Trees that can save your life in the wilderness

I have always had a fondness of all kinds of trees, ever since I was a little boy…would you believe me if I told you that I can still recall a time when my father picked me up to show me a big tree…when I asked him about that time, he told me I was about 3 years old…wow…I didn’t know human memories could go back that far!

Anyways, being able to identify trees can not only be a source of pleasure, but a matter of survival. If you become lost in the woods, trees are an abundant and easy-to-utilize resource, and can be used in a variety of ways, including as food, shelter, cordage, and materials for fire-starting and tool-making.

Below we discuss how to identify six trees that are particularly useful in survival scenarios, and the different ways they can be employed to keep you alive. Keep in mind that because many trees drop their leaves in the fall, it’s important to be able to identify them by both their leaves and buds, and their bark.

White Birch (Paper Birch)

birch

White birch is easy to identify with its distinctive, white, papery bark. The sycamore tree also has white bark, but it does not sluff off in thin, paper-like furls like the white birch. The sycamore also has large hand-shaped leaves versus the white birch’s smaller, oval-shaped leaves with a pointed tip. The birch leaf is also irregularly toothed. These grow almost exclusively in northern climates.

birch-leaf

White birch survival uses:

  • Sweet drinkable sap that does not need purification.
  • Containers can be fashioned from the bark (and even canoes – hence the nickname “canoe birch”).
  • Its papery bark makes some of the finest fire-starting tinder on the planet, which will light even when damp because of its resinous quality.
  • A fine tea can be made from the small twigs at the end of a branch or by shaving the bark from new growth. Toss a palmful of these elements into boiling water for a fresh, wintergreen-flavored tea.
  • The tinder fungus (chaga — a variety of mushroom that grows on the tree bark) grows almost exclusively on the white birch tree. The fungus is one of the only natural materials I know of that will take the spark from flint and steel. A piece of tinder fungus along with flint and pyrite to create sparks were even found on Otzi, the “iceman” who was uncovered in the Austrian Alps several years ago.
  • Pine tar can be extracted from the bark of the white birch by heating it over a fire. Pine tar makes an excellent natural adhesive, which indigenous peoples used for all kinds of purposes including securing stone points on arrows.

American Basswood

basswood

The American basswood (also called American linden) is a very common tree – especially in the eastern U.S. It prefers moist soil and is often found by creeks, streams, and ponds. It likes to grow several shoots from the base so it’s not uncommon to see the basswood growing in what appears to be clumps. Basswood trees have large, heart-shaped, coarsely-toothed leaves and dark red young leaf buds. One of the most distinctive features of the basswood is what I call the “tongue.” A tongue-shaped leaf (the small, light green leaf in the picture above) grows at the base of the regular heart-shaped leaves on mature trees. Hard, little, nut-like fruits dangle from the center of this “tongue” leaf throughout the summer.

basswood-cord

Basswood survival uses:

  • Delicious edible leaves – especially in spring.
  • “Bass” comes from the word “bast,” which is an old word for rope. The inner fibers from the basswood make some of the best natural cordage on the planet. In one of my wilderness courses, two adult men could not break a 1/2″ thick strip of basswood bark.
  • Basswood is my favorite wood to use in fire by friction setups. It is soft and makes a perfect friction firewood for bow drill spindles and hearthboards and for hand drill hearthboards.
  • Basswood is preferred by most wood carvers and chainsaw carvers because of how easy it is to work and carve.
  • Inner bark layer is edible and can be scraped off with the edge of your knife. It has a very sweet flavor.

White Pine

pine-tree

The leaves of the white pine grow in batches of five needles. Every fall the white pine loses all of its needles, except those that grew that year. Pine is an evergreen; evergreen trees keep some green leaves year-round, unlike deciduous trees, and have needle-like leaves. They also produce cones (pine cones) instead of flowers.

pine-needle

White pine survival uses:

  • Resin can be used as a fire extender when mixed with tinder material.
  • Resin can be heated and mixed with crushed charcoal to make a natural epoxy.
  • Resin-rich joints and stump pieces make incredible fire kindling.
  • Make pine needle tea from the green pine needles – very rich in Vitamin C.
  • Inner bark layers are edible.
  • Harvest pine nuts from the pine cones.
  • Pine needles make excellent fire tinder.
  • Pine needles make excellent natural insulation material for debris huts and survival shelters.
  • Green pine boughs are perfect for lean-to shelter roofs.
  • Green pine boughs are great for making a bed to protect from the cold ground or snow.
  • The lower, dry, dead branches of the pine tree (squaw wood) is often some of the driest fire kindling available. It is exposed to the wind and also protected from the elements by the year-round needle canopy above. I’ve also used these branches for making bow drill fire friction sets.
  • Very effective candles and lamps can be made from pine resin.
  • Pine resin can be used to waterproof seams in clothing or crude containers.
  • The very pliable surface layer roots make excellent (and strong) natural cordage. Use as a whole or split into smaller pieces.

White Oak

oak

White oaks have rounded leaf lobes instead of pointed ones like red oaks. Contrary to popular belief, acorns are edible. I like white oak acorns better because it seems they are less bitter and it takes less effort to leach out the tannic acid (which causes this bitterness) to become more palatable. An abundance of acorns in mid-summer makes the oak family almost impossible to misidentify. Oaks are some of the largest trees in the forest; I have many white oaks at Willow Haven that are over 100 feet tall and easily 3-4 feet in diameter.

White oak survival uses:

  • Acorns (after leaching out the tannic acid) can be ground and used as flour to make acorn bread.
  • Tannic acid (which can be extracted by boiling or leaching acorns and/or inner oak bark and twigs) is anti-bacterial. I’ve used it as an antiseptic wash before and have heard of it being used to quell diarrhea.
  • Acorns can be used as trap bait for squirrel and other small game animals.
  • Can tan leather using the tannic acid found in bark, acorns, and wood.
  • Oak is a very hard wood that is good for ax handles, digging sticks, and shelter frameworks.
  • When dried, the white oak flowers make suitable tinder bundles and can be found in great abundance certain times of the year.

Sugar Maple

maple

The sugar maple is one of my favorite trees and probably one of the most abundant in the Eastern woodlands. Its beauty is on full display when the leaves change each fall into bursts of red, orange, and yellow. The leaves usually have five lobes, and the tips are pointed. Young maples have smooth silvery bark. The unmistakable “winged helicopter” seeds are a tell-tale maple tree indicator. The sugar maple is the source for maple syrup; this tree is preferred because its sap has high sugar content. It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

maple-tap-bucket

Sugar maple survival uses:

  • In late winter/early spring when the sap is running, the sugar maple is an excellent source of drinkable water (sap) that needs no purification. Maple sap is nature’s version of an energy drink – rich in sugar and nutrients. I’ve filled a 1-liter canteen in as few as 15 minutes before. Maples don’t have fully developed (or any) leaves during this time of year – hence the importance of being able to identify in all four seasons.
  • The seeds inside the little helicopters are edible, just like edamame. I just boil them and lightly salt. They can also be fried or added to stews. Remove the outer helicopter.
  • I almost always use maple branches for wilderness cooking. Whether it’s a spit roast, a hot dog stick, or utensils, I can always find a maple branch suitable for the task. Maple branches naturally have a lot of forks, which is great for pot holders and other wilderness kitchen uses. I also use the leaves to wrap fish or other small game animals when cooling in an earth oven.
  • Young maple leaves are also edible. Toss them into a salad or boil them down with other spring greens. They get bitter and rough as they mature.

Willow Tree

willow

There are tons of different willow varieties, but every willow I’ve seen has a similar leaf shape. The leaves are narrow, lance-shaped, and grow in great numbers along the branches. Willows must be in moist areas to survive. If you’ve found a willow, then there is a water source nearby.

Willow survival uses:

  • Willow bark contains a chemical called salicin, which is similar to aspirin. I can personally attest to its effectiveness in relieving headaches and inflammation. Just chew on a few small green twigs and swallow the juices.
  • In spring and summer, willow bark will peel away from the wood and makes excellent cordage that can be used for a huge variety of tasks.
  • Young willow branches and saplings are very flexible and can be used to weave a variety of different baskets and funnel traps.
  • I’ve used dried willow wood on many occasions for friction fire sets – both hand drill and bow drill.
  • Willow saplings make excellent frog and fish gigs.

Essential emergency survival tent

I’m not sure if any of my readers have experience of hiking in the high mountains or in very cold terrain, but if you get caught out in inclement weather in those places, shelter is absolutely vital.

Now whether that shelter is something you have time to knock together yourself from materials lying around or not, is debatable. I’ve constructed rudimentary shelters from branches, tree fronds, bark, etc but at times you may be in such a place where none of those items are at hand.

At times like that, you need to carry something that is easily set up and will save your life.

There are many designs on emergency shelters, but one of the best I found is shown below. It’s made out of a strong, metallised PVC based foil that refelcts your body heat back to keep you warm, and which will not tear easily, and can get you out of trouble in times of emergency.

As recommended by top survival authorities.

The cost is just US$12 plus $5 shipping (or £8 plus £3.99 if you are in Europe).

Contact me to purchase:        juniperberry123 at hotmail dot com

Well worth investing in!

Picture 434

What are my hiking plans for the New Year?

Good question!

Today is the 28th December and we don’t have long to go before we see in the New Year, and all that it will bring.

So if you haven’t yet decided what your hiking plans are, myself included, well, we’d better get on with it and decide real quick.

Living in BC, I’m blessed with a wonderful choice of hiking; I can either choose to hike locally or strike out miles away from civilisation, as there so much land here. and most of it is uninhabited.

For the coming season, I think I’d like to go much further north, way up into the Yukon if I can, as my heart hankers for some lonesome walking, amongst snow and ice, rather than the forest and woodland I have been accustomed to.

Though it seems a nice thought, once you are in the true north, you have to be ultra careful, as help will be many, many miles away, if available at all.

And that will mean kitting myself out with as much fail-safe equipment as I can afford to carry.

As we all know, my kit will consist of those essentials that can mean the difference between survival or death, should the unforeseen happen. That means food, first aid, clothing/bedding, fire-starting equipment, cooking apparatus and anything else that I can think of.

I will be camping out in the open, so a good, solid, easily assembled/disassembled tent will be an absolute must.

Talking about camping in cold regions just reminded me about arrangements for a person’s, shall we say, daily ablutions? Normally, experienced hikers and walkers usually rely on a rough hole in the ground, which can be quickly filled in with soil etc when the job is finished. But in cold areas, where the ground is either frozen due to permafrost or is just too hard, digging holes in the ground can become laborious.

So what is the best way to take care of this very necessary task? Well, it all depends upon how long you are planning to stay in that particular site. Myself, if I know I’m going to be camped in one area for more than a week, I usually dig myself a proper “loo”, as it’s no fun sitting over a hole in the ground in the open air, with a cold, biting wind blowing all around your “undercarriage”, not to mention down your neck, too!

And believe it or not, there are certain rules you need to follow if your toilet in the open is to be properly managed. Again, depending upon the temperature, you will notice that after every visit, the waste products will freeze almost straight away. So what happens over time is that all your waste will tend to build itself into a very large icicle, albeit a rather very smelly one!

If you don’t manage it on a daily basis, that icicle will soon reach your nether regions and the only way to control it will be to chop it down to a smaller size with an axe or something. Of course, being what it is, that will inevitably leave small chunks of it on your clothing or hands, meaning as soon as you get back to your tent or shelter, all those chunks will melt, releasing an obvious, and very noxious smell, and one which you will never get out of your clothes until you get back home…to be avoided at all costs!

How do you construct the shelter around your loo? I’ve used whatever is close at hand. If in the woods, you can use a quick shelter made of twigs and branches, or if you are in very cold terrain, a shelter made of snow blocks is again very easy to construct.

What you should be doing daily, is to take a look down the hole and see how high the icicle has become….soon as it gets over 6 inches high, knock it down with a large stick or branch. That way, you can spend your time in your toilet in peace, knowing that once the time has come to move on, the hole can be filled in with snow or soil.

 

Here’s news for wilderness walkers!

Yep, this should surprise you guys a little!

Yes, I’ve done dozens of walks…yes, I’ve become lost sometimes…yes, I’ve almost become a meal for wild animals…yes, I’ve burnt my shelter to the ground…etc etc.

But I’ve never, ever been able to overcome one thing. What’s that?

Well…er….I’m afraid of the dark…! No jokes, it’s true.

If anyone tells me to walk to the end of my garden at night…in the pitch black darkness, I’ll run a mile.

I don’t know how I came to be like this, but I’ve a fair idea that some of my mother’s stories she told us when we were kids did not help at all…like telling us not to leave our arms hanging out from our beds when asleep, as a spirit would pull it down.

Or not to talk or watch or read about ghosts, death or wild animals before going to bed, as they would haunt you in your dreams.

Those used to be our bedtime stories…and after telling us the stories, she used to laugh with a half, friendly-half maniacal grin…we never knew if she was laughing or planning to be the next axe-murderer, you know!

So, whenever I’m in the wilds alone, I always have a fire burning to provide light and comfort to a scaredy-cat mind! Even at home, if I’m alone, I sleep with the light on….!

Nobody has been able to cure this fear….I’ll probably die with it!

When I went down to the woods today…

 

Some time ago, I went on another jaunt into the wild….

Well, it’s not really wild…but the place is never visited by anyone..at least, I’ve never, ever seen anyone there. So in my mind, it’s a wilderness!

So anyways, I walked and walked for must have been about 30 or 40 minutes. I looked up at the sky and knew that there was going to be a very heavy downpour and it would therefore be a good idea if I built a temporary shelter of some kind, as I was planning to stay there for a couple of hours at least.

All the materials I needed were within reach, so it was just a matter of finding 4 stout branches, 2 on either side, with a longer branch straddling the two. That gave me a rudimentary tent-like frame, over which I placed other branches with leaves still on them. After a while, all 3 sides of the frame were covered nicely, with the front side left open..that was my window onto the open!

I spent a good few hours there in that shelter, whiling away the time in a pleasant stupor, thinking about hings, this and that, and finally it was time to pack up and go.

But what happened at that precise moment, had me stop and think very hard. For some odd reason, a TV advert came into my mind. In that advert, there’s a pretty lady walking along a road, with a house covered in green ivy in the background. Nothing unusual there…but wait. It came to me just then…I had seen that very house in a dream many months ago…!

Why should that house come up in my dream….and now…in that TV advert?

WOW….is all I could say! It left me speechless and thinking for many weeks!

 

What to eat to save your life in the wilderness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A rather disturbing title and one which is even more important than some of the subjects we’ve covered here before, like fire, water or shelter.

Without food, and especially if we are stuck in a very cold or very dry situation, our survival will depend on what we have available to eat, be that in freeze-dried packs that you managed to bring with you, or whatever may be around you.

Let me say straight away here that if you’re a vegetarian, and you are very definitely not going to eat any animal matter to survive, then it could well be a case of kissing goodbye to your life!  In a life or death situation, life is more sacrosanct than ideological standpoints. Harsh as it may sound, given the choice of starving to death or surviving by eating animals, I know which one I would opt for.

So, let’s assume that you have decided that you will eat whatever is nearby or at hand. What do we eat?

Well, the biggest group of live food is the insects. Ok, ok…I know….instant yuck! Despite being some of the most horrible or ugly-looking creatures on the planet, once we overcome our very natural aversion to eating them, it’s surprising how much nutrition they can provide in an emergency.

Fine; now a little friendly advice…if you have a weak stomach and get queasy just at the mention of eating insects, look away now! I’m about to tell you how to go about collecting, preparing and eating various creepy-crawlies!

Where do you find them? Depending upon terrain, the most likely places will be under stones and rocks, in rocky crevices, in rotting trees or logs, even under loose bark of live trees.

Beetles, grasshoppers etc all have hard shells, so either remove them before eating or throw them onto a fire if you have one going; they will die almost instantly and be ready to eat in less than 30 seconds or so. If you are in a dire emergency you can of course eat them as they are.

Th taste will vary, but remember we are not interested in that at the moment…it’s a pure survival thing we are aiming at.

If you cannot eat them as they are, they can be ground up into a paste and eaten that way, or by heating them in a pan over the fire. Earthworms can be washed and eaten raw or thrown in a pan and boiled.

If you are stranded in a watery environment, then water-living creatures are a good bet. Almost all kinds of fish can be eaten, but do remember that some species may be carrying dangerous parasites, in which case always cook the fish first. Some fish may have poisons within their bodies, especially saltwater fish, so you should either know which types of fish are poisonous or if unsure, leave well alone.

The same goes for shelled molluscs. Most are harmless, but beware of eating molluscs that are not covered by water at high tide, as these may be poisonous. All molluscs can be eaten raw, but it’s better to boil them in water to kill any parasites that may co-exist within.

Which insects and animals do we need to avoid? Well, Nature provides us with a very important signal — any insect or animal that is brightly coloured should be left well alone; the colour is a warning sign! The same goes for any insect, frog, lizard etc which smells bad….

I have deliberately left out any information regarding bigger animals such as deer, hogs, etc etc as capturing these may not be possible when you are stranded, and indeed may well take far too long, by which time your energy levels will be severely diminished. Leave that prize moose you always wanted to shoot for another day!

At the end of the day, your survival depends on preparation. Always, always make sure you pack enough emergency rations. That way, you may not need to fall back on the horrible critters we’ve been talking about here!