mortar and pestle set for grinding herbs. And it’s a good hot firewood. At one time it was used to make coke for the blacksmith’s forge.

Perhaps a limb like this is a Shillelagh in the making.

This particular tree is actually due to be pruned. Not shown in the photos is my work shed which is being raked by the limbs on windy days. It would be a sin to not try to make use of the trimmed wood.

Hornbeam is both a food and medicine tree. The catkins resemble hops however that’s where the similarly ends. Online forums all seem to agree that it’s useless for making beer. The true food value of Hornbeam is in the fruit. The “hop” when mature will contain several nutlets about the size of sunflower seeds that are freed simply by rubbing them between your hands until the papery husk falls away. The nut will still need to be shelled. My suggestion is to grind nuts into a flour to add to other flour but the nuts themselves can be eaten raw, roasted or boiled. They don’t really have a strong flavor which means they could be added to other dishes to kinda bulk up a meal.

The hornbeam in full green.

The inner bark was used by Native Americans as a soak for arthritis and as a rinse for toothache. This inner bark tea is said to be antibiotic and anti-inflammatory as well as astringent.

The leaves have heamostatic properties and have been used for minor cuts and bruises. A distillation of the leaves is said to be useful as a wash for tired eyes and conjunctivitis.

The hornbeam prefers most growing conditions and partial shade. The seeds tend to only travel short distances in the wind. So if you find a mature one then it’s likely that you’ll find a few seedlings close by. If you have the right growing conditions this is a small tree that looks like something out of a fairy tale. And, even if you’re not interested in forage it’s a great food for wildlife. In Fall mine is constantly visited by squirrels and songbirds collecting those seeds.

That’s it’s for this week’s Forage Friday post. Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.

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