Though it might seem like we’re brewing up some Halloween potion, crushed acorns and hot water can provide us with a great remedy for ailments like inflamed, irritated skin and toothaches—and it can even help us tan a hide. You can use the first water you pour off when soaking acorns for food, or you can make a more concentrated concoction by boiling crushed acorns (shells and all) in a pot of water. The tannins that are released are highly soluble, and it only takes a handful of crushed acorns in one pint of water to make a small batch of this remarkable liquid.
What is tannic acid? A tannin (also known as vegetable tannin or tannic acid) is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound. Tannins have been attributed with antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic effects. The term tannin (from tanna, an Old High German word for oak or fir tree, as in tannenbaum) refers to the use of wood tannins from oak in tanning animal hides for leather; hence the words “tan” and “tanning” for the treatment of leather. Besides tanning, there are several other survival uses.
For tooth troubles, simply swish the bitter water back and forth in your mouth, holding it in there as long as you can. Repeat as need, but do not swallow, as this acidic water will give you an upset stomach.
The easiest delivery method that I have used is a cotton ball strapped to the offending toe- or fingernail. Use a bit of gauze dressing or a band-aid to hold the cotton ball in the right spot, and drip tannic acid water on the cotton until it’s soaked. Leave it in place and keep it moist for 12 to 24 hours, and the problem should be gone.
Soak a clean cloth in the dark brown water, and apply the wet cloth to rashes and any other inflamed skin ailment. Leave the cloth in place, and repeat this treatment as needed.
The best source of tannic acid for diarrhea relief is not from acorns, but from blackberry roots. Collect a few live roots (any time of year), wash them off and chop them into little pieces. Steep a tablespoon of root pieces in an 8-ounce cup of scalding hot water for 15 minutes. Sip on this tea over the course of a few hours, repeat if needed, until the diarrhea subsides.
This use isn’t medicinal, but if you’re living off the land it’s very helpful. Crush a few handfuls of acorns, including shells. Boil them in a quart of water. Use this water, with either animal brains or egg yolks (no egg whites) to condition the hide for several hours. Then stretch the hide by hand until dry.
Got any other uses for tannic acid? Let us know by leaving a comment. And if you’re looking for ways to use your leftover acorns, check out these five tasty options.