BALŪṬ (Middle Persian balūt and Arabic ballūṭ from Aram. bāloṭ/belūṭā; see Mashkour, p. 82), common designation in New Persian both for acorn and oak, Quercus L.
Geobotany. Botanists-pharmacologists of the Islamic era (in Persia and in Arab lands), like their Greek predecessors Dioscorides and Galen, display scant, if any, information about the great variety of oaks and their habitats, though they know much about the medicinal virtues of oaks and “oak-apples” (see below). Ebn Sīnā (d. 428/1037) even deals with the oak and the chestnut tree under one and the same heading, ballūṭ (Qānūn II [Pers. tr.]. pp. 99-100). The most comprehensive overall description is to be found in Tonokābonī’s Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn (written in Persian in the reign of the Safavid Solaymān I, 1078-1105/1667-94), pp. 177-79, where, after indicating that balūṭ is called dār-māzī in the vernacular of Ṭabarestān and bālūṭ in Persian, he comments on a threefold distinction based on the form of the fruits, which he quotes from Ebn al-Kabīr’s Mā lā yasaʿ al-ṭabīb jahlah (compiled in 711/1311-12): “one kind with roundish fruits, and that is šāh-balūṭ [chestnut]; two kinds with oblong fruits one with sweet edible acorns, and the other with bitter inedible ones, as observed in Daylam and Ṭabarestān.”
Only in the past few decades have a number of botanists endeavored to clear up the confused mass of imperfect data about the genus Quercus L. in Iran. Ḥ. Ṯābetī (1976, pp. 573-603), availing himself mainly of the findings of A. Camus (1936-39), M. Zohary (1961-63), K. Djavanshir (1967), and K. Browicz and G. L. Menitsky (1971), and employing the latest terminology, presents the following species, subspecies, or varieties:
1. Quercus atropatana Schwarz. General habitat: Caspian forests from Arasbārān and Ṭavāleš to Gorgān and Katūl. Local names: pālīt/pālet (in Arasbārān), kar-māzū (in Rāmsar, Kalārdašt, Kojūr, Katūl).
2. Q. brantii Lindl. General habitat: Zagros highlands in W. Azerbaijan, Kermānšāh, Kurdistan, Lorestān, Baḵtīārī, and Fārs. Local names: balūt or palīt (in Kermānšāhān, Baḵtīārī, Fārs, etc.), māzū (in Lorestān, etc.), balū/balī/barū, barū-dār or māzī (in Sardašt, Kurdistan). There are three varieties: a) Q. brantii Lindl. var. belangeri (DC.) Zohary = Q. persica J. & Sp. var. belangeri DC.; b) Q. brantii Lindl. var. brantii Browicz; c) Q. brantii Lindl. var. persica (J. & Sp.) Zohary = Q. persica J. & Sp. (this last synonym, now discarded, is the source of designations such as balūṭ-e īrānī “Iranian oak,” or balūṭ-e ḡarb “western oak,” by which Q. brantii is usually referred to in current Persian literature on the subject).
3. Q. carduchorun C. Koch. Habitat: Mīrābād (in Sardašt).
4. Q. castaneaefolia C.A.M. ssp. castaneaefolia Browicz & Menitsky. General habitat: Caspian and Caucasian forests; in Iran, from Āstārā to Golīdāḡ and Golestān (easternmost points in the so-called Hyrcanian floristic region). Local names: boland-māzū (in ʿAmmārlū, Lāhījān, Daylamān), māzū/mūzī/meyzī (in Gīlān, Māzandarān, Gorgān), pālūt (in Āstārā), māyzū (in Ṭavāleš), ešpar/īšbar (around Rašt), sīā(h)-māzū (in Kojūr).
5. Q. cedrorum Ky. ( = Q. sessiliflora Ky. = Q. iberica Stev.). Habitat: Pesān Valley (in Urmia), Sardašt, Kurdistan.
6. Q. infectoria Oliv. Three subspecies: a) ssp. boissieri (Reut.) Schwarz; habitat: Kurdistan and Sardašt; b) ssp. latifolia Schwarz; habitat: Kurdistan and Sardašt; c) ssp. petiolaris Schwarz; habitat: Kurdistan and Sardašt. Local names: dār-māzū, māzū-dār, māzū.
7. Q. komarovii A. Camus. Habitat: Ḵoy, Sardašt. Local name: āq-pālīt.
8. Q. libani Oliv. Habitat: Urmia, Sardašt, Kurdistan. Local names: yavol/vovol, and for var. pinnata Hd.-Mz.: vayval/vahval.
9. Q. longipes Stev. Habitat: Ḵoy and Oskū (in Azerbaijan). Local names: pālīt, oskūpālītī.
10. Q. macranthera Fisch. & Mey. Habitat: high Caspian forests from Arasbārān to Gorgān. Local names: pālet (in Arasbārān), ūrī (in Dorfak, Java-herdašt, Rāmsar), kūrī (in Rāmsar), pāča-māzū (in Lāhījān), dambel-mūzī (in Savādkūh), torš-e māzū (in Katūl).
11. Q. magnosquamata Djav. Habitat: Sardašt, Kurdistan. Local names: vahel, vovol.
12. Q. mannifera Lindl. Habitat: Sardašt, Kurdistan. Common name: (deraḵt-e) gaz-e ʿalafī.
13. Q. ovicarpa Djav. Habitat: west Azerbaijan, Sardašt, Kurdistan.
14. Q. petraea L. ssp. iberica (Stev.) Krasslin ( = Q. iberica Stev.). Habitat: Caspian forests from Gīlān to Gorgān, especially in Tālār, Čālūs, and Harzevīl valleys. Local names: kar-māzū, sefīd-māzū, sefīd-balūt.
15. Q. polynervata Djav. Habitat: Sardašt, Kurdistan. Local name: yovol.
16. Q. robur L. Habitat: Azerbaijan, Kurdistan. The ssp. pedunculiflora (C. Koch) Menitsky is found in west Azerbaijan and, reportedly, in Mašhad.
17. Q. vesca Ky. Habitat: Sardašt (from Zamzīrān to Pīrānšahr) and probably, Kurdistan.
Note that cork oak, balūṭ-e čūb-pamba(ʾī), Quercus suber L., first introduced into Iran in 1957-58, has been naturalized at some points along the Caspian littoral.
Area. In west and southwest Iran, where well-defined stands of oak exist, their total surface area has been estimated at 3,448,000 hectares, divided into two main areas: a Q. infectoria and Q. libani association, ca. 598,000 hectares, in west Kurdistan and in the Sardašt region, and a Q. brantii var. persica association, ca. 2,850,000 hectares, mainly on southwestern slopes of the Zagros (M. Moḥammadī, on the authority of V. Tregubov, 1970).
Uses. Eating acorns, either roasted whole or ground and baked into bread, is probably the oldest use of oaks in Iran. Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-ṣaydana, pp. 97-98 (Ar. text), quotes from Rāzī the following appreciation, which, he suspects, is related by the latter from the Greek physician Oribasios (ca. 325-ca. 400 a.d.): “Ballūṭ’s nutritional value is superior to that of [other] fruits, and even approximates that of the grains with which bread is made; and in the past, people used to live on balūṭ alone.” But Anṭākī (d. 1008/1599), Taḏkera I, remarks that “the acorn bread, made in time of famine, is coarse, difficult to digest, and produces black bile.” Even in our times, “in years of distress and food shortage, Lurs and Kurds feed on balūṭ” (Nāẓem-al-Aṭebbāʾ ʿA.-A. Nafīsī, Farhang-e Nafīsī, Tehran, 1318 Š./1940, s.v.). Normally the principal consumers of acorns are domestic and wild animals in the area.
Oak timber, especially that from Q. castaneaefolia and Q. libani, being hard, durable, and waterproof, is used in Iran for making boats, casks, outdoor rice depots, slabs and planks for rural houses (in the rainy Caspian region), furniture, doors, windows, agricultural implements, etc. Q. castaneaefolia timber is also an export article. Oak wood is valued as firewood and for making charcoal. The bark, with its considerable tannin (māzūj) content, is used in tannery.
Gall-nuts from Q. brantii var. persica or from Q. infectoria, variously called barā-māzī/-māzū, māzūj, māzū-rūskā, qolqāf/golgāv, zešga, ḵarnūk, qeča, sečak etc., rich in tannin, are used in tannery and dyeing; they are exported, too (see also their medicinal use below). A persistent belief about the origin of “oak-apples” (Arabic ʿafṣ) in Islamic medico-botanical works—a belief that goes back to Theophrastos according to Bīrūnī (loc. cit.), or to Galen according to Ebn al-Telmīḏ (d. 560/1165; as related by Tonokābonī, loc. cit.)—is that they are also the fruits of the oak, which produces alternatively acorns one year and galls the next (see also another explanation of galls in Bīrūnī, loc. cit., and in ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, Maḵzan al-adwīa, p. 124).
The sweetish manna commonly called gaz-e ʿalafī (or sometimes erroneously, gaz-angabīn, which, properly, is tamarisk manna; see Schlimmer, Terminologie, p. 358), resulting from the sting of a certain small insect on the young leaves and twigs of Q. mannifera, is used in confectionery (especially in making the sweetmeat bāsloq or as a cheaper substitute for gaz-angabīn in making the delicacy called gaz).
Medicinal uses. Early in the Islamic era, all parts of the oak (and above all, joft-e balūṭ, i.e., the exocarp of acorn kernels) were acknowledged as astringent and dessicative, and consequently various preparations thereof have been prescribed for checking different morbid discharges of blood, etc. (e.g. hemoptysis, dysentery, intestinal ulcers, menorrhagia, spermatorrhea), or for dressing various sores and wounds (for further information about these and other uses of the oak, see Tonokābonī and ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, loc. cit., who reflect and embody mainly the traditional Greco-Islamic medicinal botany). The gaz-e ʿalafī manna, however, should be dealt with apart, because, although it is an oak product, it is free of the astringent tannin and is used in popular medicine in the same cases as tamarisk manna, i.e., as an aperient (especially for children, who are enticed by its taste) and as an expectorant and demulcent.
Dāwūd Anṭākī, Taḏkera, 2 vols., Cairo, 1308-09/1890-91.
Moḥammad-Ḥosayn ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, Maḵzan al-adwīa, offset repr. Tehran, 1349 Š./1970? from the litho ed., Tehran, 1276/1859-60.
Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-ṣaydana, ed. with English tr. by Hakim Mohammad Said, Karachi, 1973.
Karim Djavanshir, Atlas of Woody Plants of Iran, Tehran, 1976.
Ebn Sīnā, Qānūn dar ṭebb II, Pers. tr. by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Šarafkandī, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.
M. J. Mashkour, A Comparative Dictionary of Arabic, Persian and the Semitic Languages, Tehran, 1978.
Manṣūr Moḥammadī, Barrasī-e manābeʿ-e ṭabīʿī-e tajdīd šavanda-ye manṭaqa-ye Zāgros wa naḥwa-ye modīrīyat-e ān dar āyanda (21 pp.; in the 1st vol. of a collection of mimeographed articles and reports, variously paged, presented at a seminar on the same general subject, held in Yāsūj in 1364 Š./1985).
Ḥabīb-Allāh Ṯābetī, Jangalhā, deraḵtān o deraḵṭčahā-ye Īrān, Tehran, 1976.
Moḥammad-Moʾmen Ḥosaynī Tonokābonī, Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn [Toḥfa-ye Ḥakīm Moʾmen], Tehran, 1360 Š./1981?
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: December 15, 1988
This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 6, pp. 647-649