Quercus Alba. Oak.
Description: Natural Order, Cupuliferae. In the same Family with chestnut, beech, and ironwood. Common and familiar in Europe, Asia, and America, the species being variously numbered from forty to sixty; some of them attaining great dimensions, while others are but little larger than shrubs; some of them (especially quercus virens, or live oak) furnishing remarkably tough and highly valued timber, while others are of small worth except for firing. The inner bark of them all is quite astringent, yielding large quantities of tannin, and being largely used in tanning. Only a few species deserve mention in a medical connection.
QUERCUS ALBA; white oak. This species is abundant in the Middle States, but less common in other sections. It is a large and broadly-branched tree, attaining a magnificent size, covered with a whitish bark. Leaves regularly divided into oblique and moderately deep lobes, obtuse, sometimes three to five in number and rather broad, at other times nine and narrow; bright green above, pale underneath. Acorns an inch or more in length, ovate; cup saucer-shaped, shallow, gray, rough or tubercled at maturity, on peduncles an inch long, solitary or in pairs. The inner bark, which is the active portion, is coarse, fibrous, tough, and light-brown.
QUERCUS TINCTORIA; black oak, yellow-barked oak, quercitron. This also is a very large tree, sometimes reaching a height of eighty feet, the branches forming a much less circumference than the preceding species. Bark dark brown, and deeply furrowed; inner bark very thick, yellow. Leaves sinuate lobed, sometimes nearly pinnatifid, lobes somewhat toothed; rusty- pubescent when young, nearly smooth when mature, turning yellow after frost. Acorn broadly globular, half an inch long, a little flattened at the top, nearly buried in the cup, which is distinctly scaly and somewhat contracted at the base; produced every two years. Wood coarse-grained and reddish.
The large scarlet oak (coccinea. and small red oak (rubra. have their leaves very deeply sinuate, on long petioles, and turning brilliant scarlet after frost. Quercus nigra, black-jack or barren oak, seldom grows higher than twenty feet, and delights in barren soils through New Jersey and Illinois. These three species are seldom used in medicine, yet are similar to the others.
Properties and Uses: The inner bark of the white oak is the one most commonly used in medicine. Usually it is set down as a simple astringent; but while this quality is predominant, it contains a distinct tonic principle of the slowly stimulating character. Water extracts its qualities fully, and diluted alcohol less fully. The principal use made of it, is as a gargle in aphthous sores, putrid sore throat, and diphtheria; where it is of much service, especially if combined with xanthoxylum or a little capsicum. Also used locally for hemorrhages, as in spongy or bleeding gums, and piles. Equal parts of oak bark and lobelia seeds, in powder, make a good ointment for indolent bleeding piles that are painful but not inflamed. A decoction is also used in leucorrhea, prolapsus ani, flabby ulcers, and similar cases of lax fibers, especially if there is a tendency to offensiveness. It is a good antiseptic; and as such, as also for its tonic influence, may be used on phagedaenic ulcers and buboes. Eberle mentions a case of small-pox, extremely low and of a putrefactive tendency, where a very strong decoction (popularly called "ooze") of oak bark was used over the entire surface, to the arrest of putrefaction and saving of the patient. A decoction is a popular remedy on bruises, both of men and horses. The late Dr. W. T. Craig of Illinois, told me of a lady who had tetter on both hands, which caused fissures, bleeding, great swelling, extreme pain, and actual helplessness; and obtained no relief from any medication till a strong decoction of oak bark (probably the quercus nigra) was used, which gave relief in a few hours, and cured them rapidly. These facts all show this article to be decidedly tonic and antiseptic; and it is my impression, from some limited observations, that its active principle, quercin, may prove analogous to quinia and salicine. The bark has been used internally in extreme cases of chronic diarrhea, (while regulating hepatic action;) passive hemorrhages from the bowels, uterus, or lungs, especially in combination with capsicum; in hemorrhage from the bowels after typhus; in colliquative sweats, and even intermittents where the fibers become greatly relaxed. A bath of it is quite strengthening to the skin, and may be used for children and adults to give tone to flaccid structures, and in various cutaneous affections of the moist class, as sweating feet. Applied to the scalp, it frequently prevents dandruff and loss of hair; and for this purpose may be combined with a little capsicum and added to glycerin. Dose of the powder, twenty grains every six or four hours. An ounce of the bruised bark, boiled in a pint and a half of water till a pint remains, forms the usual decoction; of which a fluid ounce or more may be given every two or three hours. Like other astringents, it should not be combined with peruvian bark.
The acorns of white oak are sweet and eatable. The Germans roast them and prepare them into a coffee; which they speak of in warm terms as a tonic drink in scrofula.
The bark of the black oak is more bitter and stimulating than that of the white; and is sometimes unpleasantly exciting to the stomach and bowels, very much as the bark of cinchona. It is seldom used in medicine; but is at least equal to the white oak as an astringent and antiseptic in all the cases above named, and unquestionably superior to it as a stimulating tonic. The proper use of it is in languid and relaxed conditions of the stomach, and not in tenderness or sensibility. It evidently deserves the careful investigation from a medical point of view, that it has received among the arts–the decoction being of " a brownish-yellow color, which is deepened by alkalies and rendered brighter by acids," which is used extensively as a yellow dye for wool and silk, under the name of quercitron.
Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Extract. I have a few times seen an extract made from the bark of quercus nigra or black-jack. Dr. W. P. Brickley, of Indiana, first called my attention to it. It is a resinous-looking, reddish-black, and rather shining brittle mass, readily pulverulent, and yielding a pretty and dark red powder. The appearance is not unlike that of kino, and its action is similar to that article, and I judge fully equal to it.
II. Quercin. This is a bitter principle, obtained from the European bark by Gerber, but also contained in the American white oak. The United States Dispensatory contains the following account of its preparation, condensed from German Archives of Pharmacy: "It is obtained by boiling the bark with water acidulated with one-hundredth of sulphuric acid; adding milk of lime until the sulphuric acid is removed, and then a solution of carbonate of potassa so long as a white precipitate is produced filtering the liquor, evaporating to the consistence of a thin extract, adding alcohol, and finally evaporating the spiritous solution down to a small volume, and allowing it to rest for some days. Yellow crystals form, which may be obtained colorless by repeated crystallizations. Quercin thus obtained is in small white crystals, inodorous, very bitter, readily soluble in water less so in alcohol containing water, insoluble in alcohol and ether and without acid or alkaline reaction." This principle seems to bear to quercus the same relation that quinine bears to cinchona and represents the tonic properties of the bark. Undoubtedly it merits close attention.
The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at http://medherb.com