Ozark Encyclopedia – O – Oak

Oak – Quercus

Parts used: bark, leaf

Traditional uses: Astringent, antiseptic, bark and leaves can be used to treat diarrhea and dysentery, can be used in poultices and to help stop bleeding.

“The astringent effects of the Oak were well known to the Ancients, by whom different parts of the tree were used, but it is the bark which is now employed in medicine. Its action is slightly tonic, strongly astringent and antiseptic. It has a strong astringent bitter taste, and its qualities are extracted both by water and spirit. The odour is slightly aromatic. Like other astringents, it has been recommended in agues and haemorrhages, and is a good substitute for Quinine in intermittent fever, especially when given with Chamomile flowers. It is useful in chronic diarrhoea and dysentery, either alone or in conjunction with aromatics. A decoction is made from 1 OZ. of bark in a quart of water, boiled down to a pint and taken in wineglassful doses. Externally, this decoction has been advantageously employed as a gargle in chronic sore throat with relaxed uvula, and also as a fomentation. It is also serviceable as an injection for leucorrhoea, and applied locally to bleeding gums and piles.” ~Grieve MH

Black oak used for asthma – “To cure asthma, bore a hole in a black-oak tree, at the height of the patient’s head. Drive a little wooden peg into the hole, so as to hold a lock of his hair. Cut the hair and peg off flush with the trunk. When the bark grows over the hole so that the peg is no longer visible, and the patient’s hair grows out to replace the missing lock, the asthma will be gone forever.” ~Randolph OMF

Black oak ritual to kill a witch – “A witch killer near Steelville, Missouri, says that it is only necessary to draw a rude picture of the witch on the north side of a black-oak tree, then drive a nail through the heart of the picture and leave it there. All this is done secretly, in the deep woods; unless the witch can find the black oak and pull out the nail, she’ll die very soon.” ~Randolph OMF

White oak bark used in indigestion and colitis – “A tea of white-oak bark is good for diarrhea too, and in small frequent doses is indicated in chronic indigestion or colitis.” ~Randolph OMF 97

Green oak leaves used for thrash – “A granny-woman in the Cookson Hill country of eastern Oklahoma treated thrash simply by putting crushed green oak leaves in the child’s mouth every three hours, and the babes in her charge recovered about as quickly as those submitted to supernatural spells.” ~Randolph OMF 137

Red oak, cherry bark, and nails for a spring tonic – “Take red oak bark and cherry bark and place in a container. Boil down, then add whiskey. Let this boil for a while and drop a handful of rusty nail…The nails…add iron to tonic to build up the blood.” ~Parler FBA II 1361

Oak tree ritual used to cure asthma in a child – “Take child to the woods, see out a partially grown oak tree. Mark the child’s height, then dig a small hole in tree at that point. Cut a bit of hair from child’s head, stuff it in the hold and fill with shavings that came from the hole. When the child has grown a full head above the hole, his asthma will be no more.” ~Parler FBA II 1432

Red oak bark used for blood poisoning – “To stop blood poisoning take off the outer bark of a red oak tree – get the inner bark, boil it. Strain the juice and thicken it with corn meal, then apply it – This is called a poultice.” ~Parler FBA II 1525

Oak ooze salve – “Take the inside bark, right next to the wood, and scrape off the gooey part and mix with ‘possum grease. Good for any kind of bruise.” ~Parler FBA II 1612

Black oak bark used for burns – “Boil inside bark from Black Jack tree and make tea. Bathe burn with tea.” ~Parler FBA II 1640

Oak bark for colds – “Take the bark from an oak tree and make a tea of it and drink to cure a cold.” ~Parler FBA II 1839

White oak bark for frostbite – “White oak bark, taken fresh and boiled in water to a strong liquor. Bathe the feet in the liquor.” ~Parler FBA II 2285

Black oak for indigestion – “If you have stomach or bowel trouble, make a tea of black oak bark and drink it.” ~Parler FBA III 3284

Red oak bark for indigestion – “To ease a bad stomach or torn up bowels make a tea out of red oak bark. Drink this until you start feeling better.” ~Parler FBA III 3285

Acorn carried for good luck – “‘If a lady carries an acorn in her pocket or bag, she will be blessed with perpetual youth.’ In the old Ozarks, the old man preferred to carry a buckeye for it prevented rheumatism, but the lady of the house carried an acorn.” ~Rayburn OFE A-1 “Acorns”


Grieve, Margaret A Modern Herbal (MH)

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany (NAE)

Parler, Mary Celestia Folk Beliefs from Arkansas (FBA)

Randolph, Vance Ozark Magic and Folklore (OMF)

Rayburn, Otto Ernest Ozark Folk Encyclopedia (OFE)

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