This is the well-known fruit of our British Oak, to Which tree it
gives the name--Aik, or Eik, Oak.
The Acorn was esteemed by Dioscorides, and other old authors,
for its supposed medicinal virtues. As an article of food it is not
known to have been habitually used at any time by the inhabitants
of Britain, though acorns furnished the chief support of the large
herds of swine on which our forefathers subsi
ted. The right of
maintaining these swine in the woods was called panage, and
formed a valuable property.
The earliest inhabitants of Greece and Southern Europe who lived
in the primeval forests were supported almost wholly on the fruit
of the Oak. They were described by classic authors as fat of
person, and were called balanophagi--acorn eaters.
During the great dearth of 1709 the French were driven to eat
bread of acorns steeped in water to destroy the bitterness, and they
suffered therefrom injurious effects, such as obstinate
constipation, or destructive cholera.
It is worth serious notice medically that in years remarkable for a
large yield of Acorns disastrous losses have occurred among
young cattle from outbreaks of acorn poisoning, or the acorn
disease. Those up to two years old suffered most severely, but
sheep, pigs and deer were not affected by this acorn malady. Its
symptoms are progressive wasting, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, sore
places inside the mouth, discharge from  the eyes and nostrils,
excretion of much pale urine, and no fever, but a fall of
temperature below the normal standard. Having regard to which
train of symptoms it is fair to suppose the acorn will afford in the
human subject a useful specific medicine for the marasmus, or
wasting atrophy of young children who are scrofulous. The fruit
should be given in the form of a tincture, or vegetable extract, or
even admixed (when ground) sparingly with wheaten flour in
bread. The dose should fall short of producing any of the above
symptoms, and the remedy should be steadily pursued for many
The tincture should be made of saturated strength with spirit of
wine on the bruised acorns, to stand for a fortnight before being
decanted. Then the dose will be from twenty to thirty drops with
water three or four times a day.
The Acorn contains chemically starch, a fixed oil, citric acid,
uncrystallizable sugar, and another special sugar called quercit.
Acorns, when roasted and powdered, have been sometimes employed
as a fair substitute for coffee. By distillation they will
yield an ardent spirit.
Dr. Burnett strongly commends a distilled spirit of acorns as an
antidote to the effects of alcohol, where the spleen and kidneys
have already suffered, with induced dropsy. It acts on the principle
of similars, ten drops being given three times a day in water.
In certain parts of Europe it is customary to place acorns in the
hands of the newly dead; whilst in other districts an apple is put
into the palm of a child when lying in its little coffin.
The bark of an oak tree, and the galls, or apples, produced on its
leaves, or twigs, by an insect named  cynips, are very
astringent, by reason of the gallo-tannic acid which they furnish
abundantly. This acid, given as a drug, or the strong decoction of
oak bark which contains it, will serve to restrain bleedings if taken
internally; and finely powdered oak bark, when inhaled pretty
frequently, has proved very beneficial against consumption of the
lungs in its early stages. Working tanners are well known to be
particularly exempt from this disease, probably through their
constantly inhaling the peculiar aroma given off from the tan pits;
and a like effect may be produced by using as snuff the fresh oak
bark dried and reduced to an impalpable powder, or by inhaling
day after day the steam given off from recent oak bark infused in
Marble galls are formed on the back of young twigs, artichoke
galls at their extremities, and currant galls by spangles on the
under surface of the leaves. From these spangles females presently
emerge, and lay their eggs on the catkins, giving rise to the round
shining currant galls.
The Oak--Quercus robur--is so named from the Celtic quer,
beautiful; and cuez, a tree. Drus, another Celtic word for tree,
and particularly for the Oak, gave rise to the terms Dryads and
Druids. Among the Greeks and Romans a chaplet of oak was one
of the highest honours which could be conferred on a citizen.
Ancient oaks exist in several parts of England, which are
traditionally called Gospel oaks, because it was the practice in
times long past when beating the bounds of a parish to read a
portion of the Gospel on Ascension Day beneath an oak tree which
was growing on the boundary line of the district. Cross oaks were
planted at the juncture of cross roads, so that persons suffering
from ague might peg a lock of their hair into the  trunks, and
by wrenching themselves away might leave the hair and the
malady in the tree together. A strong decoction of oak bark is most
usefully applied for prolapse of the lower bowel.
Oak Apple day (May 29th) is called in Hampshire Shikshak day.