The Greeks held the oak tree (Quercus robur) sacred and the Romans dedicated it to Jupiter. In the pre-Christian west, the oak was associated with thunder-gods such as Thor because of its low electrical resistance which caused it to be struck by lightening. Couples married under oak trees before the advent of Christianity, when preaching often took place under the shade of an oak - leading to 'gospel oak' place names.
The oak is the emblem of hospitality and strength. Its bark, leaves and acorns all have medicinal uses. The bark is used to tan leather and dye wool purple, while the acorns are used to feed swine.
The astringent effects of oak were well known in ancient times and Galen applied the bruised leaves to heal wounds. The decoction has been used as a gargle in chronic sore throat and the decoction of acorns and bark, made with milk, has been considered an antidote to poisonous herbs and medications.
It is the bark which is now mostly used in medicine - it is collected in the spring from young trees and dried in the sun. It can be taken as a substitute for quinine in intermittent fever, taken with chamomile flowers, and is useful in chronic diarrhoea and dysentery.
A bitter, strongly astringent, antiseptic herb which reduces inflammation and controls bleeding.
PLEASE NOTE: These notes on the history and use of herbs have been compiled for general interest and are not intended as medical advice, for which you should consult a professional herbalist.
'A Modern Herbal' Mrs M. Grieve FRHS ed. Mrs C. F. Leyel (1973)
'The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal' Penelope Ody MNIMH (1993)
'RHS Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses' Deni Brown (2002)