Can Humans Eat Tree Leaves?s can eat the leaves of certain tree species, but it’s important to approach this with caution. Not all tree leaves are edible, and some can be toxic or harmful if ingested.

Edible Tree Leaves

There are hundreds of tree species with edible leaves, with over a hundred cultivated specifically for this purpose. Some common edible tree leaves include:

  • Mulberry
  • Linden
  • Moringa
  • Nopal cactus
  • Baobab
  • Ceiba

These leaves are generally safe to consume raw or cooked and can be incorporated into salads, soups, stews, and other dishes. They are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Toxic Tree Leaves

While some tree leaves are edible, others are toxic and can cause a range of adverse reactions, including:

  • Skin irritation
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Neurological problems
  • Organ damage
  • Death

It’s crucial to be able to identify edible and toxic tree leaves to avoid potential health risks. If you’re unsure about a particular tree leaf, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid eating it.

Factors to Consider

When considering eating tree leaves, several factors should be taken into account:

  • Tree species: Identify the tree species to determine if its leaves are edible.
  • Leaf age: Younger leaves are generally more tender and palatable than older leaves.
  • Environmental conditions: Avoid leaves from trees growing in polluted areas or treated with pesticides.
  • Quantity: Consuming large quantities of tree leaves may cause digestive issues.
  • Individual sensitivities: Some individuals may have allergic reactions or sensitivities to certain tree leaves.

While some tree leaves are edible and offer nutritional benefits, it’s essential to approach this topic with caution. Not all tree leaves are safe to consume, and it’s crucial to be able to identify edible and toxic species. If you’re unsure about a particular tree leaf, it’s best to avoid eating it. By following these guidelines, you can safely enjoy the nutritional benefits of edible tree leaves while minimizing potential risks.

How to Eat Tree Leaves

Different foragers categorize tree leaves and needles according to their level of edibleness. Some can be used medicinally; for example, tea made from pine needles Since pine needles are difficult to eat, we wouldn’t classify them as a source of leafy greens. Although some leaves, like those of spring hackberry and beech trees, can be eaten, they aren’t particularly tasty. It does not follow that a tree’s edible leaves should always be consumed raw or that they can be consumed at any time of year. Not all tree leaves are edible. As always, before attempting to eat a leaf, make sure you correctly identify it and that it is edible. Lastly, before consuming the leaves, make sure to inspect them for insects. I was happy that I examined the inside of a particularly fascinating sassafras leaf before consuming it!

A spicebush swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio troilus) on a sassafras leaf.

The three tree leaves that, in my opinion, are the tastiest in eastern North America are listed below. One is best harvested in the spring, and the other two are edible all year round.

  • American Basswood
  • Edible parts: leaves, flowers, fruits Location: North America (east of the Rocky Mountains), Europe (known as the linden tree) Time to harvest: spring, summer, fall Uses: in a salad, eaten raw USDA nutrition information: nonexistent Josh Wayne demonstrating how to forage American basswood leaves. While we know very little about the diet of eastern indigenous peoples of the Americas, the only known indigenous group to consume these leaves was the Ojibwa. They used the tree both to eat the fresh growing leaves in the spring and to make household items like shoes, mats, baskets, and even going so far as to use the fibers to suture wounds.[2] But the part that most astounds me about this tree is the delicious leaves. While they are likely the tastiest when just appearing in the spring, they can be eaten at any point without any bitterness or off-putting flavor. Please use your judgment and be sure to look behind the leaf for any insects. Also, avoid old leaves that look sick or that might have been sprayed with any chemicals. American basswood leaves are probably my favorite to eat because of how great they taste raw and because they can be enjoyed year-round. They can be used on a salad in place of lettuce, making them a great source of delicious raw, leafy greens. While they can be cooked, they tend to lose their flavor when heated up. They have a slightly mucilaginous consistency. If you don’t forage for plants, you might not know the word “mucilage” or the texture associated with it, unless you’ve eaten okra. That slimy, gooey, and soothing texture is only slightly present in American basswood leaves, without being overwhelming. I would describe basswood leaves as about one-tenth as mucilaginous as sassafras leaves (discussed below). For this reason, I find it is much easier to eat a cup of basswood leaves as compared to eating a cup of sassafras leaves. Each has its perks, as I will explore below, but as a point of comparison, cruciferous vegetables and most of the vegetables we buy in stores have very low levels of mucilaginous consistency. The leaves and flowers of the basswood tree are edible and also used dried in teas.

  • Sassafras
  • Edible parts: leaves Location: native to Central and Eastern North America Time to harvest: spring, summer, fall Uses: in a salad eaten raw, dehydrated for soup thickener USDA nutrition information: nonexistent You might know sassafras as the plant responsible for great-tasting root beer. If you are familiar with creole cooking, you know that you can’t make Creole gumbo filé without the sassafras leaf.[3] This delicious, sweet, mucilaginous plant has a scandalous history full of reductionist science and misleading claims. You may hear that sassafras root contains a cancer-causing agent known as safrole,[4] but should we be afraid of safrole when simply consuming the leaves or the occasional root tea? Probably not. In their report on carcinogens, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that, “safrole may be ingested in edible spices, including sassafras, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, star anise, ginger, black and white pepper, and from chewing betel quid; all of these substances contain naturally occurring safrole at low levels.”[4] We should note that of the above spices, only sassafras is native to the United States, and all others are imported and taxed, bringing in revenue and controlling the supply of this compound. Safrole levels are not detectable in the leaves themselves, but rather in the bark and the root. The issue arises when we isolate safrole and strip away the rest of the plant and feed that compound to an animal on a regular basis against its will.[4] Indeed, rats showed increased liver cancer with safrole exposure. The methods of the study must be read to see if it applies to humans consuming leaves and the occasional root tea. Support the Community Grants Program According to the study methods, “Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) was also observed in mice of both sexes administered safrole by stomach tube from 7 to 28 days of age, followed by dietary exposure for up to 82 weeks, and in infant male mice administered safrole by subcutaneous injection.” Does this finding generalize to humans who might eat a few leaves or make tea once in a while? Doubtful. According to the NIH, “No epidemiological studies were identified that evaluated the relationship between human cancer and exposure specifically to safrole.” This is similar to the idea that white button mushrooms contain a carcinogen so we shouldn’t eat them raw. If this is truly an area of concern, we should see an increased risk for cancer among mushroom consumers and an increased risk of liver cancer among sassafras consumers. But, just as we do not see increased cancer rates in those consuming button mushrooms,[5] we do not see increased liver cancer rates in those living in Appalachia who have consumed this plant — both leaves and roots — for much of their lives and for generations.[4] So why the confusion? The real reason safrole has been targeted is that it can be used in the synthesis of the drug known as MDMA, or ecstasy. Because of this use, it is not legal to sell highly processed sassafras oil, in the event that it may be used as a dangerous and illegal drug.[6] You also cannot sell sassafras bark or tea unless the safrole has first been removed and discarded.[7] For this reason, true root beer can no longer be made from sassafras root. Deepen your knowledge with our Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate. My recommendation, for now, is to stick with the leaves because you can legally harvest them. It doesn’t require digging up the plant and killing it, and you can add dried leaves to soups like gumbo filé to be used as a thickener. You can also purchase sassafras root with the safrole removed. The leaves do not contain safrole[8], and there is no evidence to suggest that consuming sassafras leaves on a daily basis will lead to any ill effects, though. On the contrary, they taste delicious and have been one of my favorite leaves to consume due to their great flavor.

  • Mulberry
  • Edible parts: leaves Location: east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States (red mulberry); South Asia, Europe, Southern Africa, South America (white mulberry) Time to harvest: spring, summer, fall Uses: in a salad eaten raw, dehydrated for soup thickener USDA nutrition information: only for mulberries Young mulberry leaf ready to be picked. Finally, we can get back to some less controversial plants! The mulberry tree has an interesting history in the United States. There is a native mulberry called a red mulberry, or Morus rubra. This mulberry tree might not produce the most fruit compared with the Asian varieties, but it does produce larger fruit and very large leaves. These leaves are edible when picked in the spring and cooked, and they can be used to make tea from dehydrated and chopped leaves. Many people spend a decent amount of money on mulberry leaf tea, when chances are the tree is growing right in their own backyard! Of course the berries are absolutely delicious, but those recipes are for another article! The large leaves of native red mulberry and dark coloring from the vibrant and delicious berries. If the berries are on the trees, focus on the berries. The white mulberry and Asian mulberry varieties were introduced to North America in an attempt to bring silk farming to the United States. Silk farming failed, but the Asian mulberries remained and have interbred with the native trees, forming dense fruiting mulberry trees. The leaves of all mulberries can be consumed when properly prepared. I’ve eaten them raw, but they don’t taste nearly as good as the other two leaves mentioned in this article. Fresh mulberry leaves can be cooked and consumed in a salad, or they can be dehydrated and used for teas or soups. You can also use them to make dolmas instead of grape leaves. One of the best perks to knowing how to identify a mulberry tree is getting to enjoy the mulberries that come in late spring and early summer. White and purple mulberry variety in Atlanta, Georgia. While the paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera, is a different genus altogether, it can also be prepared similarly to red or white mulberry leaves, by cooking young leaves or drying and powdering. Firefly on a paper mulberry tree. As always when foraging, be sure to identify the plant or mushroom in question before eating it. If you don’t know how to come to a sound identification, read my article 5 Steps to Start Foraging. There are great tips in the article that will point you in the right direction to get you started on your foraging journey.


    1. “Giraffe.” San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Animals and Plants,
    2. Deane. “Basswood Tree, Linden, Lime Tree. Eat the weeds and stuff too, May 6, 2019, www. eattheweeds. com/basswood-tree-linden-lime-tree/.
    3. Vogt, Justin (2009-12-29). “Gumbo: The Mysterious History”. The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-09-01.
    4. Act, Clean Air, and Clean Water Act. “Report on Carcinogens. ” https://ntp. niehs. nih. gov/ntp/roc/content/profiles/safrole. pdf.
    5. Michael Greger M. D. FACLM. “Is It Safe to Eat Raw Mushrooms?” NutritionFacts. org, 14 July 2021, https://nutritionfacts. org/video/is-it-safe-to-eat-raw-mushrooms/.
    6. US Department of Justice. “Advisories to the Public. NOTICE: The Illegal Production of MDMA Involves the Use of Safrole and Sassafras Oil, www. deadiversion. usdoj. gov/chem_prog/advisories/safrole. htm.
    7. US Food and Drug Administration. “CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. ” Accessdata. fda. gov, www. accessdata. fda. gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch. cfm?fr=189. 180.
    8. Carlson, M; Thompson, Rd (Sep 1997). “Liquid chromatographic assay of safrole in herbal products derived from sassafras” (Free complete text) Journal of AOAC International. 80 (5): 1023–8. ISSN 1060-3271. PMID 9325580.

Man has been eating branches and leaves for 25 years | New York Post


Can you eat leaves and grass to survive?

Not really. The problem is that grass and leaves contain few nutrients we can digest.

Can you cook with tree leaves?

Bamboo and lotus leaves are used in Chinese cooking, but mostly for steaming things in. Same with pandan but it can also be flavorings for sweets. I used to have a fig tree and would wrap the fig leaves around protein to grill or bake. You can also steep them in cream to add to desserts.

Can you survive in a forest eating leaves?

At the RIGHT time of the year, and in the RIGHT forest, you could survive for quite some time, maybe even several months, if you mean “leaves” to include other parts of some plants such as roots, shoots, and seeds. But you couldn’t survive long term.

Can you eat tree leaves?

To be sure you are not eating anything dangerous, put the leaf to a rigorous in-person poison test before consuming them. While you can eat tree leaves, there isn’t a lot of energy that humans can extract from them due to the inability to break down the sugars, specifically cellulose, that leaves contain.

Can you eat curry leaves fresh from the tree?

Specialists won’t recommend you eat curry leaves fresh from the tree. Leaves fresh will function as fiber in our body which could be painful for the bowels.

What happens if you eat tree leaves?

Another issue with eating tree leaves is that our digestive system is not capable of breaking down the various starch and fibers. Animals like cattle and deer have enzymes and multiple stomachs to help them break it all down.

Should we eat more from trees?

Trees provide shelter, they grow deep roots and provide food for many different types of animals. They can live for hundreds of years and oftentimes we don’t need to tend to them. Eating more from trees might just be the most sustainable thing we can do, and it could give us nutrition we have been sorely lacking.

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