Man is inextricably tied up with the great oak tree and its many varieties. In the most bleak times of our early history and even in more recent years, this great tree has given us a life.
Based on archaeological evidence it’s interesting that we find ourselves considering the acorn and the oak yet again as a possible survival food.
“During the pre-agricultural period acorns were an important plant food resource for hunter-gatherers in Europe. Archaeological evidence supports the conclusion that acorns have always been an attractive food resource within various resource strategies, including agrarian societies. In prehistoric agricultural communities, acorns may have played a role as food substitute or reserve for bad times, reserved for emergencies, for example when cereal agriculture had failed.”
The Native Americans ate tons of acorns and many historians agree that these acorns helped them survive and escape starvation even in some of the toughest times, especially on the west coast. At first, the settlers did not seem to understand that the oaks were deliberately planted and that the Native Americans were growing oak orchards to sustain them.
One of my earliest findings when I first began down the survival path was that of tannic acid. I’ve always loved the idea of wild edibles and some are amazing while others only keep you alive. Acorns are so perfect they were one of the first foods I’ve tasted anywhere. I hoped that there would be better rewards waiting in the woods than this tall, bitter old acorn.
I’ve heard much more about acorns since that day. Most notably the smaller white oak acorns are the safest to consume and have the least amount of tannic acid. They will still need to be processed but it will pay off.
Tannins may sound familiar to you and that is because they offer some of their special flavor to red wine. These acorns need to be shelled and immersed in cold water to extract this bitterness from them. Soak them for a few hours, then turn the water to soak again.
In ancient times they would submerge and anchor sacks or acorn baskets into the river allowing the bitterness to be washed away by this relentless flood of cold water.
These acorns will be sweeter after soaking and leaching out that bitterness. They can then be roasted or made into a flour or paste. The flour was very popular in bread-making and I think you can even purchase acorn flour to this day online.
Traces of acorns and acorn shells have been found all over the world at archaeological dig sites. It’s clear this was a staple food of many humans in the ancient eras like the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and even Neolithic after we had developed agriculture.
OAK MEAT? YES, THE WILD MUSHROOMS
The fall and quantity of acorn are an annual prerequisite for operation and availability of wild game activity. As hunters, we are always happy when we have a good year of mast (a variety of food developed from shrubs and tree, acorn is always a major part) that brings wild turkeys, squirrels and various types of ungulates such as white-tailed deer.
It is the mighty oak that always provides whether we ingest the acorns themselves or the animals that ingest the acorns. Such piles of acorns were the favorite meal of the highly invasive wild pig as well. Now some would find this creature intrusive but I look at this bursting number of pork chops and wonder why companies don’t raise this “Free Range Pork” and turn it into profits. This meat is head and shoulders better than anything available at the typical grocery store.
“CHICKEN OF THE WOODS”
Perhaps those tasty, bright orange “chicken of the woods” mushrooms would be a better representation of the oak meat. These are often called the Sulfur shelf and are easily identifiable due to how these grow and where they grow. Such mushrooms have no gills which distinguish them from those which develop on the forest floor. Its distinct color makes it very easy to recognize them.
They are called “wood chicken,” because their thick and meaty lobes, when sautéed, taste like chicken. I’m sure the name was given to the Sulfur shelf because of the bright orange color that they always present.
“HEN OF THE WOODS”
The tasty mushroom grows at the base of live oaks. They are dark gray mushroom bunches called “Hen of the Woods.” These are delicate but just as tasty as the robust wood chicken. I’ve seen those sold as Maitake mushrooms in supermarkets which is the Japanese name.
Even the mighty oak tree provides in death. One of my favorite mushrooms of all can be found on fallen oaks. The delicate Chanterelle doesn’t mind emerging out of the thick wood of the oak in the late part of summer. They are an excellent wild mushroom, which can be found on menus in some of the world’s best restaurants. I like to eat mine with chopped garlic sautéed in fresh thyme butter to finish.
The oak can help us in ways that transcend the consumable.
- That nasty tannic acid that we are so ready to remove from our acorns is antibacterial and can be used by saving the water that it is leached into. This is great for topical uses on cuts and scrapes. In a survival situation throwing away anything is the last possible option.
- The shade of the oak should not be mocked either. It is essential on sweltering days, particularly if you are trying to hike out of a bad spot. If you are lost on a trail resting under a giant oak can protect you from the sun and help cool your body.
- Of course, the density of the wood makes it ideal for building structures and tools or even weapons like spears. If you aren’t so interested in being found or finding your way out of the woods oak is a great material to build your new shelter from.
- Those limbs and fallen branches of oak will also keep you warm at night. The oak will not only provide food but it will also help cook it.
- Oak wood is universally recognized as a superior building material (hardwood flooring, furniture)
- Oak is also a great source of fuel. It’s known as a superior firewood due to its density, hardness and high heating rating.
This tree was an ally in the survival of humanity because we were crushing stones to make instruments. When you feel like living off the ground, spend time around the oak. Among other things, you can find food.