Tree Bark as an Emergency Food

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cutting_bark_tree

bark_piecesAn almost forgotten food from the wild is that which comes from the bark of trees.  Once a staple, now it is barely known even as a coarse survival food.  I myself have been slow coming to it even with wild edible plants as a major preoccupation since my teens.  An obvious possibility for why tree bark has not been found much in modern cuisine is that it doesn’t taste good.  The modern imagination easily responds to the notion of tree bark as food with images of gnawing on trees – not exactly as exciting as fishing, hunting, picking mushrooms, or picking berries.  However, perhaps that assumption is wrong.  Maybe delicious foods can be prepared from tree bark.

By Nathaniel Whitmore, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache

I have in front of me eleven books on wild edibles.  At first glance at the table of contents of each book, or the text or index if the plants weren’t listed there, I found nothing in ten of the books  related to tree barks as edibles.  Euell Gibbons (Stalking the Wild Asparagus) and others discuss Black Walnuts and Hickory for nuts.  Lee Allen Peterson (Edible Wild Plants) discusses the leaves of Basswood.  Bradford Angier (Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants) discusses the seeds of Maple and, of course, that the sap is boiled into Maple syrup.  …And the list goes on of other foods from the trees.  Only in one, A Naturalists Guide to Cooking with Wild Plants by Connie and Arnold Krochmal, did I find that the authors went on to discuss harvesting and preparing Maple bark.  They have a recipe for Maple bark bread that uses, along with other typical ingredients for bread, only ½ cup of all-purpose flour to 2 cups of ground Maple bark.  Another recipe for porridge is a typical porridge recipe with only Maple bark (cooked like farina, grits, or oats), along with a suggestion to spread it out to chill and thicken before browning in oil.

Cuisine and Nutrition

maple_treeI have not yet tried Maple (Acer spp.) porridge.  I have made porridge from Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) but only because I have acquired out-of-date stock from herbs stores here-and-there that I worked for.  The powdered bark is quite costly to eat like a breakfast cereal.  It is sold mostly for home-made lozenges and to add to smoothies.  Because the bark is quite mucilaginous, it is a great ingredient for do-it-yourself lozenges for sore or dry throat.  I like to always keep some in a convenient storage spot.  When I have plenty, I like to cook the powdered Elm bark with Maple syrup (and a little salt) for a real breakfast from the trees.  I have not yet attempted to powder the bark itself, though I do intend to.  Powdering bark is one of those things that is high up on my list of things to do that I never get around to doing.  Again, a survival situation might just re-prioritize that list.  The shredded bark is also readily available through commercial sources and is prepared as a cold infusion to produce a thick, moistening drink or ingredient.

Related: Food to Stock for Emergencies      

According to Daniel Moerman in Native American Food Plants, Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) was cooked by the Ojibwa.  Apparently they believe it tastes like eggs.  I have chewed it and infused it for “tea”, but will certainly have to try to prepare it like scrambled eggs!  I doubt it is all that similar, but I do not doubt that it can be prepared so that it tastes good.  Remember, much of foraging is about timing.  Not only is bark easier to peel off the tree in the spring (when the sap is flowing), but it also is thick, juicy, and milder tasting than other times of the year.  Certainly, timing is important for Ash bark and the others.  Though, if starving to death you might eat tree bark even if it wasn’t the ideal harvest season and even if it didn’t taste like eggs.

white_pine_barkWhite Pine (Pinus strobus) and other evergreens were vital survival foods for Native Americans in cold areas.  Although they often have too much astringency and pitchy consistency to be ideal foods, they also have vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and many important medicinal constituents.  It would be interesting, and potentially important in a survival scenario, to look into the nutritional constituents of various barks.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to understand that Pine bark has lots of vitamin C, but what about the macronutrients?  Are barks able to provide sufficient sugar, protein, or fat?  Sugar seems the most notable macronutrient from bark, but I still wonder how much is there.  Certainly, Maple bark can taste remarkably sweet, like Maple syrup.  Clearly it has sugar in it.  The benefits of bark as a survival food are at least partially illustrated by the Natives formerly feeding Cottonwood (Populus spp.) bark to horses.  Certainly, humans have different nutritional requirements than the four-legged grazers, though I still think it says something that the deer, other wild animals, and horses can glean nutrition from bark.

Basswood (American Linden, Tilia americana) is unique as a food tree in that it produces large broad leaves that are edible right off the tree.  Young twigs and buds were cooked by Chippewa.  By this I would assume that the bark is also mild and edible.  However, I turned to Moerman’s book Native American Medicinal Plants to learn that the Cherokee used the bark for diarrhea and the Iroquois used as a diuretic, which has me wondering if the bark is too astringent and drying to use as food.  Of course, many such remedies are mild enough to eat or can be prepared to be more food quality and less medicinal.  Generally though, diarrhea remedies are astringent and can cause constipation when not needed for runny stool.  Moerman did also report that the Cherokee used during pregnancy for heartburn and weak stomach and bowels.  If it was used during pregnancy, I imagine it is mild enough to eat.  Basswood bark is now bumped up to the top of the list of wild foods to try out this spring.

Medicinal Uses of Tree Bark

Medicines from tree barks are many.  Though this article focuses on edible barks, it would not be complete without mention of medicinal uses.  In addition to those already discussed above, the medicinal barks included many categories, such as astringents, cough remedies, blood-moving medicinals, and pain relievers.

aspirin_vintage_advertisement_willowWillow (Salix spp.) was an original source of a well-known medicine known as salicylic acid (named after Willow).  Like the drug Aspirin (which is named after Meadowsweet which is currently Filipendula, but formerly Spiraea), Willow is used for pain, to thin the blood, and for fevers.  Salicylic acid is commonly used for acne, dandruff, and warts.  Poplars (Populus spp.) are closely related to Willow both botanically (though many people confuse Poplars and Birch, or Betula spp.) and medicinally.  Poplars have largely fallen out of use in modern times, but formerly were commonly employed as medicinals – the bark used like Willow, and especially the resinous buds used for coughs.

Oaks (Quercus spp.) and many other trees have bitter-tasting astringency.  Astringents tone tissue, remove inflammation, and stop discharge.   They are important medicines that are indicated for damp, inflamed conditions like diarrhea, rashes, bleeding wounds, and sore throats.  Astringents are also used for daily maintenance like washing the face and brushing teeth.  In small quantities, they are used to maintain tissue integrity of the gums and digestive system.

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Like Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), our Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is used to stimulate circulation and clean the blood.  The bark is delicious as tea, and can be combined with other root beer ingredients like Black Birch (Betula lenta).  The leaves of Sassafras are mucilaginous as well as spicy and can be prepared as food.  They are used in gumbo.  As an aromatic, blood-cleansing medicinal, Sassafras is used to treat skin disorders, arthritis, and to warm up the body.  The FDA has a controversial ban on Sassafras and the oil derived from it, safrole.

cherries_cherry_treePerhaps one of best-known cough remedies, Cherry Bark (Prunus spp.) has been used for ages.  My guess is that Cherry became a standard flavor for cough syrups largely because the bark was a standard medicine for coughs, even though the bark does not exactly taste like the fruit.  It does have a distinct Cherry flavor, but even more distinct is the cyanide flavor, especially in the fresh bark.  Because of the toxic properties, the use of fresh Cherry bark has been discouraged in the literature.  Though, the fresh bark is used medicinally and is significantly stronger than the dried bark.  The dried bark is available through commercial distributions.  Especially the wilted leaves have been known to cause poisoning in farm animals, so it seems the toxic properties spike during drying.  There are also various ideas about the best time to harvest.  Since I am not a chemist, I cannot say much with authority about cyanide content.  Consider yourself warned, however.  I encourage you to do your own research (before you find yourself starving or coughing to death in a Cherry forest).  Since this is such a valuable medicine I do indeed recommend learning about Cherry bark.  In my experience it is a top remedy for coughs and I assume it has many other uses in line with how Peach (Prunus persica) is used in Chinese medicine, which is extensive.  If the medicinal barks were not strong-natured and somewhat toxic, they would have been discussed earlier as edible barks.  It is precisely because they are strong that they are medicinal.  

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) bark is very medicinal.  It is one of the strongest antifungal herbs and is well-known as a remedy for intestinal parasites.  The inner bark stains yellow, as do the green hulls and leaves.  These parts also give off a distinct aroma that can help with identification and are doubtlessly related to the medicinal virtues.  Of course, Black Walnut is also known for its nuts, which are important survival food.     

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Farmer Forced By USDA Board To Dump Cherry Crop On Ground

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USDA Board Orders Farmer To Dump Cherry Crop On Ground

Part of Marc Santucci’s cherry crop.

DETROIT — Uncle Sam is forcing American farmers to dump thousands of pounds of the nation’s tart cherry crop on the ground this year, and one particular farmer wants everyone to know about it.

The Michigan farmer, Marc Santucci, posted a picture to Facebook July 26 showing thousands of cherries on the ground, hours from rotting, because of an order from a board that is overseen by the US Department of Agriculture. He said he was forced to dump 14 percent of his crop, and other farmers as much as 30 percent.

The picture quickly went viral and has garnered 63,000 shares, 12,000 likes and 8,000 comments.

The dumped cherries cannot be sold.

“These cherries are beautiful,” Santucci wrote on his Facebook page. “But, we have to dump 14 percent of our tart cherry crop on the ground to rot. Why? So we can allow the import of 200 million pounds of cherries from overseas! It just doesn’t seem right.”

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At issue is something called the Cherry Industry Administrative Board (CIAB), which determines the percentage of cherry crops that can be placed in the market. The board’s order has the force of law, and farmers are prohibited from selling more than the percentage that is set.

“I have people who would buy them if I could sell them,” Santucci wrote.

The cherries that are dumped are euphemistically called “diverted” by the CIAB.

Supporters of the board say the rules keep prices stable.

“This whole concept of the marketing order has two goals: to inject a better stability into our markets and improve grower returns,” CIAB executive director Perry Hedin told the Detroit Free Press. “The growers have been paid far better prices under the marketing order over the past 20 years than they were before the order was in place.”

Santucci, though, said he would rather take his chances. Imports, he noted, have increased in recent years.

“Last year the cherry farmer received between $.32 and $.37 for a pound of cherries,” Santucci wrote. “This year it looks like it will be between $.16 and $.20 of the cherries we are allowed to sell. How stable does that look? And assuming next year we have a normal harvest, the situation will not get any better.

“The reality is that as long as imports are allowed to come into the market freely any attempt to support prices above the cost of the foreign producer will be futile,” he added. “The only way we are going to stop the continued growth in imports is to compete head to head not with one arm tied behind our back.”

Tart cherries spoil quickly and must be processed within 24 hours – limiting a farmer’s options.

The board’s website say it was “created at the request of, by the vote of and at the expense of the tart cherry industry.”

“The CIAB is authorized under Federal law, and it is considered an ‘instrumentality’ of the United States Department of Agriculture,” the website reads. “Therefore, it is the Secretary of Agriculture who oversees the operations of the CIAB and under whose aegis the order operates.”

What is your reaction? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

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7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

Apple tree. Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Trees on a fundamental level provide shade from the sun and when mature, firewood. But certain trees also can serve as a food source or offer medicinal benefits.

The seven trees below will grow across most parts of North America, from the deep south to far north. It was tough to pick just seven. and you may have your own ideas, but from my perspective these are the best:

1. Apples. I continue to feel that apples are one of the most versatile fruits we have. It’s not just because they’re good to eat, but they offer the ability to make apple cider and most significantly, apple cider vinegar. Vinegar is a natural antiseptic and an excellent resource for canning and food preservation. The variety doesn’t really matter, although you might want to consider planting two of the same variety to help with pollination.

2. White willow. Willow bark has a chemical substance called salicin in the inner bark, or xylem. It’s the active ingredient in aspirin and has been infused in a tea for centuries by the Chinese and Native Americans as a pain reliever and fever reducer. A German chemist in the 1800s first isolated this compound to make a commercial pain reliever. His last name was “Bayer” and he called his new product aspirin.

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3. Cherry. Cherry trees have both nutritional and medicinal value. The cherries, whether sweet or sour, can be used across a variety of recipes, from pies to juice. Cherry juice has been shown in clinical studies to be a powerful treatment for arthritic conditions, including gout. They’re also beautiful trees when they’re in bloom and like apple trees, you can use the wood to flavor smoked foods as branches die or need to be trimmed.

7 Versatile ‘Survival Trees’ Every Homesteader Should Plant

Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Oak. Oak is a slow-growing tree but it has numerous benefits. As firewood, it burns long and hot. Baby oak leaves are an excellent addition to a salad or soup. The biggest additional benefit may be the acorns. They are high in protein, calories from fat – which is important in cold weather – and can be used in a variety of ways, such as nutmeats in a meal or to make flour. You just have to be patient because they (like we said) grow slow. Buy the biggest tree you can find.

5. Ginko. Scientists say Ginko is the oldest deciduous tree on Earth. It was thought to be extinct until a botanist happened to come across one growing in a garden in China. The tree has significant medicinal value, and the leaves are commonly infused into a tea. Benefits range from blood thinning to some indications that it can help to treat neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, as well as boost the immune system.

6. Pear. Pear trees are hardy trees and also provide a good source of firewood, as well as smoking wood for smoked foods and fruit. Pears are a great table food and can also be used to make breads, tarts and other simple desserts.

7. Mulberry. Some people might disagree and say this is a very messy tree. It is. But mulberry trees bear a sweet fruit that shows up in early June, and it’s one of the first fruits to appear. I put a tarp under the tree and shake the branches to make harvesting easier. The fruits are sweet to semi-sweet and are great on cereal or ice cream. You also can make mulberry juice, jelly or blend the fruit into bread for mulberry bread. They will stain your fingers and lips, but if you want to dye fabric, the juice will certainly do that.

The ability of any tree to survive and thrive is dependent on the environment where you live. Most of the trees I’ve identified will survive across most parts of North America, but desert parts of the continent and high mountain areas could be problematic. When selecting the best trees for your homestead, think about if they can offer more than basic shade and firewood. Can the tree offer either fruit or a medicinal benefit that transcends the usual tree? Those are the trees I like to plant.

We’d love to hear your ideas about the best trees to plant. Some of you living in far southern environments may be able to grow oranges and avocados. No matter where you live, let us know what trees you’ve planted in the section below.

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