If I found a "clean" oak leaf, and gave it to my baby to hold, could it poison her? She did try to suck it and of course I didn't let her, but I'm now wondering if it's best not to do it again.

I've googled "are oak leaves poisonous to babies" but found nothing either way , just that acorns are toxic and should be avoided (I'd consider this a more immediate choking hazard really!)

Edit: As has been pointed out by Chris H, the acorns = toxic thing doesn't seem to pan out either. Good to know!

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    Here on the central California coast, our oak trees frequently have poison oak bushes and runners growing alongside or nearby, and the leaves are similar and easily confused, although looking closely reveals the oak leaves have pointed lobes while poison oak leaves have rounded lobes. Other than for a few immune people, poison oak leaves are definitely not safe to touch. Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 1:07
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    @WitnessProtectionID44583292 since your comment the question has a UK tag, so poison oak isn't an issue - it doesn't exist here
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 10:53
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    @Chris H I added the UK tag after seeing WitnessProtectionID44583292 's comment :)
    – Ed HP
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 12:30
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    May I ask why you think oak would be any more dangerous than fig or almond tree or any other type of leaf? Is there some special reason you think oak, specifically would be dangerous? Is it because ingesting large quantities can be dangerous or is there something else? I grew up in Greece where we don't really have much dangerous flora, and I've heard of "poison oak" but I associate it with the Americas.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 15:36
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    @terdon It was only after handing her that leaf that I got thinking about it. I was curious around oak leaves in particular, but it could have been any other leaf if I'd picked that up first!
    – Ed HP
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


Holding oak leaves is harmless. In fact, oak leaves are used in folk medicine. Acorns are a choking hazard and should be avoided. Note that I could not quickly find any references specifically on acorns. However, their size, shape and consistency are such that if acorns had been manufactured as toys or parts of toys, they would be classified as choking hazard for children.

In my experience, babies and toddlers love playing with natural objects such as leaves and small twigs with leaves attached to them, oak included. Research suggests that playing with natural "loose parts" may be beneficial to children, although I could not find much evidence other than observational studies.


Species of the genus Quercus [oak] are important medicinal plants. Over the centuries, these species have been used in folk medicine to treat various diseases

Taib M, Rezzak Y, Bouyazza L, Lyoussi B. Medicinal Uses, Phytochemistry, and Pharmacological Activities of Quercus Species. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2020;2020:1920683. Published 2020 Jul 31. doi:10.1155/2020/1920683: full text

Because of their high-risk shape, small balls are held to a stricter criterion to prevent choking. The CSPA [Child Safety Protection Act] requires that balls be at least 1.75 inches in diameter if they are intended for use by children younger than 3 years. The CSPA defines a ball as a spheroid, ovoid, or elliptical object that is designed or intended to be thrown, hit, kicked, rolled, bounced, or dropped.

Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Prevention of choking among children. Pediatrics. 2010 Mar;125(3):601-7. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-2862. Epub 2010 Feb 22. PMID: 20176668: full text

Natural loose parts are the bread and butter of early childhood creativity in a natural outdoor classroom. Children gain so much from working with these materials because they have to think for themselves while being creative in problem-solving, constructing and imagining. Natural materials can be anything children want them to be and this ambiguity spurs their imagination. Some bits of nature are suggestive, looking like a motorcycle, for instance, or a piece of pie. While children may choose to play with the materials with that in mind, they are also free to use them in completely unique and inventive ways. When children have mostly closed-ended materials, or items that are authentic replications of items in real life, there is little room for imagination and creativity.

Kiewra, C., & Veselack, E.. (2016). Playing with nature: Supporting preschoolers' creativity in natural outdoor classrooms. The International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 4(1): full text

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    The fact that oak leaves is used in folk medicine is a surprising argument to support the position that it's safe for a baby. I would certainly not consider random medicine to be safe for a baby.
    – Stef
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 10:52
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    Thanks for the well-researched answer. I'll likely accept it as the answer, but will first wait the customary 24 hours :)
    – Ed HP
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 12:43
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    For some interesting research on infants, plants and learning whether they are safe, search for the phrase "To see this system" in this blog post (which is interesting in its entirety) slatestarcodex.com/2019/06/04/…
    – dbmag9
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 12:59
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    @dbmag9 that link is fantastic! Great to read about how infants learn about and interact with objects from a psychologist's perspective, as it's one of things that's so "obvious" as adults.
    – Ed HP
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 14:42
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    @Stef Thank you for your comment! I think that, given the use of oak in folk medicine, and the wide spread of oak trees in general, by now we would have heard reports of adverse reactions from simply touching oak leaves if there were any. Note that I do not say that oak leaves are safe for infants/babies to ingest. That's a different question. But the OP is only asking about infants/babies touching oak leaves. Please feel free to post any evidence you might find about the adverse effects of touching oak leaves on babies in a comment below, or, better still, in a separate answer. Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 17:01

Unless you know of a tree with toxic leaves in your area, I would be more concerned with surface contaminants. I think a good (both sides) swipe on your clothes should make an intact leaf pretty safe. Mouthing a leaf is unlikely to cause it to release toxins, but if it is crumpled, broken, or she has teeth, I would prevent her from putting it in her mouth.

Please note I didn't say plants. That's because there are many toxic plants and shrubs, some of which are very toxic, and should only be handled with gloves and other protection. Unless you know your poisonous plants, it's better not to even hold a leaf.

An example of a highly dermatotoxic plant the US is Giant Hogweed. Water Hemlock, in the carrot family (so related to edibles such as Queen Anne's Lace, carrots, parsley, etc.) is closely related to the "hemlock" commonly assumed to have caused the death of Socrates.

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