Oak - medicinal agent for allergic and dermatological conditions (Die Eiche – Heilmittel für allergische und dermatologische Erkrankungen).
Der Merkurstab 2005; 58: 358-64.
The young bark (Cortex Quercus) from the species Quercus robur (common oak) and Quercus petraea (sessile oak) contains large amounts of tannins.
Decocts of the bark and preparations made from it, like ointments and suppositories are traditionally used for inflammatory-pruritic skin diseases, eczema and haemorrhoids.
For the specifically anthroposophical preparation Calcium Quercus, oak bark is reduced to ashes, the ash is washed with water to obtain pure calcium oxide (CaO).
It combines with the carbon dioxide of the air to form calcium carbonate (CaCO).
The oak bark decoct is potentised to the 6th decimal using the saturated solution of calcium carbonate prepared from the ash. The preparation Calcium Quercus is available
in 1 and 10 ml ampoules as well as coated pillules. The 10 ml ampoules are for the control of acute allergic reactions. The 1 ml ampoules and the coated pillules are suitable
for the continuation of the acute treatment and for chronic conditions. The also used in the paediatric therapy.
Allergy emerge from this barely differentiated relationship of plant and animal pursue diametrically opposite paths in their development toward perfection. Thus plants attain
their final glory in the tree, enduring and rigid, while the animal does so in man by achieving the highest degree of mobility and freedom.”
The tree is thus a high point in plant evolution - we do with good reason speak of it bearing a “crown”.
The two closely related species of oak used in pharmacy, Quercus robur (common or pedunculate oak) and Quercus petraea (durmast or sessile oak), belong to the Fagaceae (beech family).
Together with the birch family and others they are members of the order Fagales (beech-like trees), the native woodland trees of Central Europe.
Below we will consider how the oak deals with the mineral world, develops its life as a plant, is occupied by many animals and finally also used by human beings.
Once the plant has germinated, the tremendous roots rapidly penetrate the soil to a great depth. The tap root is said to go down as deep as the crown extends skywards. Lightning often strikes oaks, probably because of the connection with ground water.
Pliny (23/24 – 79 AD) claimed in his reports on German lands to have observed a particularly striking fact: “Oaks are growing with great vigour on the banks. Washed away
by floods or blown down by gales they take vast islands with them in their enormous root systems, and thus balanced float along under the rigging of their mighty branches, often causing terror in our ships when driven, as though by purpose, against their foreparts when lying at anchor at night.
Knowing no other means, the ships would then start a maritime battle against trees.”
Oaks thrive on lime and avoid very acid soils. They do not deplete the soil at all but tend to improve it, with other plants benefiting from this in mixed oak woodland.
Oaks do, however, need a certain quality and maturity of soil before they’ll grow; they are not pioneering trees like birch, for example. After the Ice Age, oak followed birch,
always in danger of being displaced both above and below ground by fast-growing beeches.
The genus Quercus certainly likes warmth (cork oaks = Quercus suber) growing in the Mediterranean region. Sensitivity to frost limits the northward spread of the two species used in pharmacy [robur (= Stieleiche) and petraea (= Wintereiche)].
The trunk soon branches in a way that the main shoot is not always easily identified. Under special circumstances the stem may split at ground level; two trees thus developed over centuries in the case of the Ravens Oak in Erle near Dorsten, Germany, estimated to be 1,500 years old. The lateral branches of the tree often take a sharp turn, like a knee, and then regain secondary uprightness.
They seem rigid, resisting the wind - “he’s like an oak”, as the popular saying goes. Oak has always been seen as a male tree (robur = robust, mighty), and related to Mars.
Oak leaves were awarded for victory, as well as the laurel of antiquity. The war-like aspect also shows through in Pliny’s description above. Oak was and continues to be used as a symbol of government power and was frequently misused by NS fascists for their emblems.
Oak leaves are coarsely lobed, their tips looking flattened. They often curl slightly inwards in the margins. It is very dark under an oak. New leaves appear relatively late in the year, but the foliage persists for longer than with many other trees. Some leaves often remain throughout winter on branches in the inner crown.
Quercus robur and Quercus petraea can be distinguished, among other things, by their leaves and fruit - robur has
Oak is wind-pollinated and produces vast amounts of pollen, though - compared to birch - the pollen hardly plays a role as an allergen.
After pollination, heavy fruits develop from the inconspicuous flowers. They hit the ground with a thud in autumn and provide food for deer, squirrels, dormice, mice, pigs and jays.
Burying acorns in the ground in autumn and forgetting them means that the animals also help to spread the tree; its advances following the Ice Age are said to have been partly due to this. People have traditionally roasted acorns in ersatz for coffee, and in times of need even added acorn flour to bread dough. Before potatoes were introduced, farmers liked to drive their pigs into the woods to fatten them.
The acorn yield thus played a considerable role in the valuation of a piece of woodland, and it was said that the best hams “grew” on oaks. Acorns are found only in mature woodlands, for the trees only bear fruit when more than 50 or 60 years old.
Oaks provide habitat even when dying - the middle spotted woodpecker is wholly dependent on the rotten trunks.
The affinity between insects and oak is remarkable.
More than 200 species depend on the tree. Oaks cope well with oak-moths eating all the leaves, producing numerous new leaves around St John’s Tide. Processional spinner moths have toxic hairs that may trigger dermatitis. In the case of the gypsy moth, symbiosis goes so far that oak tannins (from Quercus rubra) protect it from virus infections. Finally the kermes insect living on scarlet or grey oak can be used to obtain carmine dye.
The pinnacle of symbiosis is with wasps. These lay their eggs in oak shoots, leaves or flowers. The tree reacts to the developing maggot by creating a spherical gall.
Here the oak abandons the archetypal planar ether principle of plants (“forward or back, the plant is always but leaf” (Goethe)- and opens up to the sphere’s principle of creating an interior space under influence of the animal astrality brought in by the insect. In the plant world, we generally find the creation of an interior space only in fruit - characteristically the gall is coloured a fruity reddish yellow, which is why it is also called an ‘oak-apple’. On the one hand the gall is a proliferation, on the other it shows that the tree is able to set structured limits to the foreign life.
The kindest of hosts to the animal world, the oak shows reserve when it comes to certain plants. Broadleaf grown mistletoe (Viscum album) is extremely rare on oaks. Only 10% of acorns from mistletoe receptive trees grow into young trees which in their turn are receptive to mistletoe. Clearly the plant which shuns the earth and “earthy” oak
can only harmonize within limits.
Oak provides excellent wood for parts of a house subject to mechanical stresses, with at least the door and stairs made of it to advantage. Oak wood incubated with dry rot (Serpula lacrymans) loses only 1.8% in weight over 18 weeks, compared to 51% lost by beech. Oak is also much used for railway sleepers, in shipbuilding and for barrels. The special aroma developed in fluids matured in oak casks is greatly appreciated. Oak wood does not merely resist water without rotting but in fact tends to get even harder and more firm under its influence. Oak pianos with excellent sound qualities are said to have been built from submerged Roman bridges.
Finally there is the use of cork from Quercus suber. This Mediterranean species develops a bark 10 cm in thickness to protect it from fire and limit evaporation.
Cork is taken off in a ten-year rhythm and put to various uses. Cork oaks and the olive have left their mark on cultivated Mediterranean landscapes as much as orchard trees
of the rose family have in our parts. Increasing use of plastic and metal stoppers poses a threat to traditional cork harvesting in Mediterranean regions.
Use of oak in medicine and pharmacy
Oak bark from young branches (smooth bark) and even more so the galls have a high tannin content
An idea of these may best be gained by making a concentrated decoction of the bark and rinsing the mouth with it for some time. Soon the mucous membranes register a furry, possibly a bit numb, and markedly astringent effect, not “pointed” and “bright” as in the case of lemon, for instance, but “blunt” and “dark”. It is important not to be misled
by the term “tannic acid”, which is correct in terms of the chemical structure and was also used by R.S.
Tannins are widely used to this day to prevent animal skins from rotting and keep them supple, i.e. to make them into leather (vegetable tanning). Tannins form more or less stable complexes with proteins. This gives them their anti-inflammatory, astringent, mildly local-anaesthetic and drying actions on mucous membranes and skins. They stabilize the always unstable human “boundary surface” which is too permeable in the case of eczema, for instance, becoming metabolism-like in producing secretions. Physiologically, skin cells are subject to a process of dying and drying out as they migrate from the basal to the cornified layer. This alone gives them the ability to create a boundary, a function performed by the bark in perennial, woody plants.
Goethe realized that peripheral dying processes were the condition for life on the inside.
“When we consider this miraculous structure and become familiar with how it rises upward, we will once more meet an important principle of structure: life is unable to work at the surface or express its generative powers there. The whole activity of life requires a covering which protects it against the raw elements of its environment, be they water or air or light, a covering which preserves its delicate nature so that it may fulfil the specific purpose for which it is inwardly destined.
Whether the covering takes the form of bark, skin, or shell, anything that works in a living way must be covered over. And thus everything turned toward the external world gradually falls victim to an early death and decay. The bark of trees, the air and feathers of animals, even the epidermis of man, are coverings forever being shed, cast off, given over to non-life.
New coverings are constantly forming beneath the old, whilst still further down, close to this surface or more deeply hidden, life brings forth its web of creation.”
Wala produces oak preparations with tannin content as Quercus-Essence
1. (for compresses and (sitz) baths, e.g. for anal eczema), Quercus haemorrhoid suppositories
2. and Quercus ointment
3. haemorrhoids but also varicosities and eczema.
The boundary-setting “signature” might suggest the use of tannins also for allergic conditions, but so far this has not been done to any extent in herbal medicine or homoeopathy. It appears, that after the Second World War tannin (a special form of it) was given by as injection to treat urticaria and allergic oedema with “good results” in Hungary, the results largely reminiscent “of the actions of antihistamine preparations”.
Apart from tannins, oak bark contains calcium, and this will be discussed below.
Pharmacology of calcium
Calcium compounds have been used from 1896 to treat allergic conditions. The discovery is above all connected with the introduction of diphtheria serum treatment which would cause exanthemata, especially in the early years when other proteins were still present. The English bacteriologist Almroth Wright (1861 - 1947) was the first to treat such patients with oral doses of calcium chloride.
Cortex Quercus - young, smooth bark = rich in tannins; old bark = rich in calcium.
1) Quercus Essence - 100 g contain Quercus robur/petraea e cortice decoct. LA 10%: 100 g.
2) Each 2-g suppository contains Aesculus hippocastanum e semine ferm 10 mg; Borago officinalis e foliis ferm 10 mg; Hamamelis virginiana e foliis ferm 10 mg; Quercus robur/petraea e cortice, decoct. 2 (= 1x) 200 mg; Silybum marianum e fructibus ferm 10 mg.
3) 100 g contain Borago officinalis e foliis ferm 0.5 g; Hamamelis virginiana e foliis ferm 0.5 g; Quercus robur/petraea e cortice, decoct. (= 1x) 20 g.
The treatment was soon also adopted on the Continent, with the initially small dose getting larger and larger. Intravenous exhibition was used especially to treat severe allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock or Quincke’s oedema). Calcium was given intramuscularly in addition to achieve a certain depot effect and raise blood calcium levels more permanently.
The capillaries were thought to be the point of attack for calcium, and this led to the term, still in use though not satisfactory for modern pharmacologists, of a “capillary-sealing” action of calcium.
It is interesting to note that early users of calcium would speak of a “distant astringent action”, so that even the terminology drew a parallel to the astringent quality of tannins. Calcium also played an important role in the treatment of haemorrhages; certainly a plausible indication if one considers the central significance of calcium in the coagulation cascade. Exhibition of calcium in increasingly massive doses led to signs of irritation with parenteral application, and interest thus focused for years on the search for calcium compounds that were better tolerated.
One man only, Hugo Schulz (1853 -1932), professor at Greifswald University (18), also the only German pharmacologist who openly sympathized with (low-potency)
homoeopathy and even tried to give it a scientific basis, pleaded for caution, even considering high doses to be counterproductive. “As I said before, gentlemen, you must use calcium in low doses if you want to see a deep-reaching effect.” Schulz still had a real notion of the “boundary-building” action of calcium, and this made him sceptical about the endeavours to increase the dosage more and more.
“We also meet calcium under quite different conditions, namely as a kind of protection against tissue irritation, especially in highly vascularized tissues. As you know from pathology, chronically inflamed tissues have in themselves the peculiar and highly interesting tendency to deposit calcium in their walls, often in considerable amounts.
We also see such calcium deposits elsewhere.
Let me just remind you of the ‘calcification’ of old tubercle nodes, calcium deposits in chronically inflamed lymph glands and in the walls of old abscesses.
The position of calcium is also very evident in the process which takes place when Trichinella larvae have reached muscle tissue and established themselves there. They are said to ‘encapsulate’ themselves. In reality, however, encapsulation is due to a peculiar reflex action to their presence in muscle tissue.”
Composition of Calcium Quercus
The preparation was developed by Margarethe Hauschka, MD (1896 – 1980) and her staff, the aim being to make the active principles of calcium and tannin into a new whole. Oak bark is boiled until the less easily soluble tannins are part of the solute. Bark is also calcined to obtain pure calcium oxide (CaO). This combines with carbon dioxide in the air to calcium carbonate (CaCO3).
The tannin extract is potentized to the 6th decimal calcium carbonate solution as this is rapidly saturated because of the low solubility.
The idea for the preparation probably came from the 5th lecture in Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture course, where he spoke of oak bark as one of the six compost preparations.
He stressed that the calcium must remain in the sphere of life to have healing properties. One could “not do anything with ordinary calcium carbonate”. The source he gave
for this “living calcium” was oak bark. This does, in fact, contain calcium oxalate crystals which appear as large clusters under the light microscope. Steiner also touched on
the Goethean concept of the incipient death process in the bark. “In particular the bark of oak trees is a kind of intermediate product between vegetation and living soil,
wholly in the style of my description of the relationship of living soil quality to earth or soil.
With regard to the properties shown by calcium, the calcium structure found in oak bark is the most ideal.” The skull of a domestic animal was to be used for making the compost preparation. With the other preparations, Steiner gave explicit directions concerning the choice of animal (e. g. red deer bladder for the yarrow preparation, clearly
not easily obtainable), here he simply said that it was “more or less immaterial which of our domestic animals”. Evidently it is the “skull principle” which matters, i. e. exoskeleton as a solid container.
The skull filled with oak bark must then be buried in soil heavily soaked in rainwater for the winter. R. S. added that one might “add vegetable matter that would cause vegetable sludge to be present throughout”. The transition from living to dead matter characteristic of oak bark is thus recreated around the buried skull. The “composting”
and hence partial mineralization of oak bark is in pharmacy copied and enhanced in the calcination process. If one lives for some time with the idea of a skull overwintering
in damp, “sludgy” soil, the counter image of the allergic patient who “flows apart” under the many sensory stimuli summer provides.
Calcium Quercus is available in ampoules à 1 and 10 ml (Calcium Quercus inject) 4 and pilules 5.
Wholly in accord with experience gained in conventional calcium treatment, the 10 ml ampoules in particular prove effective in controlling acute allergic reactions.
Positive results have also been seen with non-allergic pruritus (in pregnancy). Efficacy is so good that patients tolerate even frequent injections well. Calcium Quercus is
also used to treat acute hayfever episodes where Citrus/Cydonia or Gencydo® on their own do not meet the case.
The action of the 10-ml ampoules can be objectively demonstrated against placebo on histamine wheals even under double-blind conditions.
The 1-ml ampoules and pilules are above all suitable for continuing on after acute treatment and for more chronic evolutions. The pilules are also widely used in paediatric practice.
More recently, Calcium Quercus ampoules have been used for inhalation by asthma patients, possibly also Composition
4) Calcium Quercus solution for injection. 1 ml contains Quercus robur/petraea e cortice cum calcio carbonico solution = 6x (produced from Quercus robur/petraea e cortice, by potentizing 5x
with saturated aqueous solution of Calcium carbonicum e cinere Quercus) 1/10 ml.
2) 10 g contain Quercus robur/petraea e cortice cum calcio carbonico solution = 6x, 1 g. combined with other preparations such as Levico D3 (3x).
This merits further attention (against the background of current antiinflammatory basic treatment for asthma in conventional medicine. It needs to be systematically developed, as does the whole of
inhalation treatment using anthroposophical medicines.
A relatively new use is also for restless legs syndrome.
This indication, first found on a purely empirical basis at the Paracelsus Hospital in Richterswil (Switzerland) has since been confirmed by others.
The use of Calcium Quercus 10-ml ampoules for haemorrhages needs further clarification, with aspects of differential treatment (as alternative to or supplemented with Stibium metallicum prep. D6) established.
It is interesting to note that the styptic action of calcium was at the latest established by the end of the 19th century, whilst the discovery of the antiallergic action by Wright came 100 years later.
Apart from the “outer” occasion of serum exhibition, there is no doubt also a deeper reason. It seems that allergies began to be a real problem around the turn of that century. Today’s German association
for allergies and asthma was established on Heligoland as a “hayfever association” in 1997.
In 1902, Charles Richet (1850 – 1935) and Paul Portier (1866 – 1962) coined the term “anaphylaxis”. The Viennese paediatrician Clemens von Pirquet (1874 – 1929) introduced the term “allergy”
in 1906, having interpreted the serum disease as an antigen-antibody reaction the year before. Finally Henry Dale (1875 – 1968) and Patrick Laidlaw (1881 – 1940) at Wellcome Laboratories in Britain
established the pharmacology of histamine and the similarity between histamine-induced and anaphylactic shock in 1910 (26). Reading what Rudolf Steiner had to say on the composition of
Citrus/Cydonia (= Gencydo®) in the 1920s one may gain the impression that hayfever in this massive form was a ‘new’ syndrome. The term hay-“fever” created at the time indicates that at the time, the
inflammatory aspect was more marked than in today’s neurasthenic variants of the condition.