The Druid Herbalist

An ongoing journey with the healing power of plants


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Materia Medica – Oak

OAK (Quercus robur)

Plant family: Beech family (fagaceae)

oak acorn leafParts Used: Bark, leaves, acorns, galls (“oak apples” created by gall wasps on leaves).

Soil and Environment: Hedgerows, woods, parkland. Copes well in moist and even poor soil. Interbreeds with other oak, such as sessile and downy oak. Grows very slowly.

Description: 130ft – 160ft (40m – 50m). Lives between 400 – 1,000 years. Circumference to approximately 30ft (10m). Lobed leaves in ovoid-shape. Scaled grey/green trunk with warty branches, scaly “capped” acorns longer than American cousin. Male flowers in yellow-green catkins, female flowers unassuming – both flowers grow on same tree. Due to size, creates a greenish light around it when found in a forest, as it opens up the canopy around it to let light in. Quiet tree, noble stillness, grand presence. Irregular-shaped crown with branches starting low down on trunk. Galls are smooth, globular, brown and perforated.

oakHistory:

Used for building homes, ships, furniture, etc. Bark used in tanning leather and dyeing fabric. Acorns used to feed pigs (and humans when food was scarce). Galls used to make ink. The wood is good for burning and for making charcoal. Oak trees have sheltered many famous outlaws, including Robin Hood and Charles II. Oak is the second Ogham in the aicme of Huath. Oak forests covered most of Europe in vast expanses. It is one of the seven “nobles of the wood” in Brehon law. Associated in Celtic lore with thunder and lightning, oak trees often survive lightning strikes. Their roots reach as deep into the ground as their branches reach high into the sky. Oak was the first tree species to be protected by legistation. It is the chieftan tree of the Druids: Druid means “wisdom of the oak”. The Oak King battles the Holly King at each solstice; The Oak King is the god of summer. Lightning struck oak trees were important in Druid and Celtic magic. Sacred to the goddess Brighid, her original sanctuary in Kildare was a grove of oak trees: Cill Dara, the church of the oak tree. In Greece the rustling of the leaves and branches were used for divination. Woodhenges of Neolithic or Bronze Age were made of oak, such as Seahenge in Norfolk. Sometimes considered the World Tree in certain cultures, it was an axis mundi. Neolithic trackways of oak still exist in Britain. Oak used to be on sixpences and shillings. King Arthur’s table at Winchester is cut from a single piece of oak-tree trunk.

Chemical constituents:

Tannins, tanning acids, minerals.

oak barkActions and Medicinal Uses:

Astringent and good for tightening, drying, binding and toning tissue, reducing excess discharge. Good for diarrhoea, dysentery, eye, mouth and throat inflammations as well as inflammation in the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Good for burns, sores, bleeding. Also good for coughs and colds. Anti-microbial and anti-septic. Also good for sweaty feet, chilblains and anal tears (taken as bark decoction in room temperature bath). Acorn coffee aids poor digestion. Used homoeopathically for alcoholism. Helps reduce fever. Good hair rinse for dandruff and hair loss. Compresses soaked in tea can shrink goiters and glandular inflammation. Anti-inflammatory.

Combinations:

Oak bark decoction with nettle and yarrow make a good women’s tonic. Bruised leaves when applied with comfrey leaves help heal bruises and sprains.

Usage:

Leaves for tea and tincture, bark as decoction, acorns ground and roasted for coffee substitute. Tea and decoction internal use: 2 tsps dried or 3 tsps fresh leaf/bark per cup boiled water up to 3 times per day. Tincture: 1 tsp three times per day. Galls as tincture internally for severe diarrhoea and dysentery. Use decoction as local astringent externally for haemorrhoids. Bruised leaves for first aid treatment in bruises, swelling and sprains.

Contraindications:

Possible contraindication when used with morphine. Possible antagonist to nicotine sensitivity.

Spiritual Aspects:

Oak is sacred to many gods. The Proto-Indo-European word for oak, dorw, became the word for “door”. Oak is a doorway between the worlds, as it lives between the worlds (high branches, deep roots). Celtic priests ate acorns to aid in powers of divination. Oak was popular in the funeral ceremonies of ancient Celts. Acorns kept in the home or carried on a person brings good luck. Oak teaches of strength, even when the worst happens (as they often survive lightning strikes). For Druids they symbolise the ideal way of life, with branches reaching towards the heavens while feet are rooted deeply in the earth. Water found in tree nooks and crannies can provide a good vibrational essence for empowerment, fighting great difficulties, loss of hope or the draining of energy. Oak helps develop inner sovereignty. It can leads to a greater ability for kindness and compassion. Promotes personal responsibility. Spirit ally to connect you with other worlds. Oak is the doorway to new worlds and new perception.

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Birch (Betula Pendula)

Working on my own personal herbal, I’ve just finished writing up about birch, nettle and oak. I thought I’d start sharing all my research and practical stuff with you, so here is the first “herb” that I chose to start my own materia medica! For our course, we have to choose twelve plants to use medicinally 🙂  I will upload the bibliography for all my research shortly.
BIRCH (Betula Pedula)
Plant family: Birch Family (Hamamelids)
Birch leavesParts Used:
Sap, leaves, bark & buds.

Soil and Environment
Woodland and heath, moor, parklands and gardens. Copes well in sandy, acidic soil and can handle being near the coast (salt). Native to northern temperate regions as it handles the cold well. Propagation by wind.

Birch barkDescription:
Deciduous leaves, shield-shaped with jagged edges. White papery bark with horizontal darker stripes and marks. Base of trunk expanded where it meets the ground, compared to the slim rest of the trunk. Male and female catkins – male catkins produce a lot of pollen and cause many allergic reactions. Light “green” smell, leaves and bark taste bitter, sap is sweet. High energy, talkative tree.

History:
Used for thousands of years in cold, northern climates in everything from adhesives to wine, baskets, yokes, boats and vinegar. Pioneer species when ice caps retreated 10,000 years ago, growing quickly and falling as it is a soft wood, then fertilizing the ground for other tree species. First letter of Ogham alphabet. One of seven peasant trees in Brehon law. Birch was used throughout Europe at Winter Solstice or New Years to “beat the bounds”. Bride’s doll held a birch wand. Entire birch trees were offered in votive pits in ancient times. Twigs used for brooms (besoms). Considered the World Tree in many cultures.

Chemical constituents:
Birch camphor, tannins, triterpine (betulin), flavinoids, saponines, essential oils, mineral salts (calcium oxalate) vitamin C, aromatic hydrocarbons, sucrose. Rich in potassium. Birch sap contains betulinic acid, an anti-tumour cancer treatment.
Actions and Medicinal Uses:
Birch sap is good for kidney or bladder stones, skin conditions and rheumatic diseases. It is also a good spring cleansing tonic and nutritive. Fermented it makes a lovely wine. Leaves and leaf buds good as tea for general detox, urinary complaints, cystitis, rheumatic and arthritic conditions, gout. Good diuretic. Astringent qualities and diuretic properties help with skin problems, sore throats and chest congestion when used as inhalation therapy. Effective germicide. Buds can be eaten for stomach complaints. Insect repellent.

Combinations it can be used in:
Use with sodium bicarbonate to improve tea’s ability to cut through high uric acid levels. Oil and tea combine well together.

Usage:
Birch sap tapped straight from tree and drunk as cleansing tonic. Tea to spring cleanse internally, as well as for gout, kidney and bladder stones, cystitis, arthritis, rheumatism, psoriasis, eczema, fluid retention and fevers. Birch leaf oil for topical use for cellulite, detox massage, aching muscles, rheumatism and arthritis, eczema and psoriasis, fibromyalgia.

Dosage:
Tea – 4 to 5 leaves per cup or mug boiling water, steeped for 5 to 10 minutes, taken 3 to 4 times per day. Sap – 3 tbsps in morning. Oil – use for massage as needed.

Contraindications:
None.

Spiritual Aspects:
New beginnings, adventure, feminine energy, creativity. Leading on with shining light through the dark forest of the soul. Brings hope and courage to discouraging situations. Aids in clear thinking and provides clarity of purpose. Encourages self-discipline and inner authority. Offering of birch wreaths can be made to water spirits to avoid storms or excessive rain. Good cleansing/purifying bath before ritual or mediation.