Herb: Swamp White Oak

Latin name: Quercus bicolor

Family: Fagaceae (Beech Family)

Medicinal use of Swamp White Oak:

Any galls produced on the tree are strongly astringent and can be used in the treatment of haemorrhages, chronic diarrhoea, dysentery etc.

Description of the plant:


25 m
(82 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Bottomlands, stream margins and swamps. Tolerant of poorly drained sites, it is frequently found in heavy mucky soils.

Edible parts of Swamp White Oak:

Seed - raw or cooked. A rather sweet flavour. The seed is quite large, about 2 - 3cm long and 15 - 20mm wide, and unlike most other oaks, is attached to the tree by a long stem. It matures in its first year. The seed can be dried, ground into a powder and used as a thickening in stews etc or mixed with cereals for making bread. The seed from some trees can contain bitter tannins, these can be leached out by thoroughly washing the seed in running water though many minerals will also be lost. Either the whole seed can be used or the seed can be dried and ground it into a powder. It can take several days or even weeks to properly leach whole seeds, one method was to wrap them in a cloth bag and place them in a stream. Leaching the powder is quicker. A simple taste test can tell when the tannin has been leached. The traditional method of preparing the seed was to bury it in boggy ground overwinter. The germinating seed was dug up in the spring when it would have lost most of its astringency. Roasted seed is a coffee substitute.

Other uses of the herb:

A mulch of the leaves repels slugs, grubs etc, though fresh leaves should not be used as these can inhibit plant growth. Oak galls are excrescences that are sometimes produced in great numbers on the tree and are caused by the activity of the larvae of different insects. The insects live inside these galls, obtaining their nutrient therein. When the insect pupates and leaves, the gall can be used as a rich source of tannin, that can also be used as a dyestuff. The bark has been boiled with hemlock (Tsuga sp.?) and soft maple bark (Acer spp), and the liquid used to remove rust. he mixture was also believed to prevent rust. Wood - close-grained, strong, hard, tough, heavy. It weighs 48lb per cubic foot. Trees do not self-prune and dead branches remain on the trees for many years. This does mean that the wood is usually quite knotty. The wood is of some importance commercially, it is used for construction, furniture, interior finishes etc, as well as for fencing and fuel.

Propagation of Swamp White Oak:

Seed - it quickly loses viability if it is allowed to dry out. It can be stored moist and cool overwinter but is best sown as soon as it is ripe in an outdoor seed bed, though it must be protected from mice, squirrels etc. Small quantities of seed can be sown in deep pots in a cold frame. Plants produce a deep taproot and need to be planted out into their permanent positions as soon as possible, in fact seed sown in situ will produce the best trees. Trees should not be left in a nursery bed for more than 2 growing seasons without being moved or they will transplant very badly.

Cultivation of the herb:

Bottomlands, stream margins and swamps. Tolerant of poorly drained sites, it is frequently found in heavy mucky soils.

Known hazards of Quercus bicolor:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.