Oak, Plant of the week #3
Oak, a tree most of us are familiar with, comprises around 600 species worldwide with about 60 native to North America. Very large, tall trees known
by the genus Quercus (which surprisingly means "oak tree" in Latin).
Long held sacred by many cultures including the Druids and Norse, oak is viewed as a symbol of strength and longevity.
During the reign of the Anglo Saxon kings in England, the wanton desecration or destruction of oak trees was illegal - the penalty being decided by
how large and productive the tree was. This was because hogs were let loose in the forests to forage for acorns during late fall and winter, a
practice continued to this day in parts of Appalachia.
Oak was valued for building as well as for making ships, barrels and furniture.
In Boston harbor sits the USS Constitution, known as Old Ironsides for the ability of her oaken hull to repel British cannon shot, helping us retain
our independence from Britain during the war of 1812.
Native Americans also depended upon oak as a staple of their diets - although chestnuts were preferred, acorns dried and ground into flour were used
extensively throughout North America.
It is also used as medicine by making a tea of the inner bark which was used for: dysentery, mucous discharge, bleeding, hemorrhoids, poison ivy rash,
burns and skin disorders.
Scientific studies have shown that extracts are: antiviral, antiseptic, anti-cancer AND carcinogenic.
Oak bark and acorns contain a chemical compound called Tannins, which is potentially toxic.
It imparts a bitter taste to acorns which can be remedied by a simple process I'll discuss shortly.
Tannins are also used in - tanning. Soaking hides in tannins softens the fibers and allows for easier removal of hair.
Red Oak on left, White Oak or right.
Oaks come in 2 basic types - White oaks and Red or Black oaks.
The nuts of the white oak are sweeter and contain less tannins, some are even quite edible raw, white oak, chestnut oak and pin oak being the best
White oaks produce nuts every year while Red oaks produce them every other year.
How To tell them apart:
White oaks have leaves with rounded lobes and the inside of the acorn shell is hairless.
Red oaks have leaves with sharply pointed tips and the inside of the acorn shell has hairs.
Inedible acorns - from left: hole showing acorn weevil damage / rotted acorn / sprouting acorn
Edible acorns - color should be white to yellowish-brown, immature green acorns can be eaten as well. Do not eat any part of an acorn that is colored
black, red or purple.
To process acorns remove the shells and dry the nuts, then grind them, put them in boiling water and continue to change the water until it no longer
turns reddish brown. IF changing water be sure to bring water to a boil before moving as placing them in cold water tends to "fix" the tannins in
Alternatively, you can chop the dried acorns, put them in a cloth bag and allow to soak for a few days in a running stream.
Once dried again, acorn flour can be used alone or to extend flour supplies. I recommend the latter as it a bit strong for most tastes.
As medicine I have used a wash of the inner bark for poison ivy and it did help dry up the blisters. I would only use it internally for extreme
emergencies. As a gargle it could be helpful with abcessed teeth, painful sores or sore throats. Again, do not ingest! Tannins are potentially
Oak is a superior firewood, producing great amounts of heat and long burning coals.
I would NOT recommend oak for making friction fire sets however, it is very difficult to carve and unlikely to produce a coal with a bow drill.
In the fall, hunters of deer, squirrel and turkey know that these animals and many more will consume massive amounts of acorns to put fat on for
winter. Quietly waiting in a stand of productive white oaks is a good bet for fall and stand hunting.
Oak: food, fuel, medicine, building materials and magic.
What more could one ask of a tree?
edit on 4/11/2011 by 12m8keall2c because: fixed image links
edit on 11-4-2011 by Asktheanimals because: added