Many trees provide nutritional value, medicinal qualities, and a good source of firewood. But which tree is the best?
It’s a tough question. Many trees provide value on many levels, and the importance of those qualities can be subjective. For example, a tree might bear a fruit you enjoy, but is it a fruit with lots of calories to help sustain you in a survival scenario?
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Here are some questions to consider.
- Are you knowledgeable enough to maximize the nutritional value of a tree?
- Do you have the skills to distill the medicinal qualities of a tree?
- Do you depend on firewood to heat your home?
Let’s assume you want all three of those things–nutrition, medicine, and heat–and assign grades to various trees to see if one emerges above the others. We’ll then explore in detail the value of that “one” tree.
The grades will be from 1 to 5 with 5 being the top grade based on the following primary values.
Three Primary Values
1. Nutritional Value
Are there parts of the tree–from the fruits to the nuts, or even the bark and leaves–that can be consumed in any way to provide nutritional value?
2. Medicinal Value
Are there parts of the tree, including the bark, roots, leaves, fruits, or nuts that can be used to treat various medical conditions based on clinical studies or established folklore?
3. Firewood Quality
Does the tree have qualities that make its wood preferable for wood-burning to provide home heat? Hardwoods usually outscore the softwoods for this reason. And to be clear, you’re going to need to plant more than just one if your goal is to eventually burn it.
There are other secondary considerations that affect the selection, particularly if we’re going to isolate a recommendation to one tree variety. The grading will be simpler: 1 means fair, 2 means good, and 3 means excellent.
Two Secondary Values
1. Long-Term Tree Health
Does the tree maintain its general health, or is it susceptible to disease or partial die-off over time?
2. Construction Material Value
Are any parts of the tree particularly suitable for building construction or furniture construction? This will be very important years down the road if you’re living off the grid and need to be able to build things.
What we’ll do is choose a tree, give it grades for the five values mentioned above, then we’ll add them up and give the tree a total score. But first, we have to decide which trees to consider.
Which Trees Are Contenders?
An unfortunate fact of nature is that many trees don’t grow in most parts of North America or the rest of the world for that matter. These trees provide excellent characteristics in terms of nutrition, medicinal value, and firewood, but how many of us have an Orange tree growing in our backyard? The same is true for Redwoods, Cypress, Mesquite, and even Tamaracks which prefer a wet, swampy location.
The trees we’ve considered are common to most parts of the world and typically occur in a classic, deciduous forest.
Here’s the Short List of Trees to Consider:
- Black Walnut
- White Pine
- White Willow
You may disagree with this list. That’s fine. It all depends on your needs. The grades are based on studies done by the U.S. Forest Service, clinical studies, University studies, and the long experience of folklore. Here are the grades for each.
(Lifespan: 20 to 30 years)
Nutritional Value: 5 – Apple trees score high on nutrition on every scale. Apples also offer significant flexibility across food options from the raw fruit to pies, sauces, butters, juice, alcohol and apple cider vinegar.
Firewood Rating: 3 – Apple-wood is a hardwood, but the relative size of the trees does not provide the volume to sustain long-term firewood needs. However, apple-wood is a desired source for smoking food.
Long-term Tree Health: 2 – Apple trees die off as they mature, giving up one branch at a time. The leaves are sometimes susceptible to mold.
Construction Material Value: 1 – Apple is not prized as a construction material.
Apple Tree Total Score: 16
(Lifespan: 150 to 400 years)
Nutritional Value: 4 – High nutritional value and a good source of protein with numerous vitamins and minerals.
Firewood Rating: 2 – Black Walnut is a hardwood but rarely used for firewood due to its significant value as a furniture construction material.
Long-Term Tree Health: 3 – Resilient and long-lasting with resistance to disease and die-off.
Construction Material Value: 3 – Highly prized across a range of designs in furniture construction.
Black Walnut Tree Total Score: 17
(Lifespan: 100 to 300 years)
Nutritional Value: 4 – The sap of the maple when converted to syrup is the most notable nutritional benefit. The green seeds can also be eaten and taste like peas.
Firewood Rating: 4 – Maple is a hardwood and burns long and hot. It’s also used for smoking foods.
Long-Term Tree Health: 3 – The Maple is a sturdy tree that is not susceptible to widespread disease or branch die-off.
Construction Material Value: 3 – Maple is highly prized as a construction material for flooring, shelves, cabinets, and other furniture.
Maple Tree Total Score: 16
(Lifespan: 25 to 50 years)
Nutritional Value: 5 – The fruit of the Mulberry tree is its primary strength and is used to make juice, jams, and jellies, and and it can be eaten on or in foods from cereals to pies. The fruit has excellent nutritional value in terms of vitamin and mineral diversity and calories from fructose. It also bears fruit for a long duration.
Medicinal Value: 3 – Both the Mulberries and the leaves, when infused in a Mulberry leaf tea, present many medicinal benefits.
Firewood Rating: 3 – Mulberry is a hardwood, but it is rarely a first-choice for home heat. The wood is very dense and doesn’t burn well on its own, even when seasoned.
Long-term Tree Health: 2 – Mulberry trees are generally healthy and occasionally present branches that die off.
Construction Material Value: 1 – Mulberry is not used in construction.
Mulberry Tree Total Score: 14
(Lifespan: 60 to 1,000 years)
Nutritional Value: 5 – Oak scores very high on nutrition mostly due to its acorns. The acorns are used for everything from nuts in hand to acorn butter and flour. They are high in calories from fat and a good source of protein.
Medicinal Value: 4 – The medicinal value of Oak is derived from its acorns and bark which can treat and prevent a variety of maladies.
Firewood Rating: 5 – Oak is the king-of-the-hill when it comes to firewood. It is a hardwood that burns long and hot.
Long-Term Tree Health: 3 – Oaks are a resilient species and are naturally resistant to many diseases and do not present die-offs.
Construction Material Value: 3 – Oak is a common construction material for flooring, trim, cabinets and other furniture.
Oak Tree Total Score: 20
(Lifespan: 20 to 1,000+ years)
Nutritional Value: 5 – Nutritional value derived from needles, pine nuts, and bark that can be ground into flour.
Medicinal Value: 3 – The medicinal value of the white pine presents benefits including antioxidants and bioflavonoids.
Firewood Rating: 3 – Pine is often touted for fire-starting but is rarely a firewood of choice due to the fact that its softwood nature makes it burn fast.
Long-term Tree Health: 3 – Pines are very resilient although they are subject to local blights. Lower branches also die-off.
Construction Material Value: 3 – To a large degree, White Pine is the foundation of the construction industry both in terms of frame construction of buildings to furniture making.
White Pine Tree Total Score: 17
(20 to 30 years)
Nutritional Value: 2 – There’s very little about the nutritional value of a Willow tree mostly due to the simple fact that it produces neither edible fruit nor nuts.
Medicinal Value: 5 – Willow bark may be the champion of medicinal value based on the bark which is infused as a tea for most treatments.
Firewood Rating: 2 – Willow is a softwood and is not a great choice for firewood.
Long-Term Tree Health: 2 – Willow branches die off as they mature, and the trunk sometimes grows hollow.
Construction Material Value: 2 – Willow is specifically used for furniture making due to the pliable, bendiness of its branches. This allows it to be woven into chairs and other furniture.
White Willow Tree Total Score: 13
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And the winner is…
The oak tree, with a top box score of 14 out of 15 and a bottom box score of 6 out of 6, has a total score of 20.
Various varieties of oak thrive across the planet and offer a range of benefits. Red Oak is at the top as a source for furniture and flooring. White Oak is often the wood of choice for firewood.
Oak Nutritional Details
Burr Oak presents the best acorns for food possibilities. Most oaks like Red Oak, and to a lesser degree White Oak, produce acorns that have tannins or tannic acid and need to be soaked to remove the tannins. Burr Oak has fewer tannins and at times can be eaten raw off the tree.
As a food source, acorns can be roasted and salted or sugared and eaten out of hand as a snack or trail treat. Roasted acorns can also be processed in a food processor to make acorn butter.
Acorn butter has all of the texture and taste of peanut butter with a more pronounced, nut-like taste. Acorns can also be ground into a flour.
Acorn flour can be used for breads, muffins, pancakes, and biscuits. Acorn flour is also gluten-free.
Acorns are often fed to livestock particularly pigs. They should have the tannins removed first through repeated water soaking, but they don’t need to be roasted if used as livestock feed.
For more information, check out our other article, Acorns: The Ultimate Survival Food.
Oak Medicinal Benefits
Oak trees deliver medicinal value through their acorns and their bark. Acorns are the primary source and they present the following benefits:
- Weight loss
- Reduction of blood sugar levels
- Relief for skin rashes
- Helps heal small cuts
- Reduces swollen veins
- Reduces itching sensations
- Low in cholesterol as a mono-unsaturated fat
- High in Vitamin B6 in addition to vitamin E
- Reduces oxidative stress
- Improves brain health
- High fiber and aids digestion
Firewood and Furniture
Oaks grow large and their branches can be trimmed periodically for use as an excellent firewood. When a single mature Oak dies, it can provide enough firewood for winter. It may take a hundred years or more to mature, but it’ll leave behind plenty of firewood.
You would be hard put to not find a piece of furniture in your house or cabin made of oak. That goes for the floors and shelves as well. Most furniture that any of us would make out of oak would fall in the rustic furniture category, but some folks are master woodworkers and know the value of Oak as a furniture source.
The Only Downside to Oaks
They don’t grow fast. Most trees that live to 100 years grow very slowly. To complicate things further, it can take up to two decades for the acorns to show up. According to the University of Tennessee:
“Most species of oaks begin producing acorns at about 20 years old. Peak production occurs from about 50 to 80 years, and then acorn production tapers off after 80 years.”
It’s all a matter of your time-frame. If you’re planning for the future and future generations, oaks are the way to go. If your time is tight, it may be wiser to think about apple trees to at least satisfy your nutritional and medicinal needs in the short-term, and just burn the die-off for firewood as you go.
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