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Beware toxicity in acorns

From all of us out here that have thousands of acorns: Is there anything or anyplace you know of that uses or eats them that would like to have a barrel of them? I heard years ago that pigs like them, but who raises pigs anymore? Does anyone grind them into animal food? Sure, squirrels like them, but they get plenty. And deer like them, but I've heard of people luring deer with them so the deer gets shot for food. Any ideas?

—Dorothy E., Shady Cove

You might go nuts when you hear a potential problem for trying to unload your acorns Dorothy — they're actually quite toxic.

Eating the nuts raw can cause acorn poisoning in horses and cattle, and owners are strongly urged to keep the animals away, said Grange Co-op employee Logan Miller.

Miller said because of the toxicity of the nuts to those animals, people have been hesitant to feed them to other creatures too.

Raw acorns contain a chemical called tannin, which can be extracted through soaking the acorn and then cooking it.

When introduced very slowly, goats and deer are able to eat raw acorns, though Miller said she couldn't stress enough that the food must be introduced gradually.

"Whenever you introduce a new food, you have to do it slowly," said Miller, who recently gave a presentation on acorns through the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Miller said she had heard of feeding small amounts of acorns to goats and pigs because of the nut's fat content.

But still, feeding too many acorns at once could make any animal quite ill, Miller said.

"Don't just thrown them all at an animal at once," she said.

Unless the tannin is extracted and the acorns cooked, the nut also is toxic to humans.

Miller said American Indians in the region used to create an acorn flour out of the nut by using a repetitive soak and grind technique to relieve the nuts of their toxicity.

"If you don't do it right, it's toxic," said Miller.

Miller said she wasn't aware of any organized use or need for acorns, but said some people enjoy using them for crafting.

If you or someone you know is interested in crafting with nuts, Dorothy, try taking a crack at some of the dozen project ideas for acorns found at www.tipnut.com.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.