Forage Acorns in Autumn

Acorns are ripening now across North America, including here in the Southwest.  Acorns are rich in fats, which is great for energy in the cool months. They are also rich in protein, carbohydrates, and a reasonable amount of soluble fibers, which makes them ideal snacks and fantastic for paleo baking.

Acorns Abound

Oaks and their acorns abound in our region – just not on the desert floor or on most mountain tops. You have to head to a location above 3000 feet (and below about 7000 feet). Savorist Jacqueline Soule wrote about some of the more common oaks to grow in our region on her Gardening With Soule website. Her focus is on planting – but the images may help you in your hunt for acorns to forage.

They are certainly ripe when they fall. A small rake may help you forage in sandy or grassy areas. Photo courtesy Z. Akulova

Collect Acorns

Find an oak with acorns. Check three to five acorns to see if they filled with the nuts. Sometimes they don’t. Also look for tiny round holes. This is where insects have left – but there will not be much left inside for you (other than some insect “frass” because everything poops). If that trees acorns have been heavily insect infested, move on.

If this tree is a good producer of healthy acorns, basically pick up or rake up the acorns and put them in a basket or old pillow case. Don’t worry if you get some grass stems. You will be cleaning later. You could also collect into plastic bags – but you will need to process them right away to avoid mold issues.

Acorn woodpeckers do indeed harvest and store acorns for later.

Please forage and harvest sustainably. Leave some for the wildlife. I try to take only about one quarter of what is in any one location.

Different species turn different colors when ripe. The live oak found in Texas often has darker acorns. Photo courtesy Z. Akulova.

Some Acorn Safety

Do NOT eat raw acorns. They are high in chemicals called tannins – which are great for tanning animal skins but are not so good for your intestines.

DON’T scroll away! MANY common foods sold in supermarkets contain tannins!  “Normal” foods like black tea contains tannins! Remember moderation – and as long as you prepare your acorns properly you have nothing to worry about.

While you are foraging acorns, watch for some of these herbs:

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print, award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today   The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $20!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!

If you live in Tucson, consider purchasing your copy locally at Antigone Books, or Rillito Nursery (call first because they keep running out).

How to Process Acorns

It is best to process the acorns straightaway when you get home (or the next day). This keeps them from drying out, or worse – getting moldy. The fridge may get you an extra two to three days but not much more. If you don’t have the time to process your acorns, dump them in a dehydrator and dry them for later processing.  It will make it harder to leach out the tannins tho.

Step one. Select the good ones.

Check for any small holes in the shells. If you find any throw them away (or don’t collect them in the first place). The holes mean that the acorn has been eaten by insects and you really don’t want to eat those.

California live oak acorns are snazzy with their little pinstriped suits. Photo courtesy Z. Akulova.

Step two. Soften ‘de shell.

To make the acorn shells soft for removal par-boil them. This means dipping them in boiling water for 60 seconds or so. A tamale pot is perfect for this because you can boil a batch in the basket and pull them out and have lots of hot water for the next batch.

Step three. De-shell.

Twist the acorn tops off.  (Sometimes they fall off on their own before you harvest.)  Peel off the nicely softened acorn shell. Use a small sharp knife, but be careful because the shells are slippery.


Step four.  Leach the nuts.

This step ensures that the acorn tannins leach out into the water and leave your acorns edible and not bitter at all. Tannins will turn the water dark brown.

Boiling Water Leaching
Once acorns are shelled, you will need to put them in a large pot and cover with water. Boil the water. Pour that water out and start again. Repeat several times until you have clear water.

Cold Water Leaching
Place your shelled acorns in cold water overnight in a relatively cool area. Pour the water out replace with fresh water every 12 hours or so. You will need to repeat this 4-5 times until the water is clear. Tannins will make the water dark brown.

If you are camping close to a running water, place the prepared acorns in that old pillowcase or in a loosely woven basket with a lid. You need to make sure the acorns can’t escape, but that they can move around. Leave your acorns in the stream for at least 12 hrs. Might be best if this is done during the day when you can keep an eye on it. Raccoons or other nocturnal animals might make a night-time raid.


Ready to eat?

Best way to check this is to taste one! If the acorns taste bitter, they still have residue of tannin inside, so keep boiling or changing the water until you are happy with the flavor.

Roasting Acorns

Once you’ve completed the steps above, you can place your acorns on a tray into a medium hot oven 325F for 15-20 minutes. Check frequently to make sure you don’t burn your acorns and take them out when they are lightly roasted. Eat as they are as a nutty snack or add to your cooking anywhere where you’d use nuts.  If you are camping, a Dutch oven will work.

Acorn recipe ideas – will have to be another post.

Thanks for reading.

The Savor Team

Cover image: hands full of acorns.  Anybody else remember Petey Mesquitey sharing an image like this and declaiming, “I’m rich!  I’m rich!”

Legal Note

© Article copyright Savor the Southwest // Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.

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One thought on “Forage Acorns in Autumn

  1. Two notes after I published this.

    There are two species of Southwestern oaks whose acorns are low in tannins – the Mexican blue oak, and the Emory oak.

    Arizona white oak is a stately tree, but the Toumey oak is more shrubby. Both are fine for acorns for eating.

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