In Chippewa, wi’sugi’mitigo’mic meaning “bitter oak”, red oak is an edible and medicinal tree we’re lucky to have even if just admiring it’s deep red foliage in the autumn.
Carrying a piece of oak is said to bring good luck. And it’s a lucky tree to have around for many wild ones. It’s a long list: opossum (which nowadays wander into Haliburton county on occasion), eastern cottontail, snowshoe hare, eastern chipmunk, squirrels, beaver, white-footed mouse, red fox, black bear, raccoon, white-tailed deer, and moose. This list more than doubles when feathered wild ones are included. I’ll include as many as I know of in the tags.
Wild turkeys, which were reintroduced to Ontario in 1984, gobble up the acorns whole. Curious if they come back out the same.
Edible Uses of Red Oak
Red oak acorns are bitter, but soaking them in some water draws out the tannins. Or more effective, boiling them, dumping the brown water and boiling again, repeating until the water is clear.
For acorn coffee, roast the acorns at 350F for about 30m or until browned. Use 1/2 cup per 4 cups of water, boiling for 15 minutes. Strain and serve. And please let me know how this tastes because I have yet to try it or acorns in general. It’s on my shame list of common edible plants I haven’t tried, and I hope to get to it soon!
I also wonder what red acorns would be like candied, as the more bitter acorn? The problem is at most I’ve found three total acorns while hiking around here, not that I went for a climb or particularly tried to find more.
Acorns can also be dried and ground to use in place of flour, or in place of a fraction of the flour in most recipes.
Like many trees, the inner bark is a starvation food, but please don’t go around killing trees – and for nothing much. Red oaks are not superabundant in our area in the first place. Look for fallen branches if you want to use its bark.
For you fun guys – the red oak is host to shitake mushrooms.
Medicinal Uses of Red Oak
Red oak is primarily said to support these body systems:
Medicinal tags include Antiseptic and Astringent. See Medicinal tag key for more information.
Common usage includes a bark tea for external use on wounds or as a gargle, due to its astringent properties. There are herbaceous plants that are better for this and won’t hurt a tree in the process. (Stick around to learn about them all!)
Interestingly, there is a mold that grows on the acorns that’s an antibiotic. Acorn mush has been used to grow this mold for use on sores.
Alternative Uses of “Bitter Oak”
The bark can be used for tanning and dye. And the leaf gulls produce a black dye.
The wood is great for woodworking. Rubbing the oak wood with wet steel wool will highlight its beautiful grain.
Growing Native Oaks
If you don’t want to buy a tree, note that the acorns need a minimum of three months of sub 40F temperatures to germinate. And it needs to be an acorn that grew on the tree for two years and not one that prematurely dropped or was snatched. You can also easily find oak at nurseries. Our native oaks as per iNat are red, white and bur. A super tree for wildlife!
And the Usual Cautions:
1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.
2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.
3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.
4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.
5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.
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Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants