Edible Wild Plants: White Oak (Quercus Alba)

White Oak (Quercus Alba)The White Oak (Quercus alba) is one of the pre-eminent hardwoods of eastern North America. It is a long-lived oak of the Fagaceae family, native to eastern North America and found from southern Quebec west to eastern Minnesota and south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. Specimens have been documented to be over 450 years old.

Although called a white oak, it is very unusual to find an individual specimen with white bark; the usual color is a light gray. In the forest it can reach a magnificent height and in the open it develops into a massive broad-topped tree with large branches striking out at wide angles.

Acorns formed a very important portion of the bread-stuffs of American Indians, some of the tribes of the arid regions of the Southwest depending largely on acorn-flour. Although bitter and somewhat stringent when raw, acorns lose these properties by being leached, and there is left a nutty meat rich in oil and starch, which is as nutritious as the meat of other nuts and thoroughly palatable.

In preparing acorns for bread-purposes, the Indians mixed the meats with hard-wood ashes and water, thus removing the bitter and astringent properties, or powdered the dried kernels and either poured boiling water through the flour, thus removing the tannin, or placed the powdered mass in a basket or in a hollow pocket of sand and allowed running water to trickle through the mass.

So general was this latter method among some of the southwester tribes, who afterward ate the meal mixed with sand, that Dr. Valery Havard quoted a medical officer as stating that “he has seen an Indian 45 years old with the crowns of his otherwise healthy teeth half gone, while in Indians 60 years old, it is not uncommon to see all the teeth worn down even to the gums.”

It is entirely unnecessary to mix sand with acorn-flour and thus to sandpaper the teeth. In our own experience we have found that the thoroughly dried kernels may be rid of the tannin by boiling for two hours, pouring off the darkened water, and then allowing the commonly blackened kernels to soak in cold water, with occasional changes, until it is convenient to grind them into a paste (preferably within 3 or 4 days). The dried paste, powdered and treated according to conventional recipes for corn-cake (“fifty-fifty”) makes a thoroughly palatable, dark bread or muffin, quite as good as any of the substitutes for all wheat to which, during the last war we became accustomed.

Edible Parts

  • Nuts (Acorns)

White Oak Shelled Acorn

Warning: Even acorns that taste relatively nice straight out of the shell (such as most members of the white oak group) still contain tannins and eating large quantities could cause troubles (e.g., stomach upset, loss of nutrients due to tannins binding with proteins).

Nutritional Value: protein, carbohydrates, vitamin A & C, and amino acids

Uses

White oak has tyloses that give the wood a closed cellular structure, making it water- and rot-resistant. Because of this characteristic, white oak is used for barrels for wine and whiskey production since it resists leaking. It has also been used in construction, shipbuilding, cooperage, agricultural implements, and in the interior finishing of houses.

It was a signature wood used in mission style oak furniture by Gustav Stickley in the Craftsman style of the Arts and Crafts movement.

White oak is used extensively in Japanese martial arts for some weapons, such as the bokken and jo. It is valued for its density, strength, resiliency and relatively low chance of splintering if broken by impact, relative to the substantially cheaper red oak.

White Oak Acorns

The acorns are much less bitter than the acorns of red oaks. They are small relative to most oaks, but are a valuable wildlife food, notably for turkeys, wood ducks, pheasants, grackles, jays, nuthatches, thrushes, woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels and deer. They were also used for food by Native Americans. The white oak is the only known food plant of the Bucculatrix luteella and Bucculatrix ochrisuffusa caterpillars.

The young shoots of many eastern oak species are readily eaten by deer. Dried oak leaves are also occasionally eaten by white-tailed deer in the fall or winter. Rabbits often browse twigs and can girdle stems.

The USS Constitution is made of white oak, and reconstructive wood replacement comes from a special grove of Quercus alba known as the “Constitution Grove” at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division.

Woodworkers should be aware that ferrous metal hardware reacts with oak, causing corrosion and staining the wood. Brass or stainless steel fittings should be used instead.

White Oak Acorn Bread

White Oak Acorn Bread & Pasta

How to Make Acorn Flour for Acorn Bread (Pictorial Guide)

Acorn Pasta and the Mechanics of Eating Acorns

Some tips

  • Once the flour is dried out it may be a little coarse. You can put it in a cleaned out coffee grinder to get a finer texture. A good food processor also works and they make attachable gadgets for mixers that really mill the flour if you get completely obsessed.
  • To make acorn pancakes, mix the acorn flour 1/2 and 1/2 with wheat or other flour from your favorite recipe. The acorn flavor is slightly nutty, very hearty.

Where Does White Oak (Quercus Alba) Grow?

White Oak (Quercus Alba) Growing Area

How To Identify White Oak (Quercus Alba)

White Oak Identification

Bark: Light gray, varying to dark gray and to white; shallow fissured and scaly. Branchlets at first bright green, later reddish-green and finally light gray. A distinguishing feature of this tree is that a little over half way up the trunk the bark tends to form overlapping scales that are easily noticed and aid in identification.

Wood: Light brown with paler sapwood; strong, tough, heavy, fine-grained and durable. Specific gravity, 0.7470; weight of one cubic foot, 46.35 lbs; weight of one cubic meter 770 kg.

Winter buds: Reddish brown, obtuse, one-eighth of an inch long.

Leaves: Alternate, five to nine inches long, three to four inches wide. Obovate or oblong, seven to nine-lobed, usually seven-lobed with rounded lobes and rounded sinuses; lobes destitute of bristles; sinuses sometimes deep, sometimes shallow. On young trees the leaves are often repand. They come out of the bud conduplicate, are bright red above, pale below, and covered with white tomentum; the red fades quickly and they become silvery greenish white and shiny; when full grown they are thin, bright yellow green, shiny or dull above, pale, glaucous or smooth below; the midrib is stout and yellow, primary veins are conspicuous. In late autumn the leaves turn a deep red and drop, or on young trees remain on the branches throughout the winter. Petioles are short, stout, grooved, and flattened. Stipules are linear and caducous.

Flowers: Appear in May, when leaves are one-third grown. Staminate flowers are borne in hairy aments two and a half to three inches long; the calyx is bright yellow, hairy, six to eight-lobed, with lobes shorter than the stamens; anthers are yellow. Pistillate flowers are borne on short peduncles; involucral scales are hairy, reddish; calyx lobes are acute; stigmas are bright red.

Acorns: Annual, sessile or stalked; nut ovoid or oblong, round at the apex, light brown, shining, three-quarters to an inch long; cup-shaped, enclose about one-fourth of the nut, tomentose on the outside, tuberculate at base, scales with short obtuse tips becoming smaller and thinner toward the rim.

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