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European beech, mostly called beech, is a character tree in Germany. Under natural conditions, much of the country would consist of mixed beech and oak forests. Since almost all parts of the tree have medicinal effects, medicines from the leaves, bark, seeds and wood of the plant were widely used in folk medicine and are still important for phytotherapy today.
Profile of the European beech
- Scientific name: Fagus silvatica
- Common names: Beech, beech, common beech
- Parts of plants used: Seeds, flowers, leaves, bark, wood
- application areas:
- to cough
- Gastrointestinal complaints
- Wound healing
- bacterial infections
- Skin inflammation
Ingredients - calcium, iron and zinc
The European beech contains polyphenols with proven antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-diabetic, neuroprotective, anti-fungal, sedative and anti-viral effects. The leaves have a high percentage of minerals and trace elements, including manganese, copper, zinc, calcium, iron, silicon dioxide and cobalt. There are also catechins, cis-coniferin, cis-syringin, saponins (mucilages), ginsenosides, derivatives and vitamins C and K. The dried bark contains three to four percent tannins (aids digestion), suberine and glucovanillin.
The leaves - vitamin C and saponins
The dried leaves contain vitamin C (0.26 percent in fresh leaves), flavonol glycosides of quercetin, kaempferol, isoquercetin and others, caffeic acid, leukocyanidin, triterpene saponins, amino acids, small peptides, waxes.
The fruits - fatty acids and proteins
The fruits (beechnuts) consist of seeds, cuticles and skin. They offer 26 percent reserve proteins, especially globulins and fatty oils. They contain up to 50 percent oil, including 90 percent unsaturated and ten percent saturated fatty acids. Beech trees also have sterols, phospholipids and organic acids. These acids include p-cumaric acid, ferulic acid, oxalic acid and amino acids. There are also peptides and waxes.
The wood - sugar and sterols
Beech wood contains fatty acids, sugar, sterols and phenolic compounds such as catechin and taxifolin, as well as polymeric catechins and polysaccharides.
Effects - gastrointestinal complaints and cough
Beech regulates the intestines and stomach acid, lowers fever, loosens the mucus in case of a severe cough and thus promotes expectoration, acts against pathogenic bacteria, relieves the pain of rheumatic diseases and accelerates the healing of external wounds.
Beech in naturopathy
European beech has been and is used in a variety of ways in naturopathy and folk medicine. Outdoor freaks know the simplest method as first aid when no doctor is within reach: They lay the fresh leaves on light external wounds, insect bites, swelling and inflammation of the skin.
Complementary medicine for pneumonia
Creosote refers to tar that is obtained from the distillate of the wood. It was used externally against skin diseases, internally against cough with stuck mucus, but especially to relieve the symptoms of pneumonia. The effect is balsamic and promotes expectoration. You cannot carry out a distillation at home without the appropriate equipment, and producing the tar yourself without extensive pharmaceutical training is also not sensible.
Ash from the wood or bark, mixed with water, makes a paste. This helps against eczema, ulcers on the skin, acne, light skin wounds and insect bites. This tar also served as a remedy for rheumatic complaints. Beech charcoal from the wood has an acid-preventing effect, absorbs the toxin in the gastrointestinal tract and has proven itself as a complementary medicine for gastrointestinal complaints.
Beech bark tea - against fever and worms
The bark produces a tea that promotes expectoration, relieving cough and lowering fever. It is a home remedy for flu infections such as bronchial diseases and also for internal parasite infestation, for example with worms. The bark has astringent and antipyretic effects, which are particularly effective in case of changeable fever.
Beech oil is made from the seeds and used in the food industry. Beech nuts are also common in the bakery and confectionery.
Beech against bacteria
Medicinal plants have come into focus in antibacterial treatment as more and more pathogenic bacteria develop resistance to conventional antibiotics. Ethanol extracts from dried beech leaves showed a clear bioactivity against gram-positive bacteria, especially against Staphylococcus epidermis.
Beech bark preparations such as beech leaves and beech wood are used in cosmetics to tighten the skin and counteract the aging of the skin.
Beech nuts contain hydrocyanic acid. However, this can only lead to problems if we consume them in large quantities. Then you may experience abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Beech wood dust is considered a cancer trigger because people who are chronically exposed to it are at increased risk of developing adenocarcinomas in the inner nose.
European beech - distribution
Beech is also suitable as a means of naturopathy because it is widespread in the temperate climate of Europe. Even more: with oak, it is the character tree of the mixed deciduous forests. Up until the early modern period, Germany consisted mainly of beech and oak forests, down to the mountains, marshes, marshes, etc. populated by coniferous forests.
By contrast, there are very few natural beech forests that resemble this state in Germany today, for example in Jasmund on the island of Rügen, in the Hainich National Park in Thuringia or in the Kassel region. In a large area, forestry planted rapidly growing conifers in monocultures, the wood of which can be "harvested" more quickly.
Beech in the ecosystem
Central Europe is the global center of the beech forest. They form the main vegetation here, while forests dominated by other trees only occur in special locations - for example, birch and alder trees in swamps and bogs, and fir and spruce trees in the high mountains. The red beech forests in Central Europe have shrunk by around 85 percent and now occupy only 7 percent of the original area as they did in Germany centuries ago.
It is controversial, however, whether this historical dominance of the beech was not already a consequence of human intervention. For example, some archaeozoologists argue that the post-glacial mega fauna of aurochs, bisons, wild horses (tarpans) and deer controlled the beech population. Beech trees are much more sensitive than oak trees and therefore suffer more from herbivore bites.
The original forest form after the ice age would then not have been a thick beech forest, but a light oak forest that was reminiscent of the park landscapes in the forests of the Middle Ages, into which pigs, cattle, goats and sheep were driven to pasture. Evidence of this thesis is that the European beech only determined the forests in Central Europe around 4000 years ago.
Although beech trees can still be seen in the forests of Central Europe, the proportion of unspoiled stands is less than five percent, and most of these primeval forests are in the Romanian Carpathians, where they are increasingly being cut down.
“Old beech forests” have been an official UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. In Germany there are only five areas with 4,391 hectares. These include the Müritz and Jasmund in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve in Brandenburg, the Kellerwald-Edersee in Hesse and the Hainich in Thuringia.
Special features of beech forests
The crowns of adult beech trees cast a strong shadow. This does not bother beech seedlings themselves, because they hardly need any light. They grow very quickly and are superior to other tree species if the location is suitable for the European beech. At favorable locations, this often leads to almost pure beech forests. Some near-natural mixed forests today were hat forests or coppice farms a century ago, and today's variety of tree species is a consequence of this use, since the forests were previously dominated by beech trees. Pedunculate oak such as sessile oak is found next to the European beech on acidic soils and ash on nutrient-rich soils.
The strong shadow cast by the beech crown favors shade plants on the ground and the lower tree floors. Holly and yew are particularly typical in Germany. Herbs include woodruff, woodbuckweed, goldness, wild garlic, yellow anemone, hare's lettuce, whorled white root or wood fescue.
Near-natural book forests in Germany only grow to 0.16 percent of the country's area. A natural beech forest is a hotspot of biodiversity. This biodiversity only comes about in the early stages of the forest. A beech tree is 250 to 300 years old, often even older: Old beech trees and dead wood provide natural caves for bats, sleepers, titmouse, nuthatches, owls, hollow pigeons and other cave breeders, the insects under the bark, in the dead wood and under the fallen leaves food bid in excess.
A total of 1,792 animal species are considered to be beech forest specialists, including the very rare Bechstein bat today - of around 10,000 animal species that live in beech forests. The European wildcat and the lynx are among the endangered mammals of such forests.
The pointer species for a near-natural beech forest is the middle woodpecker, which depends on old trees to chisel its cave and look for food. Character birds also include black, blood, mottled, white-backed, and lesser woodpecker, pied flycatcher, miniature flycatcher, wood warbler, brown owl, long-eared owl, black stork, hawk, sparrow hawk, tree falcon and woodcock. Blind reptiles and forest lizards can be found on reptiles, fire salamanders, amphibians, pond, crested and mountain newts as well as brown frogs and common toads, which populate the herb layer and dead wood. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
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