Saturday, July 21, 2012

Edible Wild Plants - Sassafras

DISCLAIMER:  Don't believe anything I or any body else tells you about edible wild plants.  Don't eat edible wild plants based on what you see in a book or on the inter-net.  Get a qualified instructor to show you the plants, and don't eat them until the instructor shows you how to prepare them, and then eats them him or herself.  Be aware that you may be allergic to a plant that someone else can eat without harm.  Be sure that any plants that you gather have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.

In the "old days" it was common practice for pioneer families to imbibe a spring tonic.  This ritual was part medicinal and part psychological.  It was medicinal in that the tonic in question usually had some medicinal benefit, either real or imagined; and it was psychological in that it was an acknowledgment that the natural world was renewing itself and man, by the act of taking this purifying herb, was to be part of this renewal.  In the South, one of the most common spring tonics was Sassafras tea. 

The Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is a fairly small tree, sometimes up to 40' tall, which grows throughout the Eastern United States.  The easiest way to identify the Sassafras is by its leaves.  You will find that the Sassafras has three distinctly different shaped leaves on the same tree.  Some of the leaves are oval shaped, some of the leaves are mitten shaped, and some of the leaves are three lobed.  All of the leaves have smooth edges, and are shiny on the upper surface.  Pictured below: The three different shaped leaves found on the sassafras tree

If you have any doubts about whether you have correctly identified a Sassafras, all you have to do is dig up a small root and smell of it.  Sassafras root smells exactly like rootbeer.

To make Sassafras tea, dig up several small roots and wash the dirt from them.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and throw the roots into the boiling water.  Let the roots boil for a few minutes until the water begins to turn a deep red.  Remove water from heat and let the tea steep.  Serve hot or cold.  Add honey or sugar if you like.  Native Americans added maple sugar.

Old timers referred to Sassafras tea as a blood thinner.  They said that it helped a person tolerate the coming summer heat better.  Modern science tells us that Sassafras contains a mild narcoleptic, a drug that induces drowsiness.  The Food and Drug Administration also warns us that Sassafras can cause cancer if given in large doses to laboratory rats over extended periods of time (so don't give your pet rat a washtub full of Sassafras tea every day).   

Apparently mosquitoes do not like the smell of Sassafras.  Take some of the tea and rub it on exposed areas of your skin to repel these pesky little critters.

Yet another use of Sassafras is as a thickener in stews.  You may remember the Hank Williams song about "Jambalya, crawfish pie, and filet gumbo."  Well, filet is the substance used to thicken gumbo, and filet is made from dried and powdered Sassafras leaves.  If you make your own filet be careful to remove the sharp stems and veins after the leaves have been crushed.  These can cause major stomach problems.  Also, be sure and don't give your pet rat too much gumbo.

I have read that Sassafras can be used to make a fire-bow-drill, but I have had no success with this.  The wood seems to be too hard.  I have intended to try and dig up a large Sassafras root, let it dry for six months and see if that wouldn't make a usable fire-bow-drill.  The root of the Cottonwood is the only part of that tree that I have ever been able to start a fire-bow fire with, and I was thinking that the same may hold true for the Sassafras, but I haven't got around to trying it yet.  Maybe you'll try it first and let me know. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Make a Flemish Loop in a Bowstring

A Flemish loop is a loop that is twisted up as a permanent part of a bow string.  It is not a tied loop.  It is built in during the process of making the string.  I have never seen an example of an old Native American bowstring with a Flemish loop, nor have I ever seen any documentation of Native Americans using the Flemish loop.  This is not to say that they didn’t; it’s just to say that I have never seen any proof of it.  So, if you are trying to make a reproduction of an authentic Native American bow, you probably don’t want to make a string with a Flemish loop.  If, like me, you make wooden bows to shoot; a Flemish loop is a nice addition to the string.  I personally make my strings with a Flemish loop on one end, and then I tie the other end of the string to the bow with a permanent knot.  I do this whether the string is made of sinew, rawhide, yucca fiber, linen, or waxed Dacron.  In this example I am making a string from eight strands of waxed Dacron.  The string will be constructed by using the reverse wrap (posted elsewhere on this blog) to twist together two bundles, each bundle composed of four strands of waxed Dacron.  Here is how you make a Flemish loop in the string:

First lay cut and lay out your eight strands of waxed Dacron.  I generally cut the pieces one and-a-half times the length of the bow.

Now separate the strands into two bundles of four strands each.  Offset the strands in each bundle by about an inch apiece.

Now drop down about two inches below the shortest strand in each bundle and begin twisting the two bundles together using the reverse wrap.  Keep twisting until you have twisted up about two or two-and-a-half inches of string (this will depend on how large you want your loop).

Next fold the twisted part of the string over onto itself to form the loop.

Take each of the offset ends of the bundles and lay one of them down on each of the long portions of the bundles.  With waxed Dacron you can kind of squeeze them to meld the offset portion into the corresponding long portion.

Now continue your reverse wrap with the melded bundles.  Because you off set the strands to start with, the string will now taper down smoothly as you continue twisting.   

When you get to the point where each bundle has only four strands in it, you can stop and go back with a pair of scissors and trim of any ends that are sticking out from the offset strands. 

Continue twisting until you have completed the entire string and tie an overhand knot in the end of the string to keep it from unraveling.  That’s all there is to it. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

72 Hour Survival - Part 3

There are four ways you can signal for help.  These are:
1. Building signal fires
2. Using your signal whistle
3. Using your mirror to signal aircraft
4. Constructing ground-to-air rescue symbols.

The universal smoke signal for distress is three columns of smoke.  A good signal fire is visible for miles.  Try to build your signal fires in an open area so tree branches don't diffuse the smoke.  Build your three fires well apart from each other so that you will have three distinct columns of smoke.  To produce smoke, build a fire as you normally would.  Then the fire is burning well, pile green branches and leaves on it.  This will produce billowing columns of white smoke.

A signal whistle can be heard over a great distance.  Blow three loud, shrill blasts on the whistle.  Pause for a minute and blow three more times.  Repeat three or four times.  Follow this routine about every 20 minutes.

If an aircraft passes near you, take out your signal mirror and hold it at an angle that will reflect the sun toward the aircraft.  Move the mirror from side-to-side and up-and-down.  This will create a series of bright flashes that may attract the pilot's attention.

Build your signals in an open area, clearly visible from above.  Signals may be built from rocks, logs, lines of fire, or trenches dug in the ground. Build them big; at least 40 feet long.  The 5 internationally recognized ground-to-air signals are:

V - meaning "I require assistance"
X - meaning "I need medical assistance"
N - "No"
Y - "Yes"
--> - meaning "Proceed this direction"

Use ground-to-air signals in conjunction with your signal mirror if an aircraft is spotted.

Locate a reliable source of fresh water. If you are able, return to the last source of water that you encountered.  If you are unable to do this, begin searching for water.  Remember, water seeks the lowest ground; so downhill is the direction to search.  In open country, a line of trees, especially willow or cottonwood, often indicates a stream.  Dig a hole in a dry stream bed and water will sometimes pool in the hole.  A fair amount of water can be obtained by wiping dew from rocks and plants.  Use a handkerchief or other item of clothing and mop up the dew.  Squeeze the moisture directly into your mouth.  Be sure that you are not wiping the dew from a poisonous plant.  Some plants contain a lot of moisture.  Remove the spines from prickly pear pads, cut into strips, and chew.  Swallow the moisture and spit out the fibers.  Wild grapes and berries contain moisture, but be sure you know what you are chewing on.  Cut a section of grapevine 5 or 6 feet long and drain the liquid from it.  You can drain the "water" directly into your mouth.  Any water collected from springs, streams, or rivers should be purified before drinking.  Collect the water in your canteen or in the plastic bag from your survival kit.  Use water purification tables according to directions on the bottle.  If you have a pot or metal can you can boil water to purify it.  Boil at least 10 minutes.  Note, boiling will kill bacteria but it will not remove harmful chemicals.  Don't sip your water to ration it.  This will waste moisture.  When you are thirsty drink at least a half-pint of water at a time.  Snow and ice can be used for water, but they should not be eaten as this will lower your body temperature and make you more susceptible to hypothermia.  Melt snow and ice next to your fire, then drink it.

BE PATIENT!!  PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR YOU!!  If you can avoid doing so, don't try to walk out on your own until you have given rescuers at least 72 hours to find you.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

72 Hour Survival – Part 2

There are two main ways of staying warm in the wilderness:
Number 1 - retain the heat that your body is already producing. Your body is a natural furnace.  It is producing a near constant 98.6 degrees of internal heat. If you prevent this heat from escaping, you will stay warm.
Number 2 - create an outside source of warmth (i.e. fire) that will replace any heat that radiates away from your body. 

Your first layer of defense against heat loss is your clothing.  Dress in layers.  Polypropylene  long johns, a flannel shirt, wool pants, a wool sweater, a Gortex windbreaker, and Gortex wind pants for your body.  Cotton or nylon inner socks, wool outer socks, and sturdy boots or shoes for your feet.  Wool mittens for your hands, and don't forget a hat.  40% of your body heat is radiated out through your head.  By dressing in layers, you can add or remove clothing to maintain a comfortable body temperature and avoid sweating which can cause chills.

Your second layer of defense is your reflective Mylar solar blanket.  Although it is very thin, the solar blanket will reflect your body's heat back on itself and keep you warm.

Your third line of defense is to build a survival brush shelter.  A properly built shelter will keep you warm and dry in sub-freezing temperatures.

The survival brush shelter is built entirely of found materials.  No tools are necessary.
1. Find a long pole, about 10', to use as a ridgepole.  Lay the ridgepole in the crotch of a tree or on a stout limb that is about 4' off the ground.
2. Lean shorter poles against the ridgepole at a 45 degree angle to form a series of ribs.  The short poles should be about 6 to 8 inches apart.  Leave an opening about 2 to 2 1/2 feet wide at the high end of the structure for a door.
3. Cover the entire structure with a layer of boughs.  The purpose of the boughs is not to seal the shelter, but to provide a base on which you can pile leaves and needles.
4. Gather dead leaves, pine needles, dead grasses, and any other debris that you can find and pile one to two feet of this material over the entire structure.  If you are in the structure and can see any light coming through, you need more debris.
5. Gather more short poles and lay another layer of ribs on top of the debris.  This is to keep the debris from blowing off of the shelter in a storm
6. Fill the entire interior of the structure with clean, dry leaves and needles.  Burrow into the interior leaves and needles to sleep warm and dry.  The leaves that you are laying on will compress, so make sure that you have at least 6 to 8 inches of compressed materials between you and the ground.

Fire is a powerful psychological tool against the despair of being lost in the wilderness.  Fire can keep you warm in cold weather.  Fire can be used to signal for help.  For all of these reasons it is important to be able to build a fire.  There are four main elements to a fire.  they are: (1) tinder to catch the initiaal spark, (2) kindling to catch the flames of the tinder, (3) fuel which is the larger logs that will produce the heat that you are seeking, and (4) an ignition system   to get the whole fire process started.   Of course all of these materials must be laid out in the proper way in order to insure a successful fire.  Here's how to build a fire:
1.  Gather tinder.  Very dry dead grass, very dry dead leaves, very dry dead pine needles, and shredded cedar bark all make good tinder.  Shredded paper, an old bird nest or mouse nest, and your emergency fire starter can also be used.  Pitch pine is an excellent tinder.  Look for a dead and fallen pine tree.  Check the rotted stump. It may have a hard, golden brown center.  If it is pitch pine it will have a strong turpentine smell.  Pitch pine will light and burn in the wettest weather.  When your tinder is gathered and prepared, lay it on the ground preferably on top of a piece of dead tree bark.  This will keep the tinder from absorbing moisture from the ground.
2. Gather kindling.  Kindling wood must be dead and dry.  One good source of small kindling is "squaw wood".  Squaw wood is found on standing live trees. Squaw wood is the small lower branches that have died, but not yet fallen off of the tree.  Squaw wood will generally be dry even in a rainstorm.  If the wood doesn't snap when broken from the tree, it is not dry enough.  Small kindling should be toothpick size.  Medium kindling is pencil thickness up to little finger thickness.  Large kindling is about an inch in diameter.  take your smallest kindling and lay it in a cone or pyramid shape on top of your tinder pile.  Leave a small opening where you can light the tinder when the time comes.  Continue laying kindling onto the pyramid with each layer of kindling increasing in size.
3. Gather fuel.  It will take a lot more fuel than you think to keep a fire going all night.  Fuel logs should be dry, dead wood, 2 to 4 inches in diameter.  Hardwood (oak, hickory, ash, elm, etc,) is the best, but anything will do in a pinch.  Lean 5 or 6 small fuel logs against your pyramid.
4. It is now time to light the fire.  Reach in with your match or lighter and ignite the tinder.  It is best to light the fire on the side from which the wind is blowing.  You may want to blow gently into the center of the initial blaze to feed oxygen to the fire.  If you have done a good job, flames will spread throughout the materials and you will have a good fire.

Improve the warming efficiency of your fire by building a reflector in back of it.  An 18 inch tall wall of rocks or green logs in back of the fire will reflect more of the heat towards you.  Conserve your fuel by keeping the fire relatively small.  Remember the old Indian adage, "A White man builds a big fire and stands back; an Indian builds a small fire and sits close."