In days gone by the earth was covered in forests, and in the majority of European forests were Oak trees, which provided an abundant source of food for humans & animals. The acorns which abundantly litter the ground are a perfectly balanced packages of nutrients including carbohydrates, proteins, omega 3, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, niacin and vitamin E.
Oaks don’t produce consistently, but due to the high tannins in the acorns, they can be stored for many years, providing a reliable source of food in times of need. The acorns once properly processed can be ground to make flour. In a good year one tree can produce 50,000 acorns, however Oak trees don’t start producing well until they’re about 45 years old!
Humans stopped consuming acorns when we started growing grains, and tree nuts became the food of the poor & starving. If we really get to the point of not being able to import fancy processed grains from offshore, we’re lucky that Oak trees have adapted to environments across the globe, and can provide nutrient rich food for many.
The bark of the oak tree is used medicinally for its rich tannins and astringent properties. In folk remedies the bark was boiled and then applied to inflamed gums, wounds & eczema.
Oak trees symbolise power & strength. Many traditions incorporate the charms and powers of the oak, including carrying an acorn in your pocket everyday to live a long life, & putting acorns on your windowsill to protect from lightening strikes. Apparently this saying derives from the Norse God Thor who sheltered under an oak tree from a storm. Oaks were among the most important and revered trees of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Slavs and Teutonic tribes and were associated with their supreme gods with oak being sacred to Zeus, Jupiter, Dagda, Perun and Thor. Druids would also gather in Oak groves and the word Druid may derive from a Celtic word meaning “knower of the oak tree”. Unfortunately at one point Christians ordered many huge oak trees to be chopped down due to these pagan associations.
In days gone by lovers would place 2 acorns in a bowl of water. If the acorns drifted together, it meant their relationship would be strong, if they drifted apart, the relationship would be frought with difficulty.
Oaks were used to determine the weather, in England the opening of the leaves each year signified how the season would go. An old english folk ryhme quotes:
If the oak is out before the ash, there will surely be a splash; if the ash is out before the oak, there will surely be a soak.
I’ve fallen in love with the tannin rich leaves of Oaks for natural dyeing. They make excellent prints, both on wool and also on cotton/linen/hemp with an iron mordant. The acorns and leaves can also be used to create tannin rich dyebaths. I have a bucket full of oak leaves & acorns which have been soaking for over a year now, which I top up every time I use some of the tannin rich dye.
And of course we all know what beautiful, durable, and strong furniture Oak can make.