Fire by hand drill

Fire by hand drill

Friday, 11 November 2011

The bushcraft uses of Oak

This is the start of a little series on some of the more useful aspects of our native trees in Ireland. The profiles will be updated as I learn more. I am not interested in copying and pasting something from Wikipedia but want to present things that I have learned through personal experience and learning.

Pendunculate and Sessile Oak

Oaks, Sessile and Pendunculate, are two of our native trees here in Ireland.
To the bushcrafter they are very useful indeed.


Acorns are the primary source of food coming from the oak. Like all parts of the Oak Acorns are very high in Tannins. Tannin does not taste very nice and must be removed from the acorns. This can be achieved by leeching in a stream or by boiling with multiple changes of water over a number of hours. The tannin free Acorns can then be dried and ground up for flour or roasted and ground up for a coffee type substitute. This is quite labour intensive but when you consider the amount that can be gathered very quickly in a bumper year then the expenditure is worth it.

It is worth noting that sometimes acorns have so little tannins that they can be prepared straight away. This is dependent on species and weather, ground conditions and all sorts of things that a survivor couldn’t really know. The best way to tell is to roast one and taste it.

The other aspect of food is that an Oak is a tree which supports hundreds of insect species. Woodlice can be gathered easily and can be found under dead bark. I have found them to taste different depending on what tree they are found on. Very high in protein though I suspect if you eat a lot you might get a bit irritated with their indigestible shells. Acorns also attract squirrels and birds, as do the insects. So with a throwing stick (made from oak) you never know what you will end up with.


Oak supplies a wealth of materials. The very dense wood which is ideal for throwing sticks, digging sticks, anything where strength is important. The wood is impact resistant and because of the tannin content is quite resistant to decay.
The inner bark of a dead branch can be scrapped up and used for a very good tinder.
The leaves are one of the last to rot on the forest floor so are excellent for debris huts and when dry as tinder.
The epicormical growth which comes off the main stem Is great for improvised cord/ withies. The roots can also be used for this.
The wood burns very well and creates good heat and embers. This makes it ideal for cooking.


Tannin is an astringent, which means it contracts capillaries so can stop bleeding. Oak galls, which are the little round balls you sometimes find where acorns should be are full of tannin and can be crushed. The oak was traditionally used for all sorts of things where antiseptic action and slow wounds were involved. The bark is also good for diarrhoea in a decoction.
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