Oak is the word

Posted on March 11, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Trees |

I have to admit Oak was never one of my OMG herbs.  Setting aside the fact it’s a tree and not and herb, it just never resonated me for healing magic.   Other magic, oh my yes.  They are wonderful trees with a great spiritual power and resonance.  But as teas, tinctures, etc.  it was never on solidly on my radar.

Then once I found a special magic to it where it worked so much better than traditional herbs you might use that I grew fascinated.

Before we rush there how about the basics of Oak?

"Tell me more, tell me more..." (From the movie Grease)

“Tell me more, tell me more…” (From the movie Grease)

Oak (Quercus spp.) Family: Fagaceae (Beech)

The classic species used by herbalists are Q. rober (English)  – a mainstay of UK herbalism and Q. alba (White)  – a mainstay of US herbalism.   But frankly most of the common Oak species have similar medicinal properties.  Northern Red Oak (Q. rubra) is one of the most common around species around my area in Boston and is a pretty popular urban tree in the US in general.

A couple of ID tips:  Oaks are broadleaf trees with distinct lobes and sinuses which are alternately placed rather than side to side.  Leaves are longer than wide and asymmetrical (distinct from Maple for example which is symmetrical and shorter.)   Only Oaks have acorns.  Black/Red Oaks have pointed lobes while White Oaks have rounded ones.

Generally you use the bark (and preferably from young twigs) to make medicine – be it teas or tincture because that is where the main medicinal magical element tannins lay.  In fact the bark can be 15 – 20 % tannins!

Whenever you see tannins think astringent actions (like the action of really strong tea in your mouth), thus toning of tissues and fluid leakage.  Because  the primary action of Oaks is based around Tannins which the majority of Oaks have prominently, you can use Oaks reasonably interchangeably, but in the US you’re more like to find White Oak offered by herbal stores.

Because of that wonderful toning aspect you can use a decoction or tincture internally for diarrhea or  dysentery.  While externally you can use decoctions or tinctures for hemorrhoids (in salve form would be way easier and more pleasant) and wounds while using it as a mouthwash or gargle for  sore throats, nasal polyps and oral inflammation.    The Cherokee just chewed the bark for mouth sores, which works pretty well too, but will never be a taste sensation.

One caveat, since tannins interfere with the absorption of nutrients (one of their functions for plants is to impair the ability to absorb nutrients in the herbivores that attack them)  and can interfere with the actions of other herbs, please do use Oak internally by itself and for limited times (a few days.)

That’s the basics.  Nice, good and useful but there are plenty of plants you can use that way.

Here’s what caught my interest though….

Several herbalists I know swore that White Oak bark tincture is the best thing for Poison Ivy which I’ve read nowhere.  And being the type who loves to check things out, I made a bunch of tincture and gave out some bottles of it at a talk I did on tree medicine as well as giving them to some herby friends.   Then I got reports back that yes it worked really well.

I thought that’s interesting and kind of useful since a tincture is way easier to carry around than some of the other ways to deal with Poison Ivy.  And it makes sense it would work given the alcohol would help deal with the oils and while the tannins would help calm the rash reaction.

Then I decided to try it on a rash that I sometimes get in the depths of winter.  Last year when I got it the more traditional herbs worked okay but nothing spectacular (Aloe Vera worked the best) but it still took a week or so to get rid of it.  But with the Oak bark tincture I saw it decreasing in hours and was gone in a day or two.  Now that’s nifty and put Oak on my healing map.

In a pinch, given you might not have Oak bark about and tannins are part of the magic, a really strong black tea would help as well since it is high in tannins.  Either make a strong infusion or a poultice with it.   Hey remember tea is just as much herbal medicine as more mainstream “herbal” teas!

Keep in mind not all rashes are alike – some are irritant based (chemical or physical), some are infection/fungal and some come from more internal issues.  So try it first on a small area and see if it helps.

In other words don’t make any rash judgments…  😉

Sorry I  couldn’t resist.

Well, I could have resisted but I didn’t really want to okay?

So Oak and I now…well….:

We go together like
rama lama lama
ke ding a de dinga a dong
remembered for ever like
shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yipitty boom de boom

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4 Responses to “Oak is the word”

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Oak has a long, long history here in the UK – we learn at school about King Charles II hiding in an oak tree after he was defeated by the roundheads in battle. And it’s a hugely important tree for wildlife too. Really interesting to read that oak has medicinal uses as well.

Yup, Oak is an amazing tree both and in nature and historically. There’s a cool book about it called Oak: The Frame of Civilization


This is so cool. You make me want to go out into my woodsy backyard, identify all the stuff in it and figure out how to cool stuff like you do.

Aw, thanks BB! 🙂


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