Trees With Leaves You Can Eat
When we think about getting our greens, our thoughts turn mainly to the ground, towards low growing small plants such as cabbages and lettuces. However, what if we looked up instead? There are many amazing trees that offer edible leaves with high nutritional value.
Whether you are foraging, designing a garden, or simply very hungry, in this list we’ll look at a few trees with leaves that you can eat.
1. Chinese Mahogany (Toona Sinensis)
Toona sinensis (also called Cedrela sinensis in some regions) is a deciduous tree native to Asia. Toona sinensis is a remarkable looking tree, capable of reaching up to 60ft tall in the right conditions. This tree has amazing ornamental value, with beautiful tropical looking foliage and an upright habit.
The new growth of Toona sinensis is a gorgeous golden red colour. This colouration lets you know that the leaves are primed for eating. There is also the popular cultivar Toona sinensis ‘Flamingo’, which shows off spectacular, vivid pink new growth in spring time.
These new shoots are not just flamboyant, but they are also edible! The leaves can be prepared and eaten and have a taste similar to onions. Indeed, just standing near the tree at certain times of the year, the leaves often emit an aroma that is similar to onions.
The young shoots from Toona sinensis are full of nutrients, and are a rich source of fibre and carbohydrates. They are also a source of the important antioxidant Quercetin. 
Toona sinensis is a hardy tree, capable of surviving temperatures as low as –15°C, but it requires long hot summers for proper growth. In warm regions with plenty of summer sunlight, this can be a very fast growing tree. It can survive in cooler regions, but it will be relatively slow growing and susceptible to frosts.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest disadvantage with growing Toona sinensis is that the new growth can be entirely decimated by a late spring frost. As the new growth is the part we are after for the edible leaves, this is a big issue.
If you are growing Toona sinensis in a region that is prone to late spring frosts (such as the UK) then be sure to plant the tree in a sheltered spot that receives a lot of sunlight, and wrap up new growth to protect it if a frost is expected.
Depending on your region, Toona sinensis can be an amazing source of edible leaves, and provides fantastic ornamental value in a garden as well. One of my favourites!
2. Mulberry (Morus spp.)
Well known for it’s use in Mulberry tea, there are many different species of Mulberry. Morus alba is a commonly grown species around the world. Morus alba was originally native to China, but has been introduced and naturalised in many parts of the world including the United States, India, and Argentina.
Mulberry leaves have been used for hundreds of years to cultivate silk worms, which feed on the leaves. Morus alba was introduced to the United States by settlers wanting to create a silk trade. 
Whilst the silk trade never developed as those settlers had hoped, the tree has adapted wonderfully to it’s new home, where it now grows wild.
The fact that this tree has been able to survive and thrive in so many different regions has earned it fame for it’s edible berries, and tea made from the dried leaves. But can you eat Mulberry leaves? Yes! Morus alba makes a great source of edible leaves for humans and silkworm alike.
The leaves can be washed and then eaten raw, which can make a nice addition to a salad.
Mulberry leaves have been used in ancient Chinese medicine as a herbal remedy for many different ailments. In light of this tradition, modern studies have been conducted on the health benefits of Mulberry leaves.
All in all, trees from the Morus genus are a great option for foraging, as they provide both edible leaves and fruit. A strong grower and capable of thriving even in poor soils, mulberry is a real winner when it comes to trees that give back!
Hardiness: –30°c (Morus alba)
3. Drumstick Tree (Moringa oleifera)
Moringa is a genus of fast growing trees of which there are many species. These include Moringa drouhardii which is native to Madagascar, Moringa stenopetala which is native to Kenya and Ethiopia, and most notably Moringa oleifera of the Indian subcontinent. Being native to warm regions of the planet, Moringa does not tolerate temperatures below freezing. 
If you happen to live in a region where Moringa grows, then you have a fantastic option for a tree with edible leaves that are healthy and can be eaten raw as a salad. The leaves can simply be picked off the tree, washed, and then eaten. Moringa grows very quickly, making it a welcome beneficial food source for foragers and locals.
The edible leaves of Moringa oleifera provide protein, carbohydrates, and fibre. Like a natural multivitamin, the leaves of Moringa oleifera are packed full of micronutrients, including vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E, Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, and Potassium. 
One study states that when compared gram-per-gram, “M. oleifera provides more than seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, 10 times the vitamin A found in carrots, 17 times the calcium found in milk, nine times the protein found in yogurt, 15 times the potassium found in bananas and 25 times the iron found in spinach.” 
Moringa leaves also contain small amounts of many amino acids, including Tyrosine, Arginine, Glycine, and Cystine to name but a few.
Moringa leaves also provide medicinal value. Moringa leaves were found to “possess antitumor, antipyretic, antiepileptic, anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, antispasmodic, diuretic, antihypertensive, cholesterol lowering, antioxidant, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, antibacterial and antifungal activities.” 
As if all this wasn’t enough good news, extracts from Moringa oleifera leaves, bark, and seeds have even been studied for potential anti-cancer activity, with promising results! 
“Our findings add to the growing evidence supporting the promising role of Moringa oleifera as an anti-cancer agent.” “Moringa oleifera extracts may represent a valuable therapeutic tool for use as part of a therapy for the treatment of aggressive breast and colorectal carcinoma.”Al-Asmari AK, Albalawi SM, Athar MT, Khan AQ, Al-Shahrani H, Islam M. – Moringa oleifera as an Anti-Cancer Agent against Breast and Colorectal Cancer Cell Lines.
About 74% of the known anti-cancer medicines are derived from various plant species , so it is exciting to see how research on Moringa develops in the cancer research field in the future.
“Alright, what’s the catch?” I hear you say. Are there any downsides to eating Moringa? Unfortunately, there are a few risks associated with Moringa consumption. 
Firstly, as Moringa appears to quite efficient in reducing blood sugar, eating Moringa leaves may interfere with diabetes medications and cause a too low blood sugar level.
2. A similar effect is noted with blood pressure. As Moringa lowers blood pressure, it is not advised to consume Moringa whilst on medications that lower blood pressure.
3. Moringa Leaves also aid thyroid function, and so should be avoided by individuals taking thyroid medication.
4. Finally and perhaps most importantly, Moringa in some cases can present an anti-fertility effect, and so women who are pregnant or seeking to get pregnant should avoid Moringa consumption.
Moringa is an amazing tree with so many positive aspects to it. Beautiful foliage, wonderful flowers, medicinal value, and nutrient packed edible leaves. Moringa is well worthy of a place in your garden or foraging plans if your climate allows.
Hardiness: -1°c (Moringa oleifera)
4. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn is a ubiquitous species that is native to the Europe and the United Kingdom. It can be found as a large shrub and sometimes as a small tree.
Hawthorn provides immense support for wildlife species, and the berries (haws) it produces are a favourite for many birds. It is said by the RSPB that Hawthorn provides food for more than 150 insect species. 
What is less well known is that it also provides some nutritional value for humans too with it’s edible leaves. Many parts of the Hawthorn plant including the leaves, flowers, and berries are a source of antioxidants,  as well as vitamins B and C. 
In spring, the new growth can be eaten raw in salads, and has a subtle nutty taste to it. The taste of fresh Hawthorn leaves is not particularly strong but is considered by many to be pleasant. It is best to collect the new leaves before the colours change.
Interestingly, Hawthorn has a colloquial name of the ‘Bread and Cheese’ tree. An explanation for this name details the concept of creating a sandwich by eating the berries inbetween the leaves. This metaphor makes sense with the leaves as the ‘bread’ and the berries (haws) as the ‘cheese’ together, and seems the most likely explanation for the name in my opinion, especially as this tradition still occurs in some areas. 
Hawthorn Berries Contain One Seed Per Berry Hence The Latin Name Mono (Single) Gyna (Seed). It is important to note that Hawthorn is a member of the Rosaceae genus. The seeds of this genus are famous for being a source of small amounts of cyanide, a toxic compound. Oh no!
This is true for all of the seeds of the genus, including apple seeds. The seeds of Rosaceae contain a compound called amygdalin, which is essentially a cyanide molecule that is bonded with benzaldehyde and a sugar. The action of crushing or chewing mixes the amygdalin with another enzyme in the seeds called oxynitrilase. This enzyme allows for the conversion of amygdalin in to hydrogen cyanide. Moderate or large doses of crushed Rosaceae seeds can therefore be a genuine health concern.
With this in mind, if you plan on consuming Hawthorn berries, it is recommended you take out the seeds from the fruit and discard them. Although many traditions seem to have eaten the berries with the seeds in them, it’s best practice to not take the risk.
The rest of the berry is thought to have a very low toxicity profile, so by discarding the seeds, it will make them much safer to consume. One edible use of the berries is that they can be used to make jellies and jams. Thanks to their high pectin content, the berries perform brilliantly for both.
5. Birch (Betula spp.)
Birches are well known amongst foragers for their many amazing properties. Indeed, birch has been used in traditional medicine since ancient times. The Birch genus has many different species, including White Birch (Betula papyrifera), Silver Birch (Betula pendula), and Black Birch (Betula lenta). Whilst these species all have their differences, they share many commonalities. Birches are deciduous, and are often distinguishable by their bark.
In spring, the new shoots of these trees provide edible leaves that can be cooked, eaten raw, or used as a garnish. The leaves can also be used for brewing a tea, which has many medicinal properties. Birch leaves from Betula pendula were found to have “high antioxidant potential” in a 2018 study. 
Not content with that, it’s not just edible leaves that the these trees offer. Birch catkins are also edible, although are quite bitter in taste. The sap is also edible, and can be boiled to make syrup. Additionally, the inner bark (cambium layer) of birch trees is edible, but must be cooked or boiled before consumption.
Compounds from birch trees has also been found to have “immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant, antidiabetic, dermatological, gastroprotective and hepatoprotective effects.”  That’s a pretty impressive profile!
Some people can suffer from allergic reactions to birch. People with birch allergies can be allergic to various parts of the tree, including the bark, pollen, and also the leaves. It is therefore important to make sure you can safely tolerate contact with Birch trees before you decide to use them either for food, tea, or medicine.
Birch offers edible leaves, sap, and catkins, so is a great option for foragers.
Hardiness: -37°c (Betula pendula)
6. Beech (Fagus spp.)
Beech trees have a long history of being used by foragers for the edible leaves and bark. The latin name for beech trees actually provide this information if you know how to translate it properly.
Fagus grandifolia translates to ‘edible large leaves’. ‘Fagus’ comes from the Greek verb ‘Fagito’, which means ‘to eat’. ‘Grandifolia’ translates in to English as ‘large leaves’. Similar information is hidden in the name of the European beech, Fagus sylvatica, which translates in to ‘edible of the woods.’
This naming convention lets us know that beech leaves have been consumed for many hundreds of years across multiple cultures.
Being deciduous, the edible leaves of beech trees can be foraged from spring until autumn. As with many tree leaves, beech leaves are best foraged when they are young and soft as they have a better texture when eaten. Older leaves tend to be tough and chewy, but are still edible nonetheless.
Flavour wise, beech leaves have subtle spicy, nutty taste, and can work well in a mixed salad. Beech leaves can also work well in soups, as a garnish, or even as a lettuce replacement in sandwiches. Winter beech leaves can even be used to brew a tea!
Beech leaves also have a history of use in traditional medicine. Trees from the Fagus genus have been used medicinally for years for its anti-inflammatory properties. Native Americans traditionally chewed on the leaves of beech trees to relieve headaches and swelling.
It’s not just edible leaves that beech has to offer. The bark of beech trees could also provide medicinal potential. Extracts from Fagus sylvatica bark received praise for being “promising sources of natural antioxidants, antimicrobian agents, and α-glucosidase inhibitors. 
The beech nuts from Fagus grandifolia can also be eaten, and have a sweet flavour. However, be aware that these nuts contain small amounts of a slightly toxic chemical called fagin. This compound is found mainly in the kernel skin of the nuts. For this reason, eating beech nuts raw is not recommended.
Thankfully, when roasting beech nuts, the skin can easily be removed, and the roasting process helps to neutralize the toxicity. Fagin is a type of saponin, and saponins are destroyed and denatured by prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Three to Five minutes of roasting will give you a delicious and sweet snack.
The nuts of Fagus sylvatica can also be eaten this way, but the kernel skin contains higher levels of fagin than their American equivalent,  so be careful not to consume too much at once.
Before you rush out to eat some beech leaves or nuts, there are some important considerations to make to see if it is right for you.
It is extremely important that you do not ingest beech leaves, bark, or beechnuts if you are pregnant. Beech has been used as an abortifacient (abortion) agent in the past, and thus provides a genuine danger of miscarriage if consumed whilst pregnant. Mothers who are breastfeeding may also want to avoid beech consumption as the effects of the compounds on babies has not been fully researched.
Furthermore, the flavour in beech leaves comes from tannins contained within them. If you have kidney problems or are susceptible to kidney issues, it is not advised that you consume beech leaves in any form.
In an article about trees with edible leaves, it is hard to look past a genus of tree named after that exact principle. Fagus is a great genus of tree to get familiar with for those interested in foraging.
Hardiness: -34°C (Fagus grandifolia)
7. Agathi (Sesbania grandiflora)
Agathi, also called ‘Vegetable Hummingbird’ in the West, is a slender, narrow, deciduous tree of the legume family (Fabaceae). It grows very rapidly to a maximum height of around 40ft tall, but is relatively short lived, with an average life span of around 20 years.
Agathi is native to Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Mauritius, and parts of Northern Australia. It is cultivated in Southern India and Sri Lanka and has been used in traditional cooking in these regions for many years. It also grows maybe a little too well in Florida and the Pacific Islands, where it was introduced and has been deemed potentially invasive. 
You may be thinking that a tree with the name ‘Vegetable Hummingbird’ must a pretty good source of food, and you’d be right! This tree offers edible leaves, flowers, and beans.
Agathi leaves can be eaten raw, being a good option for salads. The leaves also make a fantastic addition to meals and stews when cooked. The leaves can be prepared in a variety of ways, and are great boiled, and are often blanched. as can be seen in this video from Village Life. The leaves are also used traditionally in soups.
The leaves are highly nutritious, with 100g of leaves providing 8.4g of protein, 1.4g of fat, 80mg of phosphorus, 4mg of Iron, 1130mg of Calcium, and 93kcal of energy.  The leaves are also rich in vitamin C, zinc, plant sterols, quercetin, myricetin, and kaempferol. 
The leaves provide good antioxidant potential. A study in 2014 showed that Agathi leaf proteins “exhibited a strong concentration-dependent inhibition against deoxyribose oxidation and DNA damage.” The study came to the exciting conclusion that Agathi leaf protein is nontoxic in nature, being an interesting source of antioxidants, whilst also showing action as an antimicrobial agent. 
Agathi has dramatic and unusual curved flowers, and these flowers are the reason that one of the nicknames given to this tree is ‘Baby Boots’. Thankfully, these flowers are much more edible than any boot, and make a pleasant delicacy eaten either raw or cooked. The central part of the flowers is considered bitter, and is often removed before consumption.
To complete the potential banquet, the long, narrow seed pods of the tree are also edible. The young seedpods are preferred, and they can be prepared and eaten much in the same way as string beans.
Be aware that the seeds contain a non-protein amino acid compound called ‘Canavanine‘, which is toxic to fish and many herbivores.  Canavanine is structurally similar to the semi-essential amino acid ‘L-arginine’, and cells are fooled by this similarity into using Canavanine during protein synthesis.  The presence of Canavanine makes the seeds unsuitable as a fodder crop for livestock such as chickens.
Canavanine consumption in humans is controversial and still being studied for safety, and Agathi’s legume family member Alfalfa has come under the spotlight for this same reason.
A study using rats found that the bioavailability of Canavanine in humans was around just 43% when consumed orally, and that the compound was “rapidly cleared from the serum of the animal.”  With that being said, it’s probably best to not consume high amounts of Agathi seeds, as this could overwhelm the body’s ability to process the molecule, which could lead to adverse health effects. People with liver issues should avoid eating the seeds for this reason.
It would be unfair on this amazing tree to focus too much on one controversial compound in the seeds. Agathi also provides a very high amount of compounds that are very beneficial for human health, and many of these chemicals are found in the leaves. Sesbania grandiflora has been used for hundreds of years in traditional medicine across multiple countries since ancient times.  The leaves offer a gentle way of getting digestive and urinary systems moving, and they have been used for their aperient and diuretic effects. Agathi leaves also offer antibiotic properties, antitumor activity, and exhibit a cytoprotective effect. 
Modern research is starting to uncover this tree’s therapeutic potential. A remarkable study has even shown that Agathi can help the brain recover from ‘cigarette induced brain damage’ in rats. 
“The results of our study suggest that S. grandiflora restores the brain from cigarette smoke induced oxidative damage. S. grandiflora could have rendered protection to the brain by stabilizing their cell membranes and prevented the protein oxidation, probably through its free radical scavenging and anti-peroxidative effect.”Ramesh T, Sureka C, Bhuvana S, Begum VH. – Brain Oxidative Damage Restored by Sesbania Grandiflora In Cigarette Smoke-Exposed Rats 
As if all this wasn’t enough, Agathi also offers practical uses such as making a great option for hedging and living fences, as the rapid growth rate allows a quick establishment. Like many members of the Fabaceae family, Agathi has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that allows it to fix nitrogen. This means that it can bring atmospheric oxygen in to the soil in which it is growing, providing benefits to growth for itself and any plants nearby.
Depending on your region, this Agathi will either be very easy or very difficult to grow. It requires a warm climate and a position with full, prolonged daily sun exposure. Frosts are also out of the question, and it is not able to survive freezing temperatures. Even prolonged periods of temperatures of under 10°c have the potential to damage or even kill the tree.
Due to it’s slender nature, Agathi also doesn’t like exposed, windy conditions, which can easily damage the branches. Nematodes can also be a source of frustration with this plant, and Agathi seems very susceptible to nematode attacks and damage.
If you do manage to get Sesbania Grandiflora growing well in your area, you will be rewarded with beautiful edible leaves, and exotic and dramatic looking edible flowers. Be aware that if provided with it’s ideal growing conditions, Agathi self seeds very easily, and so can proliferate quite quickly. This can be an issue in some areas, so be sure to set up plans to control the tree if you seek to grow it outside of it’s native habitat.
8. Linden (Tilia spp.)
Lindens are a member of the genus Tilia, which is often referred to as the ‘Lime’ family in the United Kingdom. Confusingly, this is a totally distinct genus of trees from Lime trees that provide the famous green fruit, which are members of the citrus family. It is thought that the reason for this shared name is a linguistic corruption of the term ‘Lind’ to ‘Lime’ that occurred long ago. 
Americans will have much less trouble naming these trees, as the famous name Linden prevails in the United States and much of the world. For the sake of clarity, let’s refer to these trees as Lindens here.
Now that’s out of the way, we are happy to announce that Linden trees make our list as they too, have edible leaves! Linden leaves can be eaten raw as a salad leaf, and has a pleasant nutty taste. Fresh linden leaves can make a good leafy green for a sandwich.
Linden contains a variety of welcome bioactive compounds including vitamin C, the antioxidant quercetin, and the flavanoid tiliroside. Tiliroside from Tilia americana was used in a study to explore if it could produce anti-depressant effects in mice. 
As is the case with many of the trees on this list, the new shoots of the Linden tree are best, as these will provide the best taste and texture.
However, don’t let this discourage you if you are out of season. Even in the summer, the leaves are still great to eat. If you are foraging mature Tilia leaves in the late summer or autumn, you might find the leaf texture to be a bit too chewy. Nonetheless, they are still safe and fine to eat even at that stage.
Furthermore, through the use of a practice called coppicing, new growth can be encouraged to appear on the tree later in season, allowing you to access Tilia leaves at their best all year round.
Tilia species are very easy to grow, and may even grow wild in your area. Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllosis, and the cross between the two Tilia × europaea are all native to much of Europe and the United Kingdom. In other parts of the world, Tilia americana is native to the North East of the United States, whilst Tilia amurensis is native to East Asia.
Here in south eastern England, we can find Tilia cordata growing in the wild. I will go on record here by saying Tilia cordata is perhaps one of my favourite latin names in all of taxonomy. Tilia cordata. Truly wonderful to say. Til-ee-a cor-dah-ta. Fantastic. It probably even sounds great being said with a mouthful of it’s leaves, though I admit I am yet to try doing that.
Linden leaves have a great taste, a high nutritional content, and the trees are easy to grow on any reasonable soil. These factors combined mean that linden trees a great source of edible leaves. With the right coppicing, you can get a good yield of tasty edible leaves for many months.
Hardiness: -34°c (Tilia Cordata)
If you are planning a garden, or are out foraging, be sure to keep an eye out on these species. Many of the species listed here can be easily grown, and depending on your region, they may grow naturally in your area already.
If you are out foraging for some edible leaves, make sure you are not on someones’ private land, as they may not be best impressed seeing a human eating their trees! Many landowners agree to allow foraging if you get in contact with them beforehand, or offer them a portion of your finds.
It’s also a good idea to start with a small portion when trying new food source that you haven’t eaten before. This is to be safe, and to minimise any potential allergic reaction. Similarly, make sure you have correctly identified the species before consuming. It’s always a good idea to be sure of what you are eating!
Although some of the leaves on display here have reported medicinal properties, it is always advised that you speak to your healthcare professional to discuss if it would be right for you. Using plants medicinally should always be done under the care of a clinician, and not as a result of self-diagnosis.
Finally, make sure you always wash any leaves well with clean water before consuming!
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn about even more plants with edible leaves, you may want to click here to view our article about shrubs with edible leaves.
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