(adapted from Hedgerow MedicineBackyard Medicine, p137)

There’s a saying that oak (Quercus robur) is so important that a person came into contact with it every day of their life, from newborn’s cradle to old man’s coffin. Here’s a sample of its qualities.

Some virtues of the oak

Its timbers built houses, cathedrals and ships, and made furniture, barrels and pews; its bark tanned leather for shoes and saddles, and provided dyes; its acorns fed pigs and was a famine food or coffee substitute; its galls (oak apples) gave ink; its wood supplied fuel and charcoal; the tree was a space for mistletoe, ivy and ferns; it sheltered insects, birds, animals – and outlaws (Robin Hood) and kings (Charles II).
– Hedgerow Medicine (2008)

Oak bark and acorns are well known for traditional uses but consider the leaves too. In spring oak leaves make a tea that can relieve diarrhoea and after cooling can become a soothing compress for sore eyes. In the field, chewing the leaves and applying them to bites, open wounds or ulcers eases inflammation and promotes healing.

Oak should be placed first on any list of native remedies for hikers and backpackers. It is common, easily identifiable, easy to use, and effective for most of the potential problems faced in the wilderness.
– Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West (1979)

Oak tooth powder

Select some young oak branches about 1–3cm in diameter. Use a sharp knife to remove small strips of bark, cutting along the length of the branch. Dry the bark strips in a warm place.

Break up the dried oak bark into small bits, and grind finely in a coffee grinder. Mix 3 parts oak bark powder with 1 part cinnamon powder, 1 part fennel seed powder and 1 part bicarbonate of soda, or to suit your own taste.

Store in a small jar and use to brush your teeth daily. The powder is also good for gum disease, bleeding gums and mouth ulcers.

If you’d prefer to do something simpler, just use oak twigs as a natural toothbrush with built-in antiseptic and anti-inflammatory benefits. Pick a small twig and chew the end to fray it, then use this to massage your gums and clean your teeth.