FLOing WILD:  Edible Plants - Acorns     by Marilu Dempsey

"The Ancient Food of Man",   Eulle Gibbons

white oak leaf


White Oak:  Leaves are dark green, glossy top side, with blunt, rounded edges.  The bark is light, and rough in upper part of tree.

Live Oak:  Leaves are thick and leathery, elliptical shape with rolled edges.
Acorns are smooth inside and waxy outside.  They mature yearly, and can be gathered in the fall.   Ripe acorns are tan to brown in color.

Acorns are an excellent source of protein, carbohydrate, and calcium.  They are perishable, use them within a few days, or freeze them for up to a year.


Black Oak:  Leaves are glossy top side and fuzzy under side, with pointed edges.   Lower leaves are broader than those higher on the tree.  The bark is dark, and smooth in upper part of tree.

Water Oak:  Leaves are dull top side, and slightly hairy under side.  Bark is dark gray.

Acorns have a hairy inner surface.  They germinate after a cold spell, usually every two years.   Because of excessive tannic acid, the nut is very bitter.

Note: Oaks of the Red Oak group are considered too full of tannic acid to make harvesting worthwhile.   You can eat them, but it takes a lot of effort to leach out all the tannin.

White Oak

live oak leaf

Live Oak

black oak leaf

Black Oak

water oak leaf

Water Oak


Tannic Acid gives a bitter taste.  Eating an excessive amount of tannic acid can result in kidney failure.   Before eating any acorns, leach out tannic acid.


from The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook   by 'Wildman' Steve Brill
  1. Boil acorns in water to cover for 1 to 2 minutes to loosen shells.
  2. Drain and Cool.  Cut into quarters w/ paring knife. (to make easier to shell)
  3. Shell acorns, discard insect damaged or any that are black on the inside. (a lot)
  4. Put 1 Ĺ cups in a blender.  Fill almost to the top w/ water, and process until the size of rice grains.
  5. Boil the bits for 5 to 10 minutes in water to cover.
  6. Taste one of the largest pieces, if it has any bitterness, change the water and repeat the process.
  7. Repeat until all bitterness is gone and water is clear.

Mike and I did not exactly follow Wildmanís directions.  We skipped the blender.   Soon we discovered that the nuts would take a lot (lot) more boiling.  We boiled and boiled, and changed water, often.   After boiling, the tannin was removed, but it seemed that any flavor was gone too.   Plus the acorns were mushy.

That may be why most recipes call for crushing or grinding the nuts into meal, and using it as a substitute for flour (1 part acorn meal to 4 parts flour).   It can be used in nut-bread, pancakes, or other recipes.    Instead of grinding, we dried the nuts in a 200įF oven for 2 hrs. (until the nut bits are brittle).    We ended up with something that looks like little coffee beans.

Maybe I am spoiled, but this is just too much work.   I probably harvested a Red/White acorn blend, with too much tannin.  Or maybe you just have to be pretty fast to beat the squirrels to any acorns that are worth eating.  

Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so Wild) Places     
Edible and Medicinal Plants...

Many thanks to the Wildman, his informative books gave me the knowledge, as well as the courage, to attempt foraging.   However, through research for this article, I learned how difficult it is to positively identify a plant, even ones considered easy for beginners.  Mike and I have eaten two kinds of wild lettuce, masquerading as dandelion.

I will heed Brillís advice, and take time to observe the life cycle of a plant, to be positive of correct identification.   I hope to harvest (and write about) dandelion, nettles, and other wild foods in 2003.  But for now I will opt for the unmistakable acorn.

Most of the information I found, in books and on the web, has been repeated from other sources.  But it is evident from Brillís writing that he lives life as a forager.  His books are full of information that comes from many years of trial and error.  For more information on foraging or more recipes:    Wildman Steve Brill's web site.