Oak Bark

Oak bark can be used to treat colds, diarrhea, bronchitis, ulcers, and as as an astringent.

white oak barkOak bark has been used as an astringent in medicine since the days of the ancient Greek physicians. Both Dioscorides and Galen were acquainted with their astringent qualities. “ Every part of the oak,” says Dioscorides (lib. i. cap. 14:2), “ but especially the liber, possesses an astringent property.”(1)

Oak bark is primarily used to make medicine such as tonics, astringents, and antiperiodics. It is normally used as an external application. Oaks also produce acorns which have been used as food and medicine as well.

  • Colds
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Bronchitis
  • Gangrene
  • Ulcers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Improving digestion
  • Pain and swelling
  • (inflammation) of the skin, mouth, throat, genitals, and anal region

The principal value of oak bark as medicine arises from its astringent property

Oak bark contains tannic acid, tannates of lime, magnesia, potash, gallic acid, uncrystallized sugar, pectin and lignin. The principal value of oak bark, in medicine, arises from its astringent property. Thus we employ a decoration of it as a gargle in relaxed conditions of the uvula, and in chronic inflammatory affections of the throat (Cullen, Mat. Med. vol. ii. p. 45); as a wash, in flabby, ill conditioned, or bleeding ulcers; as an injection in licorices, in piles, and in prolapses of the uterus or rectum; as an internal astringent in old drachmas, in the last stage of dysentery, in alvine hemorrhages.

Poultices made of powdered oak bark have been applied with benefit to mortified parts (Barton, Collect. towards a Mat. Med. of the U. States). Mr. Lizars (Ed. Med. and Surg. Journ., July 1822) states that he has obtained “ wonderful success” in the cure of reducible hemiaa by bathing the groin (the hernia having been previously reduced) three or four times daily with a warm inspissated decoction of oak bark, and then applying a truss. The practice, however, is not a new one (See the references in Ploucquet‘s Literatura Medica, t. ii. p. 297.)

The inhalation of finely-powdered oak bark is said to have proved very beneficial in a supposed case of pulmonary consumption (Eberle, Treat. on Mat. Med. v01. i. p. 268, 2nd ed.) 1 have already noticed (p. 51) the inspiration of impalpable powders of other astringents as a remedy for phthisis. Connected with this, the popular opinion of the exemption of operative tanners from phthisis pnlmonalis deserves to be mentioned. Dr. Dods (Land. Med. Gaz. vol. iii. p. 497), who has paid some attention to this subject, concludes, that the popular notion is correct; and he ascribes the exemption to “ the inhalation of that peculiar aroma, or volatile matter, which is constantly arising from tan-pits during the process of tanning with bark.”

Hitherto, however, no sufficient evidence has been advanced to prove that tanners are exempt from the disease. As a tonic, oak bark has been employed in medicine, but it is much inferior to the cinchona. Baths made of a decoration of this substance have been used by Dr. Eberle in the intermittent of very young children with benefit ; and Dr. Fletcher (of Virginia) has recommended the same remedy in tabes mesenterica (Eberle, op. cit. vol. i. pp. 267, 8.) The decoration, powder, and extract, have been taken internally in interments, but they are very apt to irritate the stomach. Dr. Cullen (Mat. Med. vol. i. p. 45) says, that both by itself and joined with chamomile flowers, he has prevented the paroxysms 0f intermittents. Aommlsrnarrox.

—Dose of the powder from half a drachm to one or two drachms.

SOURCE: The Elements of Materia Medica: Vegetable and animal materia medica By Jonathan Pereira

This is what the New York State University says this about oak bark

Currently, Germany’s Commission E recommends oak bark internally for treatment of diarrhea and topically for sore throatmouth sores ,hemorrhoids, and eczema . However, there is no meaningful scientific evidence that oak bark offers any therapeutic benefit in these or any other conditions. Only double-blind , placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and none have been performed on oak bark. (For more information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)

Oak bark contains numerous substances in the tannin family, especially ellagitannin, along with potentially active substances in the saponin family. Tannins are thought to have an astringent effect, meaning that they reduce tissue swelling and stop bleeding, and they are traditionally thought to be useful for diarrhea. However, oak bark has never been studied as a treatment for diarrhea. Saponins are often said to act as expectorants, enhancing the ability to cough up phlegm. Again, however, there is no direct evidence that oak bark is useful for coughs or related conditions.

Very weak evidence (too weak to be relied upon at all) hints that oak bark may have value for kidney stones , possibly reducing pain and slowing stone growth. In addition, test-tube studies indicate that oak bark solutions applied topically might have activity against various microorganisms, including staphylococcus,  and might also exert cancer-preventive effects. However, it is a long way from such studies to actual evidence of clinical benefit.

Safety Issues

Although comprehensive safety testing has not been performed, use of oak bark is not generally associated with any side effects other than the occasional digestive upset or allergic reaction. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.


Preparation of Oak Bark

“Take of Oak Bark, an ounce; Water, two pints, (two pounds and a half, Edin.) Boil down to a pint, and strain.” From Oak Bark thus treated the greater part of its astringent matter is extracted. The decoction is nearly inodorous, has a brown colour, and the austere taste of the bark.

It reddens tincture of Litmus, and is precipitated by solutions of Isinglass, infusion of Yellow Cinchona bark, the carbonates of the alkalies, the aromatic spirit of Ammonia, Lime-water, and solutions of Sulphate of Iron, Acetate of Lead, Oxymuriate of Mercury, and Sulphate of Zinc, which are, therefore, incompatible in formulae with it. The precipitates produced by the two last salts do not take place for a considerable time.

SOURCE: The London dispensatory: containing I. The elements of pharmacy II By Anthony Todd Thomson

History of the Oak Tree

Oak trees are found all over the the Northern Hemisphere, and also in Java, and the Mountains of Mexico and South America. For thousands of years, many cultures had venerated the sacred oak tree as a tree of life. They were held sacred by the Greeks, Romans, Gauls, and Britons. Oak trees are mentioned in the Old Testament (Isaiah, eh. i. v. 29, 30).

In ancient Crete, in the city of Knossos, the oak was regarded as the tree of Zeus. The Druids worshipped the Supreme Being under the name of Esus or Hesus, and they made the oak tree the symbol of the Deity. Passing judgments under the tree is more typical of the Bedouin in which the sacred trees were commonly used as a public social centre. They also used the oak for many things such as toothbrush making coffee etc It not only provided strong, dense wood for building things, it was also used in fires to keep people warm and has a long history of medicinal use.