The mighty oak tree has long been a symbol of strength and power. Over the centuries the tree has been associated with mystical powers and was thought to offer protection to those carrying it. The Celts believed wearing oak leaves was a sign of status and wealth, the druids often practised their rituals in oak groves. Legend has it that Merlin’s wand was made from the branch of an oak tree. These days we mainly think of oak not as possessing mystical qualities but rather as a source of timber for furniture, flooring and construction but historically and indeed in many cultures to this day, the oak was most valued for its medicinal qualities.
It is the bark of the oak tree which is valued for its healing properties. The inner bark is the valuable material, with that of a young tree being the most effective. It is thought that it is best collected during the spring. Once dried and powdered the bark can be used in teas, tinctures, infusions and poultices to help a wide variety of medical conditions.
Oak bark is a powerful astringent due to its tannin content and once dried and ground can be used externally as an effective treatment for inflammatory skin problems, burns, stings and to staunch the flow of blood from cuts and wounds. It can also be used to control nose bleeds when taken as snuff.
The tannin in the bark stimulates proteins to form antiseptics thus preventing damaged areas from becoming infected. Oak Bark was used historically to treat chilblains and even frostbite. If the damaged area of skin was large the bark powder was added to bath water rather than applied directly to the affected areas.
The bark powder is an effective treatment for gum disease, ulcers and any other inflammations in the mouth. Some cultures promote its use for tonsillitis. Bark powder can be combined with ground fennel and bicarbonate of soda to make a toothpaste and chewing bark is said to help the teeth and gums.
As a powerful astringent, oak bark is considered highly effective in the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery, haemorrhoids, vaginal discharge and thrush. It is also used to assist with menstrual problems. The bark is also a good diuretic and so can help in the treatment of urinary infections, kidney stones, gallstones and jaundice. The tannin complex in the bark also makes it possible to use the powder in the treatment of parasites in the intestinal tract.
There are no known dangers in using oak bark for medicinal purposes but it can cause vomiting in some people. The prolonged use of any astringents is not recommended.
Truth or Myth
The oak has a long history of use in traditional medicine and even today many cultures continue to use the powdered bark to treat a wide variety of conditions. The effectiveness of the oak is a subject for debate but as so many cultures have used the material it is likely that it is at least partially effective.