- Jordyn Schwersky -
Interest in herbalism has grown in the past few years as more and more people decide to take their health into their own hands. One of the reasons herbalism is so appealing is that you can find medicine right in your back yard. Some plants are more popular than others though, and I’ve seen people go out of their way to buy herbs that don’t grow in their area. That’s where trees come in. They offer medicine too! I think people see trees all over the place and forget that they’re also very potent healers, so I’m going to share one of my favorite trees that provides healing benefits: Grandfather Oak.
Oak trees grow all over the place, and you can use their bark, leaves, and acorns for medicine and food. Acorns from various species of white oaks are most commonly used for food because they’re the sweetest and least bitter, but most oaks provide the same medicine due to their high levels of tannins, which provide astringent, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Externally, oak bark is excellent at healing wounds and skin irritations quickly while keeping them clean during the healing process. You can apply it directly by making a compress with a tea or tincture of the bark, or you can infuse the bark into a salve so that you always have some on-hand.
Oak's tannins act much the same way on the inside of your body as they do on the outside, and it can be used internally to reduce bleeding and diarrhea. It is also a diuretic, which helps reduce fluid buildup by promoting urination. It is even helpful in treating urinary tract and vaginal infections. As a respiratory aid, oak helps you expel excess mucous in the respiratory system, which is especially important as we move from winter to spring and are getting rid of the last of those winter sicknesses. You can make a tea of the bark, but it can be a bit bitter depending on the oak you use. A tincture is an easier, and less icky-tasting, way to receive oak’s internal healing.
As for the acorns, if you want to use them to make flour or replace your coffee, you’ll need to take a few steps to prepare them. First you’ll want to place your acorns in a pot or bowl of cool water. Discard any floating ones; they’ve probably gone bad. Then place the remaining acorns in a colander and rinse them in cool water for a minute or two to get rid of any dirt or bugs that may be hanging around. Then set the acorns aside to dry, as they’re easier to crack that way. Once they’re dry, you need to shell them. This can be a pain. You might get away with using a nutcracker, but often a hammer is necessary. Acorns oxidize quickly, which doesn’t affect the taste, but, like an apple, the meat will turn brown. If you want to avoid this, shell your acorns into a pot of water. This is the most convenient way to do it anyway, because next you have to leach the tannins out of the acorns.
This step is very important because the tannins not only taste bitter but can also cause nausea and constipation. First, boil two pots of water, the one your shelled acorns are in and a second one. Boil the acorns until the water is the color of strong tea. Then strain the nuts through a colander, and drop the strained nuts into the second pot of boiling water. Discard the dark water from the first pot, then refill it and bring the water to a boil again. Repeat this process without interruption (do not let the acorns cool or rinse them with cold water) until the water boils clear. This may take an hour or more, depending on the variety of acorn.
Alternatively, you can soak the raw acorns in cold water to leach the tannins out. Put the acorns in a jar, fill it with water, and put it in the fridge. Change the water when it turns a darker color. This process may take several days or even weeks, depending on how long it takes for all the tannins to leach out of the acorn meat.
When your acorns are tannin-free, you need to dry them. You can stick them in a dehydrator, spread them out in the sun, or put them in the oven on a low setting (around 350 degrees) until they’re dry. After they dry it’s up to you what to do with them! Make them into flour for baking, incorporate them into trail mix, or just put a little salt on them and eat them as is.
This is a very basic overview of the great oak’s benefits, and I’ve only listed the physical ways it can heal you. If you’re looking for more spiritual tree healing and strength, take a look at any of the Twig Necklaces, Rings, Bracelets, and Earrings in the shop for a little tree medicine to take with you.