Can you eat leaves?

In this brief article, we will address the query, “Can you eat leaves?” with a thorough analysis of the edible leaves and some deadly tree leaves.

Can you eat leaves?

Yes, you can eat leaves. Many types of leaves are edible such as beech, birch, linden, maple, pine, sassafras, and willow. 

Some leaves such as the leaves of salads are also tasty and healthy. These leaves are safe for humans and have no toxic agents. Mostly younger tree leaves are edible as compared to mature ones. 

Some leaves consist of high fibrous content, which is why the stomach does not digest them readily. On the other hand, some leaves have a high composition of mineral content which requires very little amount of energy for digestion.

Tree leaves are of several types and are plentiful all around the world. Humans always use leaves as a diet of animals and never think of them to make a part of their diet plan, however, a few leaves are safe to add to the diet chart of humans. 

The spread of novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and the COVID-19 disease it causes has had unprecedented impacts on all food markets, including the market for fruits and vegetables. By March 8, 2020, as quarantine measures began in only the most affected of the states in the United States, retail food sales were already up some 10.6% in total, and 4.5% in fresh produce (1).

Edible tree leaves

Usage of self-grown plants in human diet has been present since the early age of mans existence. That kind of practice has continued up to the modern age, especially in countries that have been struck by chronic hunger or periodical hunger cycles (2).

Here we have prepared a list of edible leaves that you can add to your diet and get the most health benefits. Sometimes, even bark along with the leaves is also considered a safe consumption for humans and also consists of healthy nutritional contents. 


Beech is considered an American tree, which is termed F. grandifolia. Natively, this tree was found in Eastern America. In growth parameters, these trees can range to 100 feet. These trees are different from other trees due to their deep green colour of leaves and also due to the bark being grey-tinged.

It is recorded that young leaves, fruit and internal bark were used for edible purposes in the region of the Balkan Peninsula. Flour was also obtainable from the bark of beech (2).

The young leaves of the beech tree can be consumed and also the nuts of the beech are edible.


The birch tree has thin leaves, the bark is white in colour, and the inner bark of birch trees is edible that can be crushed into powder. That can be consumed in raw form or also it can be an ingredient for different recipes such as stews and soups, in stews it is added at that time when it is prepared just like the fine noodles.

Urinary system diseases are treated primarily with birch in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Leaves, roots, and fruits of this plant are the basis for all sorts of teas (2).

The spring leaves of birch trees are also edible. These spring leaves are usually used as an ingredient in a cup of tea. It is most likely to be used in tea due to its analgesic properties. Angiosperm trees have analgesic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities (3).


Linden is one of the most common and most famous types of tree leaves. The linden tree leaves are featured due to their fissured bark. Young spring leaves of Linden are edible either in raw form or partially cooked. The flowers of linden trees are also termed as a good ingredient in making teas, decoction, syrups, tinctures, and etheric oils, following the rules prescribed by traditional recipes. 

Linden was used to treat respiratory diseases (2).


The sugar maple is A. Saccharum which consists of distinctive tree leaves which have three lobes and are slightly notched in shape. Maple tree leaves are mostly known due to their mouth-watering syrup. The young leaves and seeds of maple can also be consumed. 

However, studies show that there are some possible toxic compounds in the red maple leaves and their edibility is uncertain, although they have been consumed for ages. Although the majority of the toxic chemicals are not a major issue when using red maple leaf concentrate as a source of food, coumarin is of greater concern because it is considered a poison, although found in many plants which are used as food sources (4).


Conifers are important for wildlife and also have many uses for the survival of humans. The bark of pine is highly nutritious. The pine needles of conifers are edible. Pine needles are enriched with vitamin C and do not taste unpleasant. Needles of Abies, Picea, and Pinus spp. have protein content from 2.5 to 8.8 mg/100 g fresh weight. Arginine is a dominant amino acid in protein and the physiological fluids of conifer (5).

The way of eating pine is chewing them, extracting the juice, and then spitting them out despite eating the whole pine. Pine can also be used to prepare tea where all the nutritional content is extracted from the pine leaves. 

During winter apical parts are being used (short branch segments) of trees, including pines, in order to obtain vitaminous potions, which was the main food source for guerrilla fighters and the occupied population in the region of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2).


Tea of the sassafras leaves is also well-known. It has a fragmented taste which is distinctive. The taste of leaves is also delicious. Unlike some other species of leaves, the leaves of sassafras do not need to be cooked. So, these are best and ideal for salad. 

Hot water infusions (tea) prepared from the root bark of the sassafras tree have long been employed by the public as tonics as well as for a variety of unsubstantiated therapeutic purposes. However, safrole, the major constituent of the essential oil of this plant has been recognized as carcinogenic human use (6).


The bitterness of leaves is usually a bad sign that also prohibits us from eating leaves. But the leaves of willow trees are an exceptional case. The young leaves of willow are edible in desperate situations without the fear of any ill effects.

The aqueous extract and essential oil of willow are being used in confectionary and flavorful syrups. In Iranian traditional medicine, willow has been employed as laxative, cardioprotective, nervonic, sedative, hypnotic, somnolent, aphrodisiac, orexigenic, carminative, gastroprotectant, anthelmintic and vermifuge. The decoction of leaves or barks of willow have been used as an anthelmintic and vermifuge remedy. The decoction of willow’s leaves in honey still is used as a nervonic functional food. The decoction of leaves of willow plus sugar has been used among Iranian and Turkish people for maladies like depression, neuropathic pain and rheumatoid arthritis (7).

Some deadly trees to avoid

Trees are the most common thing in nature. They have a lot of benefits such as providing shelter, playing a defensive mechanism to survive. Many species of tree leaves are toxic to humans such as Manchineel, English yew, horse chestnut, pacific yew, and cherry trees (8,9). 

The fruits of these trees can be a commodity but the tree leaves consist of toxic agents. That can cause anxiety, headaches, dizziness, and vomiting.


In this brief article, we have addressed the query, “Can you eat leaves?” with a thorough analysis of the edible leaves and some deadly tree leaves.


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  2. Jman Redzic, Sule. Wild edible plants and their traditional use in the human nutrition in Bosnia‐Herzegovina. Ecol Food Nutr, 2006, 45, 189-232.  
  3. Kumar, Manoj, et al. Evaluation of nutritional, phytochemical, and mineral composition of selected medicinal plants for therapeutic uses from cold desert of Western Himalaya. Plants, 2021, 10, 1429.  
  4. Pearce, Joshua M., Maryam Khaksari, and David Denkenberger. Preliminary automated determination of edibility of alternative foods: Non-targeted screening for toxins in red maple leaf concentrate. Plants, 2019, 8, 110.
  5. Durzan, Don J. Arginine, scurvy and Cartier’s” tree of life”. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed, 2009, 5, 1-16.
  6. Segelman, Alvin B., et al. Sassafras and herb tea: potential health hazards. Jama, 1976, 236, 477-477.
  7. Karimi, Isaac, et al. Chemical composition and effect of an essential oil of Salix aegyptiaca L., Salicaceae,(musk willow) in hypercholesterolemic rabbit model. Rev Brasil Farmacog, 2011, 21, 407-414.
  8. Alsop, Judith A., and John F. Karlik. Poisonous plants. 2016.
  9. Kingsbury, John M. Common poisonous plants. 1994.