Botanical members of the Fagaceae family
Often, on herb walks, people are surprised to discover beech and oak trees are related. Both the beech and oak are botanical members of the Fagaceae family. The scientific name Fagaceae means beech family.
Whenever I add a new medicinal plant profile to the blog I include the botanical family and scientific name. That way readers can easily identify other plants within the same family.
The plant scientific name generally includes two names, the Genus and the Species. Medicinally it is important you have the correct Genus and often, species. That being said, for some plants similar Species are used medicinally interchangeably. Others not. For example if we look at the lime flower or linden blossom tree medicinal use of three different Tilia species is interchangeable.
However, today we discuss some of the Fagaceae or beech family.
Fagaceae botanical features
Members of this family
- Are trees or shrubs and either deciduous or evergreen.
- They have single nuts attached to scaly or spiny caps.
- Leaves are simple, alternate and often toothed or lobed.
Fagaceae medicinal properties
Members of this family
- Contain varying amounts of tannic acid – astringent and diuretic.
Genus and Species
The following are some of the more common examples of botanical members of the Fagaceae family with Genus and species scientific names provided. Common names included within brackets.
- Fagus sylvatica (European beech)
- Castanea sativa (sweet chestnut)
- Quercus robur (pedunculate or common or European oak or English oak)
- Quercus petraea (sessile oak)
In addition, botanical features and medicinal properties break down further within the Genus and sometimes species too. You can see from the examples below the similarities and the differences between each medicinally.
Genus – Fagus
Medicinally utilised historically. However, beech is now generally out of favour. Branches or bark of 2-3 year old branches were utilised. A decoction was brewed as an astringent and disinfectant mouthwash and gargle. Some older sources suggest use as a quinine substitute.
Beech nuts, or masts, contain high saponins and an alkaloid called fagin. Therefore, in quantity, they can make you feel unwell although pigs seem to thrive on them. Horses are particularly susceptible to beech nuts.
Beech nuts are becoming quite popular in wild foraging courses. Remember not to eat in quantity and perhaps avoid if you are prone to an upset stomach.
Genus – Castanaea
Leaves, bark and the nuts of the sweet chestnut can be utilised. Leaves are expectorant and sedative. Historical use of leaves for coughs particularly whopping cough. In addition also for dandruff. The bark is antidiarrhoeal and febrifuge. Therefore, traditionally utilised for dysentery.
As we know chestnuts are nutritious eating. Another popular find on a wild foraging course. Traditionally decocted for mild diarrhoea.
Genus – Quercus
Oaks and alcohol…
Finally the oaks. There are lots of different oaks within Europe. As a result of my living in one of the largest wine regions in Europe a mention of oak in the wine making industry is pertinent.
Wine makers prefer sessile oak (Q. petraea) for casks. While the peduculate (Q. robur) is preferable for cognac. However, the sherry makers choose the Portuguese oak (Q. pyrenaica) for their casks.
Finally, last but not least, one needs a cork for that wine bottle, not a nasty screw top, and that is from the cork oak (Q. suber).
Pedunculate and sessile are the native oak trees in the UK. The medicinal uses of these two species are interchangeable. The dried inner bark and dried leaves are medicinal. Medicinal use, as with most of the Fagaceae family, is predominately externally.
Traditionally used topically for haemorrhoids in an ointment, or in a lotion for cuts and abrasions. Also used as a douche for leucorrhoea or a gargle for tonsillitis and chronic sore throat. The gargle use similar to the beech above.
Internally both oaks were used, like sweet chestnut, for dysentery. In addition, Maud Grieve recommended as a quinine substitute, again a similarity with beech.
The above gives an indication into the benefits of learning a little about a botanical plant family. Furthermore, in the above example, you can clearly see some similarities within the botanical members of the Fagaceae family. In conclusion, medicinally, this is largely due to the astringency (tannins) generally toning and beneficial for conditions ranging from sore throats to diarrhoea.