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Oak trees – the many uses of oak in a survival situation (yes, it’s even edible).

Oak tree

Oak tree (Quercus species)

Oak trees have alternate leaves and edible acorn fruits. The leaves of the Oak may have serrated edges or may have smooth edges.  The flowers are catkins produced in the Spring season.  The fruit is a nut called an acorn.  It is held in a cup-like structure with each acorn containing a single seed.

There are two main groups of oaks: red and white. The red oak group has spirally arranged eaves with bristles and smooth bark in the upper part of the tree. Red oak acorns take 2 years to mature. The white oak group has spirally arranged leaves without bristles and a rough bark in the upper portion of the tree. White oak acorns mature in 1 year.

Below is a gallery of oak tree variants to assist with identification.

  • Chinkapin Oak
  • Chestnut oak
  • Scarlet oak
  • Swamp white oak
  • White oak
  • Bur oak
  • Black oak
  • Pin oak
  • Northern pin oak
  • Northern red oak

Where to Find Oak trees

Oak trees are found in many habitats throughout North America, Central America, and parts of Europe and Asia.

Edible Parts of oak trees

Scrub Oak (Quercus sinuata var. breviloba) leaves and acorns Texas

All parts are generally considered edible, but often contain large quantities of bitter substances and must be specially prepared to improve taste and remove mildly poisonous tannin. To avoid risk, only eat the acorns. White oak acorns usually have a better flavor than red oak acorns.

Gather and shell the acorns. Soak red oak acorns in water for 1 to 2 days to remove the bitter substance. You can speed up this process by putting wood ashes in the water in which you soak the acorns.

Boiling the acorns also removes the bitter tannin (the nut will have a sweet, mild taste).  Boil the acorns or grind them into flour and use the flour for baking. You can use acorns that you baked until very dark as a coffee substitute.

Note: Tannic acid gives the acorns their bitter taste. Eating an excessive number of acorns high in tannic acid can lead to kidney failure. Before eating acorns, leach out this chemical by soaking in water as described above.  You can also remove the tannin by crushing the acorns and sieving them by placing the shelled acorns in a filter material (e.g., cloth) and pouring water over them for five minutes.  A white creamy substance will leach out (this is tannin).  When the water becomes clear then all tannin has been removed.

Acorns are a dense food chock full of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

Other Uses for oak trees

Given its superb density, strength, and hardness, Oak wood is excellent for building or burning. Small oaks can be split and cut into long thin strips (3 to 6 millimeters [1/8 to 1/4 inch] thick and 1.2 centimeters [1/3 inch] wide) used to weave mats, baskets, or frameworks for packs, sleds, furniture, etc. Oak bark soaked in water produces a tanning solution used to preserve leather.

Oak tree identification picture gallery

Image Credits

Chinkapin Oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Chestnut oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Scarlet oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Swamp white oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
White oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Bur oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Black oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Pin oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Northern pin oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Northern red oak via Michigan State University with usage type - Creative Commons License
Oak tree leaves botanical drawing via Arbor Day with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Quercus rubra - Red Oak Autumn Leaf via Flickr by Daniel Arrhakis with usage type - Creative Commons License. October 18, 2016
Quercus coccinea - Scarlet Oak leaves via Flickr by Virens with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 26, 2009
Quercus robur oak tree leaves stem and acorn via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - GNU Free
Oak (Quercus) flowers via Wikimedia Commons by MargaretRDonald with usage type - Creative Commons License. April 6, 2018
Oak tree via Wikimedia Commons by Jürgen Eissink with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 3, 2019
Scrub Oak (Quercus sinuata var. breviloba) leaves and acorns Texas via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License
Oak tree forrest via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. May 15, 2013
Oak tree bark closeup via Wikimedia Commons by Rosa-Maria Rinkl with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 16, 2022
Oak tree flowers via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. April 24, 2021
Oak tree without leaves in winter via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. December 18, 2013
Oak tree in Servia via Wikimedia Commons by BrankaVV with usage type - Creative Commons License. September 1, 2022
Swamp white oak Plantae, Angiospermophyta, Fagales, Fagaceae via Wikimedia Commons by James St. John with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 5, 2008
Oak tree bark United Kingdom via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. April 18, 2018
Scarlet oak tree leaf via Wikimeda Commons by James St. John with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 5, 2008

Featured Image Credit

Oak tree via Wikimedia Commons by Jürgen Eissink with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 3, 2019
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