Forage Friday #33 Oaks

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “White Oak In Crimson” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Oak is a wild edible plant that I have not actually ever gotten around to trying with one I’ll fated exception that’s covered in the article. All of the information about it’s food and medicine value comes from years of reading and listening to other people who have shared their knowledge with me. As always, I only intend to give you an interesting conversation starter and recommend that you do further research before trying any wild edible plants.

The young warrior moved cautiously between the boles in the early days of Fall. He hadn’t really perceived any danger but stealth had become a way of life. It wasn’t for him enough to remain unseen and unheard but instead he had to be a ghost. That meant that he had to move without leaving any signs of his passing. As he crept along the deer path he placed a hand on the corky bark and gently rubbed off the powdery dust from the ridges. The twigs ended in crown-like clusters of buds and the few leaves that were still on the tree had rounded lobes without any burs at the tip of lobes. He gently raked back the leaf litter to find the nuts. Many of them have already sprouted but he also saw that the woody caps covered more than half of the shell. These were white oak acorns and that was why he braved entering a forbidden grove. From under his tunic he produced a coarsely woven bag and began to gather the nuts. Before he gathered the second handful he felt knobby end of a staff touch his shoulder with just enough force to get his attention. He dropped the bag and rose to his feet to see his master’s grinning face. The game was a training exercise. If the young warrior had been able to gather the bag of acorns without being caught it would have meant that he’d mastered the art of stealthily crossing enemy territory. But today’s failure meant that he’d have to scrub out the cooking pots again after the acorns had been made into the morning meal.

Anyone familiar with myths and legends of Northern Europe knows that the oak was a significant tree. It’s said that the title of “Druid” means “he who knows the oaks” and while I’m not certain of how accurate that is I do know that the oak is important to every culture that has access to them.

Today the oak is mostly known for it’s wood. It’s generally considered to be among the strongest lumbers. In my opinion the red oak has the most beautiful grain in the wood but is actually slightly less rot resistant than the white oak. That’s because the white oak has a tendency to be found in wetter conditions than the red oak and so the vessels hat transport water throughout the tree tend to be smaller and tighter to lock out fungus.

White Oak was also preferred for bending. The classic examples are bent wood furniture and tools like hay forks. White Oak wood is heated until it gets limber like a noodle and then it’s placed in a form until it cools down and holds the desired shape.

Oak bark is the source of cork. There’s entire plantations of cork oak. The outer bark is stripped away and processed into flooring, bulletin boards and if course wine corks. The stripping doesn’t harm the tree. It’s akin to getting a haircut and the bark regeneration sequesters carbon dioxide.

The inner bark has been used by herbalists for washing wounds and poison ivy rash. One of my guide books suggests that a strong tea made from oak bark us used as a mouthwash to treat bleeding gums. The medicine comes from the tannins in the bark. Now I’m of the opinion that an oak based mouthwash is the act of a desperate person. And here’s why. When I first started reading up on foraging for food and medicine I read that acorns were edible. And I love nuts. Plus, I live in a forest that’s full of oak. So one day I found some beautiful acorns. They big too! So I pulled out my pliers and cracked the nut open and popped the nut meat into my mouth. Not only was that nut astringent but it was bitter and that awful taste was in my mouth for hours. Even after a lot of coffee, vanilla extract, and even hot chillies! But I had all of the experts rave about acorns. What I had missed was the leeching process. All of the bad flavor was from the tannins but, those tannins are water soluble. Removing the tannins would have been as easy as soaking the nuts in water for several days until the water no longer changes color. A strong solution of the tannins can be used to tan leathers but that’s something that we’ll cover some other time. The other method to remove the tannins is to simply tie them up in a porous sack and toss it into moving water for a few days. A modern method is to use a food processor to chop the nuts into a fine powder ( after shelling) and place the powder in a nylon stocking before leeching out the tannins. Because this increases for the water to act on it makes for less time leeching.

Main thing acorns are used for today is acorn bread. There’s plenty of recipes online but basically you’re substituting the acorn flour for wheat flour and some people mix the two.

Tonight’s feature image is a white oak. Don’t let the color of Fall leaf fool you. That’s not genetic it’s a result of the wavelength of light. Red oak can have a yellow leaf and vice versa. But red oak leaves are usually more pointed in the lobe and they tend to have a little needle-like bur at the tip.

Even though this article went a little longer than normal I’m certain that I’ve overlooked some little bit of information or trivia so I do encourage you to take a look online if you think you want to try acorns.

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