During this post, we’re going to take a look at some trees that have edible leaves. Since trees can produce prolific amounts of leaves, there is a great opportunity to access a generous supply of greens, with relatively minimal effort when compared to cultivating annual greens and salad leaves.
Linden – Tilia spp.
Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees or bushes, native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. More commonly referred to as Linden or Lime, this tree is not to be confused with Citrus medica, the tree that produces actual lime fruits. Tilia cordata – Small Leaved Lime and Tilia platyphyllos – Large Leaved Lime are probably the most well known in Europe, although it can be difficult to differentiate between them sometimes as they tend to hybridise, resulting in Tilia vulgaris – Common Lime. Both trees and the hybridised form have edible leaves, in addition to producing a flower that is much valued as a herbal tea.
Overview: Lime or Linden tree is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 45m at a medium rate. This impressive height gives the tree a sense of stature and beauty, making it a good choice for the upper canopy of a forest garden or perfect a s a stand alone ornamental. It is often grown in parks. Beautiful flowers bloom for around 2 weeks between June – July, and for a few days fill the air with their rich scent. Seeds ripen in October. The species is hermaphrodite and is pollinated by Bees. It is noted for attracting wildlife and attracts aphids who deposit their honeydew droppings on the leaves in the summer (an extra treat for the forager!). Prefers moist soil and can tolerate strong winds.
Edibility: Listed on the PFAF website as 5/5. The heart shaped young leaves of the Linden tree are highly edible and are great in salads. They have a mild flavour which is considered better than lettuce, and serve well to bulk out salads. Flowers not only make a delicious tea, but have medicinal properties too, reportedly soothing anxiety and reducing fever. The sap of the Linden tree is sweet and can be made into a syrup.
Where and When to Harvest: The leaves are best when eaten young in May, but fortunately because of the tree’s suckering nature, young leaves can be found pretty much throughout the whole summer as the tree puts out new growth on the suckers at the base. Flowers should be harvested a day or 2 after opening when they are at their most potent. Can be spread out on brown paper to dry, ideally in a well ventilated and dark room.
Top Tip: Look for the young leaves that are shiny, as these have the best flavour and texture.
Hawthorn – Crataegus monogyna
C. monogyna is a widely known shrub or small tree belonging to the Rosaceae family. It’s showy, white flowers often bloom on May day, marking the height of springtime in a stunning way. Historically, Hawthorn has an established reputation of being highly effective in regulating blood pressure, and it’s an interesting plant to the forager and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, can be a wonderful addition to the edible forest garden.
Overview: Hawthorn is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 6m in height at a medium rate. The beautiful flowers have inspired artists for years, and they make an excellent hedging plant, providing valuable food for a variety of insects. Blooms in May an impressive display and the species is hermaphrodite with flies and midges being the main pollinators. Seeds ripen from October to November. Grows in a variety of soil types and can tolerate drought.
Where and When to Harvest: The leaves can only really be eaten when they are very young, around the end of April, when still make a perfectly acceptable spring green for salads. Flowers should be harvested freshly when they bloom in early May. The Hawberries can be harvested when fully ripe and ideally after the first frost. They taste a little like apples.
Morus alba – White Mulberry
Hardy Rubber Tree – Eucommia ulmoides
Although these plants have been used for centuries in the kitchen by some, as with any plants we consume, it’s worth doing your own research first. For example, there are some reports of toxicity with Lime flowers and Mulberry leaves, but many people report no issues at all. We have certainly been drinking Lime flower tea for decades with no adverse effects.
Other Woody Perennials with Edible Leaves
Here are a few more trees and shrubs with edible leaves