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The oak tree, respected for millennia as a source of strong, dense wood, also has a considerable tradition of medicinal use. The astringent, tannin-rich bark of the oak tree has been recommended for such diverse conditions as internal hemorrhage, diarrhea, dysentery, cancer, and pneumonia.
Currently, Germany’s Commission E recommends oak bark internally for treatment of diarrhea and topically for sore throat, mouth sores, hemorrhoids, and eczema. However, there is no meaningful scientific evidence that oak bark offers any therapeutic benefit in these or any other conditions. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can prove a treatment effective, and none have been performed on oak bark. (For more information on why such studies are essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)
Oak bark contains numerous substances in the tannin family, especially ellagitannin,1 along with potentially active substances in the saponin family.2 Tannins are thought to have an astringent effect, meaning that they reduce tissue swelling and stop bleeding, and they are traditionally thought to be useful for diarrhea. However, oak bark has never been studied as a treatment for diarrhea. Saponins are often said to act as expectorants, enhancing the ability to cough up phlegm. Again, however, there is no direct evidence that oak bark is useful for coughs or related conditions.
Very weak evidence (too weak to be relied upon at all) hints that oak bark may have value for kidney stones, possibly reducing pain and slowing stone growth.3 In addition, test-tube studies indicate that oak bark solutions applied topically might have activity against various microorganisms, including staphylococcus,4-6 and might also exert cancer-preventive effects.7 However, it is a long way from such studies to actual evidence of clinical benefit.
A typical oral dose of oak bark is 1 gram three times daily.8 For application as a treatment for eczema, an oak bark tea is made by boiling 1–2 tablespoons of the bark for 20 minutes in 2 cups of water, and this is applied to the rash three to five times daily. Oak tinctures and extracts should be used according to label instructions.
Although comprehensive safety testing has not been performed, use of oak bark is not generally associated with any side effects other than the occasional digestive upset or allergic reaction. Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
1. Konig M, Scholz E, Hartmann R, et al. Ellagitannins and complex tannins from Quercus petraea bark. J Nat Prod 1994;57:1411–5.
2. Arramon G, Saucier C, Colombani D, et al. Identification of triterpene saponins in Quercus robur L. and Q. petraea Liebl. Heartwood by LC-ESI/MS and NMR. Phytochem Anal. 2002;13:305–10.
3. Mandana Rodriguez A, Gausa Rull P. Therapeutic effects of Quercus extract in urolithiasis. Arch Esp Urol. 1980;33:205–26.
4. Voravuthikunchai S, Lortheeranuwat A, Jeeju W, et al. Effective medicinal plants against enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004;94:49–54.
5. Gulluce M, Adiguzel A, Ogutcu H, et al. Antimicrobial effects of Quercus ilex L. extract. Phytother Res. 2004;18:208–11.
6. Voravuthikunchai SP, Kitpipit L. Activity of medicinal plant extracts against hospital isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2005;11:510–2.
7. Cerda B, Tomas-Barberan FA, Espin JC. Metabolism of antioxidant and chemopreventive ellagitannins from strawberries, raspberries, walnuts, and oak-aged wine in humans: identification of biomarkers and individual variability. J Agric Food Chem. 2005;53:227–35.
8. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: TherapeuticGuide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998:175–6.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015