Monthly Columns,  Spells & Rituals

Notes from the Apothecary

Notes from the Apothecary: The Beech Tree


The common beech, or Fagus sylvatica, is a majestically large deciduous tree, native to North America and Europe, and a vital part of the ecosystem thanks to being home and food to many forms of wildlife. There are other beech species, all in the Fagus genus, with some native to Asia, including Fagus japonica, the Japanese blue beech, and Fagus engleriana, the Engler or Chinese beech.

In the U.K. where I live, we often see “Copper Beeches”, which have distinct, purple-bronze leaves and look like they’re straight out of a fantasy tale. Interestingly, this isn’t a different species, but a carefully cultivated form of the common tree. There are several at one of our local parks, many with intricately twisted trunks showing age and a battle against the elements – and, probably, the local squirrels!


The Kitchen Garden

Beech wood has a very particular use in the kitchen: it’s a popular choice for smoking foods to give them a subtle yet unique flavour. People often choose beech wood for smoking because it has a milder, less harsh flavour than hickory or oak, more comparable to apple or maple wood. Lots of retailers sell small chips of wood to use in a smoker, or you can simply place food over or near a safe, outdoor fire built from beech wood to get a similar effect.

We’ve tried smoking cheese, fruit, nuts, small pieces of meat, and they all benefit from the flavour – it’s somewhere between salty and nutty and always reminds me of camping in the outdoors with friends.

Always make sure you absolutely know what type of wood you’re burning, whether for fuel or for smoking, as some woods can create toxic fumes or spoil your food. Beech wood is used for yeast production and flavours for some beers – including Budweiser – and for smoking a particular type of German ham called Westphalian ham.


The Apothecary

The beech tree has a long history of medicinal use, all across the world. Beech bark has been of some scientific interest as recently as 2019, with studies showing antioxidant, antifungal, and antibacterial properties to name just a few.

Back Flower Remedies are homeopathic treatments that use plants and flowers to alleviate a range of conditions from a holistic viewpoint. Their viewpoint is that beech addresses problems caused by a rigidity of beliefs, encouraging sympathy or empathy, tolerance, and reducing judgemental behaviour. Apparently Dr Bach stated that beech is ideal for those that “…feel the need to see more good and beauty in all that surrounds them.”

As with all complementary remedies, don’t take without consulting your doctor or other medical professional!


The Witch’s Kitchen

According to the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, beeches are linked to places of power such as Cerne Abbas or Avebury. Of course, beeches are fairly common in England, so make of that what you will. Beeches may have always been seen as providers or trees of protection, thanks to their nutritious beech nuts – often fodder for farm animals and not recommended for extensive human consumption – and the wood they provide.

Many people associate beech with knowledge and wisdom, perhaps due to the pervasive belief that thin slices of beech or even pieces of beech bark were used to create rudimentary books and writing tablets. There is little freely available evidence to back this up, but we have made our own family practice of writing messages or prayers onto tree bark from logs, then throwing them into the fire pit to send those messages out into the universe. Some people also connect the word “Book” to “B?k”, a Norse or Proto-German word for beech, however there are also links to older words for chestnut, oak, and even buckwheat, so this is far from conclusive. Some sources seem to confuse beech lore with birch lore, so look out for this conflation as the two types of tree are very different indeed.

Beech wood is very practical, and can be associated with skills, crafts, learning, and improving yourself or teaching another. A beech charm could boost your confidence as a mentor or learner.

As beech is considered a food source in times of great need, you can also link it to resilience, perseverance, and determination. The energy of the beech can give you the drive to get through a tough situation, and a beech tree in your meditation or journeying could indicate that something is coming to help you with a difficult problem.

Divining rods are sometimes made of beech. Divining rods are two separate pieces of wood or a single forked branch used to find water, minerals, or even energy points such as ley lines. Modern diviners may use metal rods instead of the traditional wood.

Beech has many different meanings in a range of oracles, cards, and other modern esoteric sources. A common one is that beech is a tree associated with thresholds, perhaps because it is so tall at its full height that it breaches the liminal boundaries between earth and sky.


Home and Hearth


Create a protection charm with beech nuts and a small pouch. Create the pouch yourself, if you can, out of scrap fabric. If you can’t do this, simply repurpose a pouch or small packet. Find some beech nuts. They fall in copious amounts from the trees in early autumn in most climates, and are easy to distinguish thanks to their slightly spiky outers. Collect several nuts and at least one spiky outer shell.

Find a quiet space, make it safe and tranquil to your own specification. I like to light a candle, maybe some incense, and put some gentle music on. Add a beech nut to your pouch, saying, “May I have the food and drink I need.” Add another, saying, “May I have the shelter I need.” Add another, saying, “May I grow in the ways I need to.” Add the spiky shell, saying, “May I call upon the beech for protection.” You can also add in your own affirmations or protective statements. You could also personalize this charm with fragranced herbs or oils, or a particular affirmation written on a small piece of paper.

Seal your pouch, either with a drawstring cord that you knot, or stitch it up. Keep it on your person or at the boundary to your home, for example, hung over a door.

This is a charm of my own creation, based on Western beech lore and my own interpretations of the tree’s correspondences.


I Never Knew…

Beech trees can reach over 100 feet in height!


**Images copyright-free

Photo 1 by taichi nakamura on Unsplash

Photo 2 by Dominicus Johannes Bergsma and made available under this creative commons license.



About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist and content creator. She’s a nature-based witch, obsessed with Irish and British Paganism and Folklore, plus she’s a massive plant nerd. She’s also a long-time Hekate devotee and a newbie Lokean. She works extensively with the UK Pagan Federation, including editing their bi-annual children’s magazine. Mabh is a passionate environmentalist and an advocate for inclusiveness and positive social transformation.

Mabh is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors,  Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways, and most recently, Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Planet Friendly Living. Search “Mabh Savage” on Spotify and @Mabherick on all socials.