Acorn Nuts: The Grain That Grows on Trees

Don't leave them to the squirrels. Acorn nuts were a dietary staple for indigenous peoples and can be part of your diet too, if you but take the time to gather them.

| September/October 1984

acorn nuts - oak tree

Ornamental oaks in a city park will provide as well as will trees.


Before white settlers ventured onto this continent, acorns were one of the staple foods of many of its indigenous peoples. The oak crop provided a reliable and nutritious source of food for these Native Americans, and many families would harvest and eat as much as half a ton of acorns in a year's time. Acorn nuts were also boiled or crushed to produce an oil, which was prized for cooking and as a salve for burns and wounds. In addition, acorns were the main diet of the deer, bear, and the many other animals and birds that were consumed by the Indians.

However, the use of acorns as a human food began declining in the early 1600's as oak forests were cleared for annual crop production — in particular, for corn. Nowadays, almost four billion bushels of corn are harvested in this country every year, while only a handful of Native Americans and wild-food enthusiasts take advantage of the free-for-the-gathering acorn bounty. It seems a shame that the food which once served as the staff of life to human cultures is now widely disregarded.

Acorns have even lost their place as a forage crop for livestock in this country ...although they're still widely used for this purpose in other lands (particularly in southern Europe, where oaks supply fodder for hogs). Whereas our frontier forebears fed themselves on acorn-fattened pork, the U.S. now relies on corn as the basis for meat production.

The Trade-Off

Unfortunately, when the costs and benefits of growing corn and acorns are compared, it becomes apparent that the changeover has not been much of a bargain. As a perennial tree crop, acorns can be grown year after year without cultivation, fertilization, irrigation, or — in most cases — spraying for pests. The oak also has the ability to yield well on marginal land, including steep, erosion-prone hillsides. Acorn production has other benefits, as well. The trees contribute to soil deposition, provide increased rainfall retention for replenishing the groundwater supply, act as windbreaks, supply summer shade, furnish harvests of hardwood lumber and firewood, and in the case of one oak (Quercus suber), cork. What's more, the tannin present in many acorn varieties is a sought-after commercial product.

Corn, in contrast, is an annual that usually requires much cultivation (which contributes to soil erosion), heavy applications of fertilizers and pest-control sprays (resulting in adverse environmental effects), and, often, irrigation (thus helping to deplete our ground-water stores).

Furthermore, as shown in our Nutritional Comparison Table, acorns are quite similar to corn. You'll note that the nuts are exceptionally high in fat and carbohydrates, and the kernels are reported to be easy to digest once the tannin is removed.

9/23/2017 3:56:59 PM

I collected a few acorns while in Salem Oregon and would like to find out if the tree would survive in Minnesota should I get any of them to sprout.

9/23/2017 3:56:42 PM

I collected a few acorns while in Salem Oregon and would like to find out if the tree would survive in Minnesota should I get any of them to sprout.

9/23/2017 3:56:40 PM

I collected a few acorns while in Salem Oregon and would like to find out if the tree would survive in Minnesota should I get any of them to sprout.

2/13/2010 12:58:17 PM

Acorns: An Easier Way to Remove Tannic Acid I’ve tried some of the old recommended procedures for ridding acorns of their tannic acid. I was not that satisfied with the results and the probable lost of nutrients with these processes, so I began to think about a way that would be easier and more effective. After pondering on and off about it, I remembered how one kind of acid can alter or cancel another kind of acid. So what was an acid that would be safe and not unpalatable? It was obvious, apple cider vinegar. I had some dry acorns from that fall, so I coarse ground them. I then soak the acorns covered in the apple cider vinegar, in a covered glass jar and refrigerated for about a day and a have. Then I rinsed them in water with baking soda and spread them out to dry. When they had dried they were ground finer. I found a recipe in the Joy of Cooking cookbook for Northern Style corn bread, however I substituted the wheat flour with some of Bob’s Red Mill gluten free flour. That may not be necessary for you. The recipe called for baking soda but because I had used baking soda in the rinsing, the bread had a little too much, I will have to adjust that next time. Non-the less, the bread was delicious, without any taste of tannic acid, or vinegar. Tasting a lot like brown bread. My wife ate two slices one after the other. Northern Corn Bread recipe: A mixture of cornmeal (Acorn Flour) and flour, an additional egg, and a combination of milk and buttermilk yields lighter bread with more cakey texture than Southern Corn Bread. Position rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven 425 degrees F. Grease pan or line a muffin pan with paper cups. Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl: 1 ¼ cups store-grown cornmeal (ACORNS) 1 to 4 tablespoons sugar or equivalent amount of molasses or honey 2 teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt Whisk together in another bowl 2 large eggs 2/3-cup milk 2/3-cup buttermilk A

paul barthle
9/12/2009 6:13:02 PM

As an erstwhile hog hunter, I wondered if particularly productive wild oaks could be grafted onto young oak seedlings so that they would then bear sooner and more reliably. I wouldn't suggest a monoculture as in apples or oranges, just a way to improve someone's property more quickly. I had been thinking of this as a way to attract wildlife primarily, but this may be a way to improve depleted farm soils by changing over to intensively rotated pasture land with scattered oak hammocks. CRP nursery, anyone?

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!