Survival Trees – 5 Great Ones That Can Heal, Feed And Keep You Alive In A Crisis

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life-saving survival trees

It becomes clear that at certain seasons, trees can provide a wide variety of food supplies.

Survival Trees 

When we think of trees in survival situations, we tend to gravitate to the obvious. Trees give us wood for our campfires. They provide structure for shelters, materials from which shelters can be built. These are all accurate perceptions, but survival trees, if you recognize and utilize them correctly, can contribute much more to our chances of survival than just firewood and construction materials.

Consider for a moment the varieties of nut trees that grow on the North American continent. There are hickories, walnuts, buckeyes, pecans, and hazelnuts to name just a few. Then consider the wild fruit trees, from plums to persimmons crab apples to mulberries. I hope it will become clear that at certain seasons, many trees can literally become “survival trees” and provide a wide variety of edible opportunities.

1. Oak Tree

Even the oak tree produces acorns which can be turned into meal or flour; the trick is to leach out all the tannins using a lot of fresh water. After gathering acorns, they must be dried so that the kernels can be removed from the husks. Once this is done, the kernels are ground into meal. After grinding, the meal is repeatedly soaked and drained for up to 6 days. The tannins must be removed from the meal before use, or they can cause stomach problems, kidney problems or inhibition of nutrient uptake. Once properly prepared, however, acorn meal makes fine bread, pancakes, and other baked goods.

Obviously, it is a very good idea to become accustomed to the trees in your area from a food gathering standpoint. But the utility of trees does not stop at fire, shelter, fruits and nuts. If you take a bit more time to learn about your local trees, they can provide other foods, medicines and become survival trees.

2. Willow Tree

One of my favorites is the willow tree. Willow bark is known to be an analgesic, an anti-inflammatory, and a fever reducer. It has been used since ancient time to relieve a headache, lower back pain, Osteoarthritis, fever, Flu, tendonitis, and Bursitis. In the 1800s one of the active compounds in willow bark, salicin, was used to develop aspirin. It has been suggested that willow bark has more pain relieving benefits at lower dosages, and with less chance of side effects, than aspirin.

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To use willow bark you will need to boil 1-2 teaspoons of dried bark in 8 ounces of water. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and then allow it to steep for 30 minutes. Drink 3-4 cups daily. This bark can also be used to make tinctures, but the tea I have just described is the best method in a survival setting. It is critical to note that just like aspirin, willow bark should not be administered to those under the age of 16 due to the risk of Rye’s Syndrome. Chewing on Birch twigs, according to folk medicine and modern chemistry should yield similar results for pain relief.

3. Juniper

The juniper is another example of a fine medicinal survival tree. Here in the states, many of our junipers are known as cedars. Red cedars, both Western and Eastern, produce juniper berries. Juniper berries are actually very small, tightly compacted cones; more specifically, they are the seed-bearing female cones. The “berries” from this survival tree take 2-3 years to mature, and are ripe when they achieve a purple color. Dried berries have been used for centuries as a seasoning, and are reportedly excellent in conjunction with a variety of wild game. Juniper berries are even responsible for the unique flavor of gin.

4. Eastern Red Cedar

Medicinally, the leaves of the eastern red cedar have been used to treat rashes and skin irritations. Smoke from the leaves can be inhaled to treat colds, bronchitis, and rheumatism. The berries can be chewed to relieve canker sores and toothaches. A tea brewed from the berries can be used to treat colds, worms, rheumatism and coughs.

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Fruits can be chewed to treat canker sores. It has been suggested that red cedar has calmative and anti-spasmodic properties as well, and that it may be used as a nerve tonic, and that it may contain a cancer-fighting agent as well.  Now for the disclaimer: It has also been suggested by some that all parts of this survival tree may be considered toxic. As with any alternative medicine, do your homework on this one before trying it. The long history of medicinal use makes me confident, but weigh all the evidence for yourself! No matter what you decide, it is widely accepted that red cedar should not be given to pregnant women as it may cause spontaneous abortions.

5. Sassafras

Sassafras is another great little survival tree. For starters, it is excellent as a fire starter due to the very high concentrations of volatile oils in both the leaves and the wood, and this alone could save your bacon on a wet day when you need a fire in a hurry. Next up, the dried leaves of the sassafras make an excellent seasoning. Known as file powder it was a prime ingredient in the original gumbo. The root of the sassafras was the main ingredient of the original root beer. This little survival tree has had an undeniably huge impact on the culinary arts! It goes even further, though. This amazing tree also has medicinal qualities. It has been hailed as a treatment for Rheumatism, hypertension, scurvy, skin sores, kidney problems, toothaches, swelling and dysentery, to name a few.

Teas brewed from the bark have long been considered an excellent spring tonic to cleanse the system and the blood, and are a fine diuretic. Sassafras, too, comes with a disclaimer. Modern medicine sometimes seems bent on destroying the reputations of traditional or folk remedies, but do your research on this one as well before you make up your mind about it. Regardless, you should not use sassafras “survival tree” tea for more than a week at a time. Infusions should be made by boiling and steeping a tablespoon of root bark in a cup of water and taking not more than a cup a day.

Trees are a wonderful gift in so many ways. Take the time to get to know the trees in your area and their uses so what seems at first glance to be ordinary, can truly become survival trees in a time of crisis. Knowledge is never wasted, and a little survival tree knowledge could help to save your life one day.

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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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