Forest Foraging: The Noble Oak, by Prepared Pamela

Nearly 500 species of oak trees populate five continents. In Greek mythology they were a symbol of Zeus, the “God of Thunder.” The botanical name Quercus means “beautiful tree.” The acorn or nut usually contains a single seed enclosed in a tough leathery shell and borne in a cup-shaped capsule. Acorns are 1 to 6 centimeters long and 0.8 to 4 centimeters wide. They take between 6 and 24 months to mature depending on the species.

Acorns were used as an important source of nutrition for thousands of years. They have been a treasured perennial plant fiercely protected by indigenous people in North America. The average life span of the oak is 200 years while some trees have survived to 400 years and more. An important participant in the ecosystem of our planet, they help to moderate the climate. In the photosynthesis process they produce oxygen. One mature tree can remove 6.6 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Stored in the tree’s tissues, the carbon helps to create its bark, branches, leaves and nuts. The tree is a source of fuel, lumber, habitat and food for animals and for humans.

Oak trees produce acorns at 20 to 40 years of age. They require a multi-step process from the initial harvest to final food consumption. Each fall I collect hundreds of acorns from my 200-year-old Holly Oak which thrives in my backyard in California. A single tree can produce more than 2,000 pounds of nuts. My own tree was once defended for many decades by local Serrano Indians as their important food source. I continue to treat it with the respect and care it deserves as an elder on the land.

Perhaps the earliest well-known person to appreciate acorns as food was naturalist John Muir. He depended on acorn cakes to sustain him during his long treks throughout the Western United States. He called them “the most compact and strength-giving food” he had ever experienced. Acorns are a nearly perfect food on which to thrive. Many indigenous tribes obtained 50 percent of their annual calories from acorns which contain protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. They have a low glycemic index and are considered a good food source for diabetics. During World War II, more than one million tons of acorns were collected by the Japanese to help feed their people as their supplies of rice and flour diminished.

Collecting and Processing

The process of acorn food production starts with harvesting. They are typically collected during late summer and autumn with August through September being ideal. It is best to pick the acorns before they drop to the ground. Care must include discarding any that are cracked or contain dark circular holes. They likely have worms. Dropped acorns could become infected. Green acorns still attached to the tree are milder in flavor. The best oak species from which to harvest acorns are the White Oak and Live Oak, for they contain the lowest levels of tannins. The least preferred are acorns of the Red Oak, which have a very high level of tannins. After one collects the acorns, they need to be cracked open, shelled and peeled. They have a consistency similar to chestnuts. Cracking can be easily accomplished with the aid of a nutcracker or hammer. Submerge the acorns in water soon after shelling and peeling to prevent them from becoming discolored through oxidation.

The acorns must be boiled and drained with fresh water for a minimum of three to five times for 15 minutes each time with fresh water until the water boils clear. The water level in the pot should be twice the volume of acorns. It may take a couple of days to accomplish this step which will fill the house with a pleasant aroma similar to the fragrance of toasted coconuts. The boiling helps to leach the tannins from the acorn. The tannins can still be used to tan animal skins, just as they were in standard practice, for centuries. Other oak tree products have helped to treat diarrhea, asthma, and wounds as antiseptic washes. The hardwood has been valued for making furniture, and as chips for smoking barbecued meats. Today, oaks are a protected species in California and cannot be lumbered without a special permit.

An alternative approach to reducing tannins is accomplished by placing the acorns in a mesh bag. Then soak the bag in water for a couple of days. You can also use a stream to wash out the tannins. Remove the bag after 24 hours of rinsing, at which point they should be free of bitterness.

After boiling, the acorns now need to be dried. I use an electric dehydrator which will require several hours of operation until the meat is totally dried. It will take many days if you spread the acorns out on a flat surface to dry in the sun or you can use an oven set at a low temperature (150-200 degrees Fahrenheit).

Once the acorns are completely dried, grind them into a powder. This can be accomplished by using a food processor or by hand with a mortar and pestle. The ancients used stones to grind them in wells carved into granite bowls called matate in Spanish. Unfortunately, this method also produced ground rock particles within the meal, causing tooth wear and eventually tooth loss.

The final powder is a flour-like product. The taste is neutral, similar to potato flour. The meal must be refrigerated or frozen for longer shelf life. It can be stored at room temperature in an air-proof jar with a tight lid. I have used this flour in several baked products. The meal can also be added to thicken and flavor soups, stews, or as a breading for frying or baking fish and chicken.

Some Acorn Flour Recipes

My favorite recipes include the following:

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup acorn meal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 cup brown sugar
Walnuts optional
Water sufficient to make heavy dough
Press into a greased pan
(I purchased a NordicWare muffin pan
The receptacles are in the shape of acorns)
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes

1 cup acorn meal
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg beaten or egg substitute
1 cup milk or milk alternative
3 tablespoons oil
Combine sifted dry ingredients
Combine wet ingredients
Soft banana optional
Combine wet and dry ingredients into lumpy batter
Pour into greased loaf pan
Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes

1 ½ cups acorn meal
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg or egg substitute
1 tablespoon butter or oil
1 ½ sups milk or milk substitute
½ cup sugar or honey
Combine sifted dry ingredients
Combine wet ingredients
Combine wet and dry ingredients into lumpy batter
Pour into greased large pie pan
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes

1 cup leached acorns
1 teaspoon cumin
½ large onion chipped
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne
4 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Cilantro optional
Mix all ingredients
Form into balls
Fry in oil till brown
Serve with yogurt

Korean acorn noodles, or dotori guksu, has been eaten in Korea since 4000 BC.
3 egg yokes
1 whole egg
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour from a mix of acorn, wheat, buckwheat, or other flour
Beat the eggs until very light
Mix in dry ingredients
Roll out dough on a floured board thinly as possible
Dry dough for one hour, cut into thin strips
Add fresh noodles to a vegetable or meat broth
Include your favorite vegetables such as carrots, bok choy, onion, etc.

Use ½ cup acorn meal and ½ cup flour
Mix with other pancake ingredients
Fry in a skillet
Serve with strawberries or blackberries

Even though fresh acorns are tasty, the unleached tannins can cause stomach upset. Roast, season to taste, then enjoy as a snack.

You can find a variety of acorn-based recipes on the internet. There are also acorn interest groups on Facebook and other websites, whose participants enjoy sharing recipes.

The forest contains a wealth of edible survival options. You just need to know where to look, what to harvest, how to prepare and what to avoid.

You can make pine needle tea to accompany your acorn treats. Pull tender pine needles off of branches. I use Ponderosa Pine needles. Bring water to a boil in a stainless steel pan. Add pine needles to the water and reduce the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes and remove from heat. Cover and let sit overnight or continue to the next step and serve. Strain out the pine needles, sweeten to taste, and serve the tea hot or cold. I have also prepared pine needle infused liqueur. The needles are soaked in vodka for several months and produce a unique flavor.

The forest can provide all you need to survive and thrive. Enjoy the bounty of nature.

A closing thought: “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. A very interesting article with multiple facets. I liked the fact that it included numerous recipes as well as processing information. Where I live there are no Live Oaks, but we have White, Bur and Red Oaks. The yearly acorn production here is much less than what you have in California and some years there are very few acorns, but still worth the while to harvest. I’m definitely going to have to do some experimenting with them this next fall.

    1. Very informative, and a most important article for these times.
      The deer will definitely crowd under an oak dropping acorns. Good place for tree stands if you are a hunter or photographer. But I don’t think they will pass up corn, soy beans, etc., for the acorns…I suppose whatever they have a taste for at the time. They really love the acorns though, because I’ve seen deer attempting to run off other deer competing for those while they are dropping.
      One thing for sure, the venison will have a much better taste if the deer you harvest has been feeding on corn, beans, or other domestic crops.
      The pin oaks in our area haven’t been healthy for several years. A lot of them are being cut down.

      Where I live I’ve heard of locals who do eat acorns. But far more people forage for walnuts, hickory nuts, and of course pecans.

      I’ve often wondered why no one on SB discusses digging ginseng root. Probably because of the value and location in the USA.
      Cannot afford to leak the location!
      I do dig the roots and sell them. Also save some for tea.

      If you haven’t, you would probably enjoy hickory nut pie.

      God Bless All, especially the children.

      Semper Fi

    2. I learned about this recently. Maybe a good idea for our hog-raising members: The Health and Flavor of Acorn Finished Pork
      Our certified organic pastured pigs are born in the spring so that for 2- 3 months each fall they can finish on a diet that is predominantly acorns.

      Acorn Finished Pork

      They spend the entire summer grazing lush irrigated pastures of clover and grass where they are supplemented with certified organic grains. Tamworth and the Large Black pigs love green grass. By fall, when the pigs are around 200 lbs, we turn them into the back half of the ranch, which is a forest of white and black oak, madrone, cedar, and fir trees. These Heritage pigs instinctively begin foraging for acorns immediately, as their kind have done for millennia.We cut back the amount of grain available to the pigs so that acorns become their main source of feed.

      Acorns are not only a sustainable source of organic pig feed, they impart a rich flavor to pork that is delicious as it is healthy. Many people have heard of the acorn finished Iberico pig of Spain(Pata Negra ). These acorn- fed black-footed pigs produce the famous jamon iberico de bellota (Iberian acorn finished ham), that are the most sought after hams in the world, for their rich nutty flavor, due to their diet of acorns. What is surprising is that pork from acorn finished pigs is actually healthier than other pork. Pigs fed a predominantly acorn diet have fat that is mostly unsaturated with very high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and oleic acids.Oleic acid is a monosaturated fat that lowers LDL(bad cholesterol) and raises HDL(good cholesterol). If this sounds familiar it is because olive oil has very similar health benefits.
      In Spain the acorn finished is pig often referred to as the “olive tree on four hooves.”
      Fortunately, not only is deeply marbled acorn finished pork healthy , it also has fantastic flavor.

      The formula for fantastic acorn finished pork
      More than any other meat Pork takes on the flavor of what the pigs eat. At our ranch we have an abundance of three things , Lush clover pastures , organic winter squash, and acorns.
      For that flavor to manifest itself into the pork, the pig must be a breed with extensive intramuscular marbling, namely a “lard type pig” such as the Large Black.(the opposite of modern lean pork breeds)
      Finally for that flavor to penetrate the meat, the pig must exercise it’s muscles to create a protein called Myoglobin.(its what makes wild boar meat darker than the white meat from confined pigs)
      When the right breed (Large Black), receives the right forage (acorns) and plenty of exercise (foraging in our forest ), the results are equivalent to the best pork anywhere in the world.

      I have been meaning to look for a local source.

      Carry on

      1. Once a Marine!
        Excellent thoughts, and so appreciate your sharing these. Although we haven’t raised hogs (yet), we have talked about this — and certainly have plenty of acorn producing trees to help support them from a nutritional standpoint. You have us thinking in an interesting direction — thank you!

  2. Wow! This was so interesting! The historical info was great. We have lots of oaks and I knew you could eat the acorns, I just wasn’t sure how to cook them, and I DEFINTELY didn’t know they could be so versatile or provide so much nutrition. The kids have been bugging me to learn how to cook them (I have to be careful that the ones they’ve collected from the ground don’t sneak their way into the house, haha), so I know what we’re doing this summer/fall!

  3. Thanks for detailing out the process for acorns. I have two 100+ year old live oaks in my front yard. They are huge and it would be very difficult to collect green acorns from them; I’d need a bucket truck. The back woods have smaller oaks which would be possible collection points but it is still labor intensive. But, the way our society is going, they might be all we can afford when the crazies in DC get their way.

    1. Animal House some folks place tarps around the oak trees to let them roll into a 5 gallon bucket for processing. Oaks around here drop their acorns for weeks and if you don’t collect them quickly the deer and squirrels get them 🙂 Tarps and a few nails does the job pretty well. A little like tapping the Sugar Maple.

  4. I wish I had known about this yrs ago, I have a ” burr ” ( I think ) oak in my front yard ( planted by the original owner ( 40 – 45 yrs ago ). I started trimming the lower branches back when I moved here 20 yrs ago and now I would need lift truck or highster or something to be able harvest the nuts. but still an interesting article.

  5. We live on an old Civil War battlefield in Virginia and have plenty of red oaks, white oaks, laurel oaks. This past season they were particularly productive with acorns. All are too tall to harvest on the trees. I was disappointed to see the admonition against harvesting fallen acorns. If we harvest early season from the ground, are the acorns any safer? Can you tell me if the boiling process also helps with the “possible infection” you described that can afflict fallen acorns?

    1. I’ve been doing some research on edible insects and the “worms” in acorns are mostly weevil and moth larvae. Weevils and their larva, and many moth larvae are edible. Boiling will kill them as it will most life forms. Insects in general are high in protein and undoubtedly contain more protein per gram than acorns.

      I was babysitting a friend’s house once and while watching a movie, grabbed a partially eaten packet of graham crackers from the kitchen. When I got to the bottom of the packet to tip it up and eat the crumbs, I noticed there were 10 to the 3rd power weevils in the bottom. I must have eaten at least a least a hundred and lived to tell the tale.

    2. Oak tree typically drop their acorns in 2 drops. The early drop is typically the infected or invested acorns that the tree purges early. The second drop is supposed to be mostly good acorns. You should be able to harvest from the ground. There are clues that give away most of the bad nuts but you will still find some when you crack them open to process. I have not done this 1st hand but it is on my to do list for this fall. Samuel Thayer has a very good chapter in one of his books on acorn processing. You can use the method in this article and there is also a cold leeching method.

    3. I looked up the book title and it is Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer. His books Forager’s Harvest and Incredible Wild Edibles are also great resources for foraging. He covers fewer plants but goes in depth on identification, seasonality, harvest mdethods, and parts of the plant to use.

  6. Thank you for such an informative article! Where I come from, the native Kalapuya Indians used the white oak tree’s acorns to make acorn meal. They would boil the acorns in tightly-woven baskets over a robust fire, while continually adding water until the acorn water was clear. Then they would dry the mash in the sun, then grind it into a powder for many different recipes.

  7. My question like everyone is how can you harvest them from the tree ? I do tree work as a contract climber so I think I could, but for most how would they go about it.

  8. Prepared Pamela!
    Thanks so much for an excellent article — well written, informative, and tickled for the recipes included as well. In addition to enjoying forest produce of the present, remember as well to plant for the future — nut trees are important today and will be even more going forward!

  9. Hey Pamela, excellent article.

    I made some acorn flour a few years back but after all the leaching, the flavor was bland. I guess with the other nutrients they have that’s not too important, especially when mixed with flour etc. It’s time to try again with some of these recipes.

    Both red oak and white oak are general terms and they each have many species. The difference between red oaks and white oaks is that red oak acorns germinate in the spring and white oaks in the fall not long after they drop, so if collecting white oak acorns after they fall don’t wait too long.

    If you want to know which kind of tree you’re looking at, red oaks are the ones with pointy leaf lobes, white ones have rounded lobes. You can remember from the old saying: The Red Man hunted with arrows (pointy), the White Man hunted with bullets (round tips). That’s an indication of which acorns you’re looking at and how long you have to gather them if picking up from the ground. On my homestead there are tons of red/white oaks so acorn flour could be a great source of nutrition and also help stretch post-SHTF flour supplies. Time to try them again after reading this article.

    1. Hello St. Funogas!
      A couple thoughts to add…

      For all those who enjoy nut-based flours, try a good frangipane recipe! Just watch those nut allergies, and substitute as needed for your household.

      Here’s a link to help folks get started!

      Also a tree safety note. Red Oaks have root structures that may not hold these large trees solidly in place. They can come down. Probably a good idea to keep this particular tree away from structures. We learned this from a tree service after we had our own unfortunate experience in this regard!

  10. I am not an environmentalist. I AM a conservationist and have been all my life. We have always understood that for the environment to function effectively it must remain in some degree of BALANCE. One of the side points in this article may be the MOST important point that can be made in the environmental argument. One oak tree converts 6.6 tons of carbon dioxide to oxygen. I have both oaks and maples in my yard. I get sprouts every year, which I encourage my family, friends, and neighbors to take and plant on their property. Not only do the hardwood trees convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, they also absorb other environmentally detrimental chemicals from the soil such as lead. Contaminated areas planted in hardwoods would be cleaned without the need to spend millions and billions of dollars, while reducing carbon and increasing the oxygen supply. On top of that these trees would provide food through their nuts for animals and humans, and provide recreational areas for hunters and fishermen to use with carefully harvested wood a future community. We used to be taught selective cutting for logging, which helped the small business logger, but then the corporations took over and started clear cutting (deforestation), a more efficient but less effective method of logging.

    Several of the hardwood trees are a source of food especially the pecan, walnut, and hickory.

    An excellent article for processing for food, and the recipes help anyone who wants to experiment with acorns. The process is labor intensive. I have tried it just to see what it would take if I was starving.

    1. So very true, I appreciate your comment in so many ways.

      Where we live it is Hunters, Fishermen, Ranchers, and Farmers against BLM (land management) and the weirdo city people who appear and love to tell those of us whose entire life and livelihood is the land, just how badly we are messing it up…because someone told them. What gets most of us who live out here truly upset, is the sheer number of litterbug city folk infesting our amazing wildlands…many are moving here from East and West coasts, because, they like our laws/and the land is cheap

  11. Known as the “Angel Oak” is a Live Oak in the Low Country of South Carolina outside of Charleston. It was used as a navigational reference point by natives to the region prior to Columbus. It is still standing, and is privately maintained and is a sightseeing attraction.

  12. Great information. For myself, like others have said, it would be difficult to harvest from the tree. I wonder if netting or a tarp rigged underneath or on the ground to collect the acorns would be ok.

  13. Great article Pamela! I am working on learning foraging this year. Besides the fun of learning new skills, it may be a crucial skill in severe shortages. Think about the advantage of having a good food supply that the average person doesn’t recognize as food. Would someone raid my garden? Probably. Would they steal my acorns? Probably not.

      1. Hi, Once a Marine, So kind of you to ask. No progress to speak of. I have had my heart set on a certain area, and I am willing to wait for it. I spoke with someone there wanting and needing to sell some acreage, but I found out it was just a view lot on top of a steep hill. I don’t need view property, but I do need at least sloped or gently rolling acreage that is usable. He has that too but isn’t trying to sell it. I don’t blame him. Maybe he will get desperate to sell later on. Otherwise, I am hoping to find something after the crash. We shall see. Trusting the Lord to provide. Blessings to you and sweet wife the next few snowstorm days! Stay safe, Krissy

  14. I had heard that acorns were edible and I once picked up a freshly fallen acorn, peeled it and ate it. Yuck! I’m glad to learn that they can be properly processed and be used for cooking. I have several hundred post oaks on my property as well as about fifty or so one hundred plus year old oaks that I can’t identify. So I guess I have a food source waiting. Thanks for the informative article.

  15. Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve been aware for some time that it’s possible to make acorns edible, but I hadn’t seen it explained in nearly this much detail. Fantastic article!

  16. I’ve seen videos about making acorn flour, but this is the first time I’ve seen the rest of the story, what to harvest and when to harvest it. We’ve got a couple of white oaks on the property. Going to try to beat the squirrels to the acorns this autumn 🙂

  17. In So Cal many of the local oaks are dying of Golden oak Borers. Thanks to the drought and bugs we have an ample supply of firewood. Unfortunately some move the wood and spread the borers. Great article, full of useful information I had always been curious about. Local indigenous people depended on the oaks for sustenance in their annual treks from desert wintering to upper elevations and on to the coast in summer. Local oaks seem to produce sporadically. Thanks for the info on Processing.
    I will give it a try this fall along with some of the recipes.

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