Well, I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in the Midlands we have finally started to see some blue skies and sunshine. I cannot tell you how much this has been needed for my soul – those long, grey days that have dragged on far longer than usual have really dragged me down and so it is an absolute joy to get out in the garden, place my bare feet on the ground, and plant herbs and vegetables in our garden.
I’ve also been spending some time sitting in our local Arboretum after the school drop-off, and I am reminded how lucky I am to live just a stone’s throw away from such a beautiful place. The entire park, Victorian in design, is full of wildlife and dotted with trees throughout. And the more I read about trees for this series, the more I appreciate their very unique properties – aren’t we so blessed to have so many trees around us?
Today I get to tell you about the Oak, a magnificent species that is a true hallmark of the British landscape.
Oak trees are one of the most easily recognised and well-known of all trees, with their strong and sturdy trunks, gnarled and crooked branches, large, open canopies and, of course, their acorns. In fact the Oak is so well-known that has become an emblem for Britain and has been used in the design of multiple logos, including that of both The Woodland Trust and The National Trust.
The Oak tends to grow rapidly as a young tree, with growth slowing down when they reach around 120 years of age. Oak has a long life-span, around 1,000 years, meaning that there are some truly famous Oaks in our land, such as The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.
Oak trees offer a home and nourishment to over 500 different types of insects, spiders, birds, and other animals, far more than any other native tree. In the autumn, Oak leaves break down easily, creating a rich leaf mould beneath the tree, which offers even more support for the local wildlife. It’s no wonder the Oak is so valued!
Thanks to its large size and dense, strong wood, the Oak has been prized throughout the centuries for building everything from houses to naval fleets. Indeed, many of our Royal Forests were planted with Oak to ensure a plentiful supply for the latter.
Younger branches are still valued today for use in furniture making or for creating doors and coffins.
The Oak’s acorns have also been highly sought out in the practice of “masting”, that is allowing pigs, cattle, and sheep to pasture in the woods. During the Middle Ages, estimates of the value of woodland were based on the number of pigs that the mast could feed.
Oak bark is strongly astringent due to its tannin content and so has traditionally been used to treat catarrh and sinus congestion, diarrhoea and dysentry, as well as infections and inflammations. Externally is has been used to help heal bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, cuts and burns. Its leaves have also been used to help staunch bleeding from wounds and promote healing.
Folklore and Legend
The Oak has been associated with the weather Gods in many cultures, particularly those connected to Thunder and Lightning, perhaps because the Oak tends to be struck by lighting more than any other tree.
It has also, somewhat surprisingly, been associated with both war and peace, despite their obvious dissonance with each other! Thanks to its association with sky Gods such as Zeus (with his use of thunderbolts to strike down enemies), as well the use of Oak to build naval fleets, it is perhaps easy to see how the connection to war developed. Even Oak’s association with Mars Silvanus, the God of agriculture and healing, eventually changed from that of nurturing the farmyard to bearing arms. But it wasn’t all about war…
In later centuries, the God Silvanus frequently manifested as The Green Man or Herne the Hunter, and the Oak itself became associated with important legendary figures including King Arthur, whose Round Table is said to have been made of Oak, and Robin Hood, who lived amongst the Oaks in Sherwood Forest. Both of these figures embody the two sides of war and peace, balancing out the nurturing qualities with those of fighting for justice when required.
The Oak has also been used to mark boundaries, perhaps thanks in part to it longevity, and has also marked significant meeting points for everything from crowning kings and the passing of laws to sacred ceremonies by the Druids and gospel readings by members of the clergy. This “meeting point” as such is also reflected in the Celtic name for it, Duir, which is closely related to the name for door – marking a doorway between two worlds. As such, the Oak plays a central role in the Midsummer Solstice as a representation of movement into the second part of the year. Great Midsummer Fires, burnt on hilltops, were traditionally made from Oak wood.
Where and How to Find Oak
To be honest with you, you’d be hard pressed not to find an Oak wherever you go, they are that prolific! They grow along field boundaries, in woodlands, and local parks. Just pop out for a walk and see if you can find one.
Want to know more?
To find out more about the folklore and legends connected to Oak, check out The Goddess Tree.
Disclaimer: Affiliate links have been used in this post in order to help fund the development and growth of Spirit Kid Network.