Henbit and Purple Deadnettle—The Mischievous Twins

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This article is the second in a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

How long does it take for weeds to invade a garden? Not long. But in a weed garden, that’s a good thing!

Checking back in on the weed garden, we find that it’s mostly still a patch of bare soil.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

But upon closer inspection, we can see several guests starting to invite themselves in. It’s a bit too early to tell what they are at this stage, though I expect the larger leaves to be pokeweed.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Plant Identification

While we’re waiting on the weeds to properly introduce themselves, let’s take a look at two weeds that have probably welcomed themselves into your gardens: purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). The name deadnettle comes from the fact that the plant resembles a nettle, but does not sting. Thus, it is a dead nettle. The name “henbit” comes from farmers watching hens eat it.

These two jokers love confusing people. Like a pair of mischievous twins, they’re often mistaken for one another. I’ll help you put an end to those shenanigans by showing you what they have in common and how they’re different.

Purple deadnettle and henbit are both members of the mint family, with the characteristic square stems and opposite leaves.

Aromatically, they aren’t very well-behaved mints, having no distinct minty smell. They do have an interesting earthy scent, however, that reminds me of Easter Sundays as a child. Your nostalgia may vary. Both also have small, pink-to-purple, tubular blossoms with two lips on the bottom outside edge.


Being mints, they naturally want to take over the world, but they’re hoping we won’t notice because they’re fairly low to the ground and have such pretty little blossoms. You can find them all throughout the U.S., as far north as Greenland, and through their native home of Eurasia.

They love cool, spring weather and rain. If you have that, there’s a good chance you have henbit and deadnettle.

Both plants love rich, moist soil … and people, too. They’ve long followed humans around with the intent of moving into any soil we happen to disturb.

Purple deadnettle has triangular leaves with petioles (leaf stems). It has a fuzzier texture than henbit, and the entire top of the plant tends to be shaded purple. Henbit has scalloped, heart-shaped leaves with no petiole, and it’s not noticeably hairy.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Toxic Look-alikes

They have no toxic look-alikes, though ground ivy (edible in moderation) is fairly similar. Ground ivy differs from our plants by having larger flowers and by rooting at nodes along the stem.

Culinary Uses

All aboveground parts of purple deadnettle and henbit are edible raw or cooked. The best-tasting bits are the blossoms, which are tender and sweet. I’m not a huge fan of either plant raw, but I love them chopped fine on weed pizzas or mixed in with a stir-fry. They’ll also mix well with a salad, and I’ve snuck them into stews a few times.

Henbit has the superior texture and taste, in my opinion. Both henbit and purple deadnettle are good sources of iron, vitamins, and fiber. 1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/henbit-top-of-the-pecking-order/

As a sidenote, stews are great for introducing people to eating weeds, or for hiding a plant that you’re still trying to build an appreciation for. The weeds in question just disappear into the mix and become part of a happy fellowship.

Medicinal Uses

Medicinally, these weedy relatives have a fair bit of overlap, though purple deadnettle is better known and more widely researched. I’ll be focusing on purple deadnettle here, both to avoid any confusion, and because I have more practical experience with it as a medicinal plant.

Lab tests have confirmed that purple deadnettle has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, comparable to Vitamin C.2)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey3)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887410800189X

This helps to validate its traditional use as an arthritis herb.

Purple deadnettle can also be used to stop external bleeding and has been shown to have moderate antimicrobial properties.4)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php5)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey

Chew up the fresh leaves and make a spit poultice, as you would with yarrow. I assume this would work with dried leaves as well, though I’ve never done it that way. I’ve always had yarrow at hand.

Read More: “Drying Herbs the Easy Way”

A decoction of deadnettle is also said to be effective for any type of bleeding (internal or external)6)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php

I’m more familiar with yarrow in this regard, but for people allergic to plants in the Aster family (which includes yarrow), purple deadnettle could be a good alternative plant to try. (But, as with all edible wild plants that you’re trying for the first time, remember to start slowly, in case you have an unexpected sensitivity to it.)

One of the more interesting properties of purple deadnettle is its ability to ease allergy symptoms. This might be linked to its anti-inflammatory properties, or perhaps to its flavonoid constituents. Whatever the reason, it really seems to work.

I don’t have much trouble with allergies myself, but I’ve given dried deadnettle to other people. I’ve got a “plant buddy” (client) using it right now. She tells me that when she drinks a cup of deadnettle tea (1 heaping teaspoon with 1 cup of water) before bed, she wakes up with clear sinuses and no drainage. But on the days that she forgets, she’s wakes up stuffy and coughing. And if she goes ahead and makes a cup, she’ll dry right up. If you want to try it, I recommend adding a little cream and sweetener.

So go gather up some henbit and purple deadnettle, and put these powerful spring weeds to work for you before the weather gets hot and they disappear again!

Do you use either of these plants for something I didn’t mention? Do you have any good deadnettle or henbit recipes you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.


Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.


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References   [ + ]

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Grow a Weed Garden! Identifying and Using Chickweed

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“Why in the world would I WANT to grow weeds?” That’s what you were just thinking, right? Either that or, “Is this about marijuana?”

As it turns out, I’m writing on the former. And if you’re still with me after learning that this article isn’t about cannabis, let me answer your question with some questions of my own.

Are you interested in growing your own herbal medicines? Grow a weed garden! Many common weeds are also powerful medicines.

Do you want to grow your own highly nutritious, homegrown food? Grow a weed garden! Most wild edibles are ridiculously nutritious; often much more so than the foods you’re already growing in your garden. (I will admit, however, that a potato is much more user-friendly than stinging nettles.) Plus, you’ll know for sure that these weeds haven’t been sprayed with any (gasp!) weed killer.

Are you cursed with gardening failures? Grow a weed garden! Unless you’re growing it inside a chicken coop or downstream from a glyphosate factory, you literally cannot mess this up. Those weedy little boogers are a hale-and-hearty crew, just chomping at the bit to take over any scrap of substandard, underwatered, compacted, nutrient-poor soil.

Are you preparing for the electromagnetic-zombie-pandemic-peak-water-financial-collapse apocalypse? Grow a weed garden! Looters might make off with your tomatoes, but they’ll never think to steal your thistles. Actually, I think I’d like to see them try that. But my point is that these are food and medicine resources unknown to the majority of the population. You can think of them as your backup-backup food supply.

Getting Started With Your Weed Garden

So I’m going to assume that you’re all fired up and ready for a weed garden, or at least not starkly opposed to the idea, and I’ll move on to the “how to” section. Making a weed garden is stunningly easy. At bare minimum, all you have to do is point to a part of your yard and say, “This is my weed garden.” Done! I’ve got a whole bunch of them out back. I’ll leave it up to you to convince your significant other that it’s time to sell your lawn mower. I mean, who mows their garden, right?

But let’s say you want to be a bit more official.

Sure. I knew I liked you. You want to grow weeds the right and proper way. Good for you.

For a “real” weed garden, do the following:

  1. Prepare a garden bed as you would for any other plant.
  2. Stop.

That’s it. Just loosen the soil, because even weeds like fluffy soil, and remove any pre-existing weeds to give everybody a fair chance to compete.

This is especially true of grasses. If you want a really good weed garden, get rid of the grass. No-good, dirty, rotten, grass (grumble, grumble). I’m slightly prejudiced, in case you couldn’t tell.

This is zero maintenance. No need to fertilize, water, weed (apart from the initial weeding), or sow seeds. Trust me. The seeds are already there, just waiting for their chance to shine.

Here’s a before-and-after picture of a weed garden I just set up:

Weed garden - pre weeding
My Weed Garden, Before


Weed garden - post weeding

My Weed Garden, After

This was formerly an experimental garden, set up a few years back and eventually surrendered to the grasses. A morning of TLC with a digging fork and an audiobook brought it back into fighting condition. During the clean out, I discovered a goji berry stem that had snaked its way through the sea of grass and was setting out roots where it contacted the soil.

Weed garden - goji


I couldn’t bring myself to uproot such a tenacious survivor, so it got to keep its place. Also, I added a wood chip border, because, “by golly I’ve got a big pile of wood chips, and I’m gonna use it!”                                                           

Now let’s take a look at the weeds in the… Oh, right. This is day one. Even weeds don’t pop up that fast. Okay. We’ll come back to this later on. For now, let’s take a look at one of the weeds that was growing in that maelstrom of grass before I cleared it out.

I give you … chickweed!

Weed garden - chickweed


Chickweed is a sweet little plant with a love for cool, wet weather. It can be found in every state in the U.S. and throughout much of the world, even growing as far north as the arctic circle.

Where I live, in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, you can find chickweed in the early spring and often again in the fall. The further north you go, the more it can stretch toward summer. Further south it leans more toward winter. If you have just the right climate (or microclimate), it can grow year-round. If you’ve got cool, pleasant weather, you’ve almost certainly got chickweed.

Chickweed tends to pop up in yards, gardens, pastures, and along the edges of paths. It likes rich, moist soil, and doesn’t seem too particular about sunlight. It must really like people, too, because it grows around us a lot. You’ll also occasionally find large patches growing in entirely the “wrong” place, because plants never read a plant book.

This is a great early plant to identify in your weed garden. First, it’s delicious. Some compare the taste to lettuce or corn silk, though I would describe it more like a snap pea. It’s also highly nutritious. Chickweed is a good source of beta-carotene, ascorbic-acid, magnesium, niacin, calcium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, copper, and Gamma-linolenic-acid.1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/ It also has more iron, zinc, and potassium than any of your garden greens.2)Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010 It can be used in salads, soups, fritters, and almost anywhere else you want something green. I’m partial to homemade weed pizzas, myself.

Do yourself a favor. Mix up some freshly rinsed chickweed with flour, salt, and pepper. Form it up into patties and fry it in coconut oil. Then dip the resulting crunchy goodness in honey mustard or barbecue sauce. Delicious!

Identifying Chickweed

By this time, I’m sure you’re practically salivating for some chickweed. And who could blame you? So let’s move on to identification.

Note that I’m focusing on common chickweed (Stellaria media). There are other varieties of chickweed, such as mouse-ear chickweed, that will match some, but not all, of these criteria. For more information on other types of chickweed, you really should look at a more exhaustive guide or talk to a local plant expert.

Common chickweed is a thin-stemmed plant with small (¼” to ½”), opposite leaves. The leaves vary a bit in shape, but are usually oval, and always have a tiny point at the tips. She’s usually a small plant, but can grow stems more than a foot long when conditions are right. The sap is NOT milky. If you pluck a stem and discover white sap, you’ve got the wrong weed. The bloom is white with 5 deeply notched petals, which will look like 10.

Weed garden - chickweed flower

It has two more dead giveaways. One is a single line of hairs growing down the stem. This line will switch sides after every pair of leaves.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Hair Line Arrows

The hairs are tiny, and you may need to either hold it up to the light or use a magnifying lens to see them. The other telltale sign is an inner core. It takes a little practice, but you can bend the stem back and forth, and twist slightly, to break apart the outer stem, revealing a slightly elastic inner stem.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Broken Stem

All of the aboveground parts are edible. On younger plants, the entire stem is tender. As they age, the lower stems become tough and stringy. You can chop them up, if you’re desperate. But I prefer just cutting off the last 2 or 3 inches at the growing tips.

Medicinally, chickweed is no slouch, either. Its primary claim to fame is in skin care. Owing to its wound-healing, soothing, and cooling properties, chickweed is an obvious choice for various skin irritations. It can be used in poultices, sprays, and creams—both as a beauty aid and for the treatment of rashes, bites, burns, and blemishes. It is also a digestive aid, helping to relieve excess gas in the intestinal tract.3)Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

I hope I’ve gotten you interested in the idea of a weed garden, or at least in trying out some chickweed. Next time, we’ll check back in with my weed garden to see how it’s coming along and choose a new weed to feature.

Meanwhile, let me know in the comments section: What’s your favorite way to use chickweed?

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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/
2. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010
3. Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

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The Incredible, Edible, Pindo Palm!

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A friend asks if a beautiful palm has edible fruit:

“There is a palm tree in the front yard of a house we bought in Ocala about 18 months ago. This year, it produced large clumps of a yellow-orange fruit that has a tough skin and a large seed inside each one. Pictures are attached.


Can you tell us what this is, and how to protect and use it? (The fruits spoil almost a quickly as they ripen.)”

I wrote back:

“That’s a pindo palm! Great fruit. We stew them into an absolutely delicious jelly with sugar to taste and jar them. Best flavor ever. Also makes a great pancake syrup. You can also eat the fruit fresh. In the past, people have made wine from them as well. Butia capitata is the Latin name.”

They really are delicious. And it’s fun to say “Butia capitata.” Try it three times fastI’ll wait.

I planted two in my North Florida food forest because I was so impressed with the flavor of the fruit. You can see one of them here:


Pindo palm fruit are not great off the tree, but the jelly … incredible. Coconut, pineapple, passion fruityou taste notes of different tropical delights in it. Very, very good.

I once harvested about 50 pounds from the Ocala agricultural extension offices and made jelly with them. The fruits often just fall on the ground unused and are available for the asking.

And the aroma of the fruit is intoxicating.

As Wendy Kiang-Spray writes:

“On the short walk from the pool to the house we rent in the ‘low country’ in South Carolina, Winter picked a berry from the tons of these little palm trees in the community and said, ‘Mom, smell this.’ Well, I’ve played that game before, and it’s not always fun. I was cautious at first, but then quickly began oohing and aahhing over the fragrance that in an instant transports you to the warm sunny place of your dreams. You cannot prevent the immediate inclination to hold in your hand a drink blended with ice and topped with a frilly paper umbrella.”

You’ll also find a recipe for pindo palm jelly in her post.

Pindo palms are often sold in ornamental nurseries across the Deep South. Their silvery foliage and cold hardiness make them very popular. I got my two trees from Home Depot and have encouraged many food-forest enthusiasts to add a few to their plans. You won’t regret it.

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Homemade Shampoo Disaster

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So I’ve been working on researching plants high in saponins—which is a natural form of soap. And I was delighted to find that the roots of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) are very high in saponins.

Pokeweed is also a fairly toxic plant. You can eat it if you harvest the leaves in the very early spring while the plant is young and before the stalks turn red. You have to boil it and discard the water at least twice (three times or more for those who worry a lot). So I probably should’ve been a bit more cautious.

By the way, the purple berries (also toxic to humans, but I’ve seen poultry enjoy them) make a really nice dye for cloth or buckskin.

Anyway, I harvested a big chunk of root and grated it up with a cheese grater. When I put that in water, I was delighted with how soapy the water got—it is soapier than yucca root. Let me point out that natural soaps like this never get quite as frothy as commercial stuff, but this was surprisingly soap like.

Between handling the pokeweed root and then washing my hair with it, I got a good dose of whatever else is in those roots. Oh dear, I got quite a headache and a bit dizzy! LOL. So let me be the first to tell you NOT to try this one at home!

Stick with baking soda and vinegar if that is what you are using. And my personal favorite to date is the egg/honey/lemon blend I wrote about in this post on homemade shampoo.

If you are wondering why I don’t just make soap using lye and fat … well, here is a short video that explains why not.


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(This article was originally published October 29, 2013.)


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Surviving A Cold Night With Nothing But The Clothes On Our Backs

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We greedily drank water, our cupped hands gathering it up from the little spigot on the “water buffalo”—which was an old army water tank mounted on a trailer. It held the main supply of water for the entire camp.

“No water bottles, no ChapStick, no flashlights—nothing but the clothes on your back” had been the directions. So we were all wisely filling up and carrying water the old-fashioned way: in our guts.

It was just after dark and already cold. I zipped up my jacket the last few inches and wished there was a hoodie on it. The clear sky told me it would get much, much colder before it was all over. The full moon was going to be helpful. There was nothing around for miles except chaparral bushes. Well, OK, there were some saguaros or barrel cactus, scorpions, and kangaroo rats, too.

Most of the plant and animal life here had the attitude of stabbing you first and asking questions later. So the bright moonlight would at least help keep the kids from getting punctured.

(Twice a year my daughter and I attend primitive skills gatherings, where we join other adults and kids to learn, practice, and trade skills from the Paleolithic era.)

The real guide of this group was David Holladay. Like many of the others from camp, David had been picked up and featured in some crazy reality show (for David, it was The History Channel’s No Man’s Land). Cody Lundin of Dual Survivor, George Michaud of Mountain Men, and Jason Hawk of No Man’s Land are all regulars at these gatherings.

The thing about these guys is they are the genuine real deal.

Sonoran desert

So when word got around camp that we needed a leader to take the teens out for an adventure, David jumped in.

I would have been quite content to sleep in my comfy tent and double-thick sleeping bag, but when teens go out overnight, you need to have separate boys and girls camps.

And you really need a woman.

While all the other moms thought this was a fantastic project, uh, apparently I was the only one who was up for the whole enchilada.

“Thousands of people are doing what we are doing tonight,” David said, setting the tone for the evening as we circled together before leaving the main camp. “Thousands of people have been suddenly awakened out of bed, grabbed what they could carry on their backs, and are getting away into the night as fast as they can. Their homes behind them are being destroyed by civil war, by fire, by oppressive governments, by any number of things. Like us, they are going to walk for a ways and then they will try to find a place to sleep. Unlike us, they will not be able to return back to camp in the morning for breakfast.”

“You will be miserable tonight. It’s a cold night, and we are taking nothing with us into a harsh desert environment. You’ll experience tonight a small piece of what is a very hard reality for many people all over the world.  But you are really lucky; we are not that far from the main camp with your parents who love you. And we will be back after sunrise.”

We walked out into the desert. We played games in the moonlight, picking out buddies for a buddy system. We ran some foot races. We talked about what makes a good camping spot. We set up systems so everyone would stay safe.

David had brought the materials for a hand-drill fire and showed us as a group how to make a fire, even though none of us could do it alone.  We spoke in circle around the fire, sharing our deepest fears and hopes.

Teens can stay awake so long into the night!

Then we tried to sleep. In the girls’ camp, we readily snuggled up into a big puppy pile to keep warm, which helped. The boys roughed it out in their own ways around a huge bonfire, roasting on one side and freezing on the other.

The cold, hard ground sucked warmth out of everyone, and no one was really comfortable.

How much longer could these kids bear this? Most of them had only minimal experience camping.

The warm afternoon with its enthusiasm for adventure seemed so far away now.

But the thought of the homeless in other parts of the world kept haunting us and no one complained. And not a single kid left camp. They all hung in there.

“You have deep survival in your genes,” David told us. “All of your ancestors were survivors or you wouldn’t be here now. Humanity has faced plagues, famine, wars, floods, and every other form of disaster you can imagine. In your lineage are people who fled, or fought, or learned, or adapted. The people who didn’t make it, died. You are direct descendants of all those who survived. You have it in you even if you don’t know it.”

In the morning, way before dawn (well, this is one way to get teens to rise early!), we got up to watch the moon set. And then turned around to see a spectacular sunrise.

It was so beautiful. And empowering. Each of us knew we would never be afraid of walking out into a cold night if we had to. It really helps to be prepared.

We felt like champions.

And we were.

(This is an updated version of an article that was originally published in April 2014.) 


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Wild Resources: Only a Fool Comes Home Empty Handed!

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by Todd Walker

Wild Resources: Only a Fool Comes Home Empty Handed ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I recently took three of my students on a scout through a patch of woods surrounding our school to select a route to simulate the Trail of Tears they were studying. This was nothing close to the tragic event of the Cherokee people being rounded up and forcibly removed from tribal homelands. For our students, a short walk in the woods was better than sitting in a cramped desk reading about this dark time in our country’s history.

Students hit the trail with their belongings; books, book bags, and whatever they wore to school. Many were ill prepared for the mid-30 degree weather. Our first stop was a persimmon tree with fruit in different stages of ripeness. The bravest students shared in the bounty with me.

There is no way to carry enough provisions to sustain you on a grueling 800 mile journey. Foraging was essential. The inner layer of bark from a pine tree was also sampled. A few of the students chewed the uncooked phloem (inner bark) like chewing gum. When cooked over a fire, this layer of bark provides food filled with nutrients and vitamins. Adding a cup of pine needle tea from said tree will boost vitamin intake.

A quick demonstration of the essential tool of humanity, fire, came at the end of our simulation. Flint and pyrites were the precursor to modern flint and steel which the Cherokee obtained through trade. Further in the past, friction methods would have provided fire.

There were no convenience stores or outfitter shops along the way to Indian Territory. The logistics of moving groups of a thousand or more souls (new born to elders) through a rugged landscape in modern times would be a nightmare. We can only imagine the horrible conditions encountered in 1838. While some were fortunate to have a horse or wagon for conveyance, the majority carried their burdens on foot.

We can only imagine the hardships faced during their forced removal. Our brief exercise was instructive. Many questions came throughout the walk. Collecting resources for food, clothing, and shelter to sustain one family, much less groups of 1,000, would take extensive knowledge and experience which Native Americans had used for thousands of years.

Only a Fool Comes Home Empty Handed!

In Postcards from the Past, Scott Jones, my friend and prehistory mentor, offers the perfect quote describing me in this Eskimo saying, “… only a fool comes home empty handed!

Rock On

When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Making expedient cobble stone tools using bipolar percussion at one of Scott Jones’ workshops.


In the view of a tenderfoot, the basketball-sized rock we spotted on our initial scout trip was nothing special. It was just a heavy rock. All three of the young men looked at me like I was crazy as I hoisted it to my shoulder and continued walking. Midway back I passed my burden to one of them. One doesn’t simply walk past a piece of chert that size. One either carries it home or remembers the location for later retrieval.

Below is a 34 second video I shot using the rock to start a fire…

Chert, a sedimentary rock, was a favorite stone for prehistory tool makers. Today its curvy conchoidal fracture and hardness allows modern flint-knappers to shape primitive projectile points and cutting tools. Chert can be found in earthy colors ranging from white to black with a waxy, smooth luster when fractured. Quartz and quartzite are rocks I carry home often.

Sticks and Bones

My favorite wood types are those who swallowed fire, as Mark Warren says. Fast-growing soft woods such as cedar, tulip poplar, basswood, sassafras, white pine, willow, and mimosa to name a few, are more porous. When rubbed together skillfully, they readily give up the fire they swallowed.

More info on some of my favorite trees can be found here.

My tree collection, much to Dirt Road Girl’s chagrin, takes up a sizable portion of our backyard. Lots of Eastern Red Cedar continues to be added for benches and furniture… which makes DRG smile.

Wild Resources: Only a Fool Comes Home Empty Handed ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Black Walnut split and ready for carving.

Wooden utensils such as spoons, bowls, cutting boards, and kuksas are waiting inside my woodpile. Wood plays a vital role for camp comforts… and not just as firewood. The following wood projects made from trees and other woody plants may help channel your inner woodsman…

Wild Resources: Only a Fool Comes Home Empty Handed ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A load of resources!

Bones are a useful resource I run across from time to time in my woods tramping. A five gallon bucket in my shop contains remains of different woodland critters. Antlers make wonderful tools and functional accents for my leather work. I’m certainly not opposed to pulling to the curb to collect road kill. Some of my most prized roadside finds include beaver, bobcat, and deer.

Wild Pantry  

Wild Resources: Only a Fool Comes Home Empty Handed ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Chanterelles foraged this past spring at base camp.

As noted above, collecting wild food on hikes is a fun way to supplement your food cache. Just remember that every plant is edible… ONCE. This statement isn’t about foraging fear-mongering, of course there are poisonous plants in the wilderness. But with proper guidance from an experienced foragers, anyone can enjoy wildcrafting.

Check out this page on our blog for further reading.

Feral Pharmacy

I’m not a herbalist but have found this pursuit a healing hobby. For professional training in the southeastern U.S., I recommend Daryl Patton, The Southern Herbalist and Mark Warren of Medicine Bow.

Weeds, plants, clay, and trees were all used before modern medicine for the purpose of healing and preventive health maintenance. Documentation shows that the 19th century Cherokee people used about one-third of the 2,400 species of plants available to them in southern Appalachia for food and medicine.

Below are a few links to articles we’ve written which may help you broaden your view on useful plants for your medicine cabinet:

Trail of Tears Remembered

Wild Resources: Only a Fool Comes Home Empty Handed ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A short walk of remembrance.

Our short simulation was simply an attempt to open student’s eyes to life and death on the Trail of Tears. An estimated 15,000 to 16,000 Cherokee started this journey. Even with their extensive foraging knowledge, over 3,000 lives were lost to disease, exposure, and starvation along the way.

It is my hope that our simulation gave our students a small glimpse of this historic tragedy. May we all remember.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root Medicinally

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by Todd Walker

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

My neighbor hired a gentleman to pour a foundation and do the block work for an addition on their house. DRG and I stepped over to see the progress. A distinguished looking gentleman turned around as I admired his work. We shook hands and he introduced himself. “I’m Albert Floyd,” he said.

Sometime you meet a kindred spirit and a spiritual connection happens.

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Albert and me after a morning of digging and cleaning dock roots


Albert and I began a conversation about his horse, Tiger, he taught to count, add, and subtract. Somewhere in our twenty-minute conversation I mentioned that my wife has been fighting cancer for the past five years. Albert told me he has been using yellow dock for many of his 76 years of life as a natural medicine. I knew of the plant but had never harvested any for use.

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Tiger getting ready to count for me. Albert is a man of outstanding character by the way he treats all his animals.

Albert invited me to go dig yellow dock root the next morning. I love the medicinal properties of wild plants and trees. I happily agreed to get dirty digging this “weed.”

Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)

Most fields, waste places, roadsides, and weedy yards are good locations to find yellow dock (aka ~ curly dock, sour dock, narrow dock, garden patience and curled dock. Roadside weeds are typically sprayed with herbicides and should be avoided. It is easy to spot and identify in the second year of growth. You’ll see the rusty-brown flower stalk loaded with seeds in mid-summer to late fall. First year plants grow in a basal rosette similar to Common Mullein. In our area, this weed is a perennial it seems. Some botanists say they are biennial. Leaves are lance-like with curled edges and can grow over one foot in length and three inches across.

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Lance shaped leaves with curly edges

Medicinal Benefits

Remember, medical information on wild plants is for informational purposes only. Do your own due diligence on herbal medicine.

With that being said, my research found that yellow dock roots contain anthraquinones and tannin indicating use as mild laxative and astringent. Anthraquinones are commonly extracted from the Polygonaceae, or buckwheat family of plants. Some of the major chemical components of anthraquinone and its derivatives have demonstrated potential anticancer properties. (Source) This is the main reason we are experimenting with yellow dock.

However, yellow dock root has also been reported to be beneficial in the following ways:

  • Blood purifier
  • General detoxifier
  • Reduces oxidative stress and the effect of free radicals (Source)
  • Strengthens liver and gall bladder function
  • Mild laxative to stimulate removal of stubborn waste in the intestinal tract
  • Chronic skin conditions
  • Emphysema
  • Anticancer properties
  • Treatment for venereal disease
  • Boosts immune system
  • Enhances digestion

Harvesting Roots

Albert drove me out to a pasture he sharecropped as a young man. The property owner gave him permission to harvest all the invasive dock he could ever hope to use. Armed with a pickaxe, trenching shovel, and two empty feed bags, we waded through the rusty-brown stalks until we reached “the spot” where rings of freshly turned soil gave away Albert’s previous foraging trips.

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Albert getting to the root of the plant with his pickaxe

Before digging in, use the pickaxe to chop off the flower stem above ground. This clears the way for you to swing freely around the root. I used the trenching shovel like an ax to remove the plant tops. If you have a group of foragers along, make sure folks are a safe distance away before swinging.

This isn’t rocket science. Dig around the outskirts of the root ball and begin prying the plant out of the ground. I found that I could extract the long tap roots intact using the trenching shovel verses the pickaxe.

Once the root is free, tap it on the ground or digging tool to remove the soil from the root ball. Be a good steward and rake the excavated soil back in the hole – especially if livestock use the field. Gather up the dead flower stalks and remove them from the pasture as well. If you want to start your own dock garden, collect and sow a handful of seeds from the stalk.

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Curly dock seeds

Wash the root ball with a high pressure hose to remove the remaining soil. Discard any root that shows sign of rot or damage. The root has a brown woody sheath with a yellow center. The more yellow the center, the more concentrated the good stuff becomes.

Making a Root Decoction 

Albert’s instructions for making his decoction (tea) is simple. Place the roots in a pot, cover with water, and boil. You want to bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 30 minutes in a covered pot. A decoction usually requires that you boil the liquid down to concentrated levels. Not so with this method. Simmering for only 30 minutes and removing from heat will prevent most of the liquid from evaporating.

I used my outside kitchen for this process. I wasn’t sure if there would be a lingering scent in DRG’s kitchen during the processing. The root has an earthy smell which was not offensive to me when boiled.

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The roots were mushy after 30 minutes. You may notice the brown outer sheath split revealing the stringy root fibers on the far left.

The consistency of the root will turn mushy and stringy like a baked sweet potato after 30 minutes of simmering. Remove from heat and allow the covered decoction to steep for several hours. I went about my day and returned after 8 hours.

Remove the large mushy roots and strain the remaining liquid through cheese cloth to collect the smaller bits. Pour into covered containers which will fit into your refrigerator to reduce the chance of spoilage.

You may want to add honey to sweeten your tea. As Albert told me, “It ain’t gonna taste good, but it’s good for you.” He was certainly right about the taste!

Making a Root Tincture

How to Harvest, Prepare, and Use Yellow Dock Root for Medicine - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Thinly slice or grate enough root to create a 1:2 ratio of root to grain alcohol. I used a scale to keep the proportions even by weight. I ended up with 3.1 ounces of root to just over 6 ounces of alcohol. Vinegar can be substituted for alcohol.

Place the root material in a mason jar and pour the liquid over. Seal the jar and store it in a cool location. My jar is on the kitchen counter to remind me to shake it daily on the 6 to 8 week period to becoming a medicinal tincture. Label the jar with the date of production, the ratio used, and the type of tincture.

Dosage from respected herbalist recommend 5-20 drops once or twice a day. Do your own due diligence.

Below are some of the more helpful articles I read in my research:

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft

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by Todd Walker

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Foraging wild food requires practice, knowledge, and experience on your landscape. Notice I used the word your land. What you’ve read in books and watched on YouTube may not apply to your locale. While survival principles may never change, self-reliance is local.

Many of us are self-taught in skills of wilderness living. However, one way to shorten your learning curve is to find an experienced skills practitioner in your area who is actually Doing the Stuff. After receiving instruction, you gain knowledge. Knowledge weighs nothing but is not enough. You make knowledge applicable through time and experience and context. There is no substitute for time in your woods.

I had the recent pleasure of attending my third class at Medicine Bow, A Primitive School of Earthlore in the North Georgia Mountains. If you look up Renaissance Man in the dictionary, Mark Warren’s bio should appear, but won’t. He’s not only a walking encyclopedia of woods-lore, he won the U.S.National Champion in Slalom/Downriver combined and the World Championship Longbow Tournament in 1999. On top of his wealth of outdoor knowledge, he is also a musical composer and published author.

Mark’s knowledge of the Cherokee uses of plants and trees is the foundation for anyone interested in wilderness living and self-reliance. I wrote him an email after the class asking assistance on a question for this article. I wanted to know the degree to which Cherokees depended on domesticated crops verses wild foods.

Mark’s response:

“Everyone knows about Cherokee farming and the 3 sisters (corn, squash, and beans), but the wild growth of forest and field was actually “farmed” too, by pruning or clearing for light. For example, swamp dogwoods were pruned to encourage survival shoots for basketry and arrow shafts. Large areas along flood plains were burned to help create a monopoly of river cane (for the same two crafts). A lot of those “brakes” can still be seen. The same is true of foods. I have a sense of why Amicalola was sacred to the Cherokee. I suspect it was for the prolific sochani that grows there. It’s also called green-headed coneflower. Cherokee women in NC still harvest it in spring and freeze for the year.”

Click here for more information on Sochani (Green-Headed Coneflower).

Think about this astounding bit of research…
“The Cherokees of the 19th century are listed as having around 800 plants in their repertoire (Mooney, 1992). This from a pool of about 2,400 species of plants to work from or about a third!” ~ Source

Every year I add more plants and trees to my food-medicine-craft list. But 800! I’ve got a lot to learn and experience.

“In the school of the woods, there is no graduation day.” 

~ Horace Kephart

Trees of Southern Appalachia

Wild plant foragers get excited this time of the year. Green shoots make their way through the soil for another growing season. Autumn turns to winter and the smorgasbord disappears. But trees, they stand ready to share their resources year-round.

Winter tree identification would not be challenging if trees would stop dropping their leaves. Mark taught winter botany lessons which I had never been exposed to. Sharing all I learned would take several articles. For our purposes today, we will explore 3 of my favorite trees in my woods and how the Cherokee and settlers used them for food, medicine, and craft resources.

Tulip Tree

Misnamed Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), it is not a poplar at all. I’ve always called my favorite tree by its misnomer until I met Mark. His adamant stance on using Tulip Tree’s correct name makes sense. The inner bark (cambium) of true poplar trees (i.e. ~ Eastern Cottonwood – Populus deltoides) is edible. One may assume that the word Poplar tacked on the end of Tulip makes the cambium edible. It is not.

Related Resource: Trees for Self-Reliance


The Tulip Tree, while not a nutritional powerhouse, is a favorite of mine mainly for craft and outdoor self-reliance. Tulip Tree blooms are a main source of nectar for honey bees which produces a dark, amber honey loaded with antioxidants.

  • The only part of a Tulip Tree that I know is edible is the nectar in the flowering blooms.


Tulip Tree’s inner bark and leaves were used medicinally by the Cherokee and settlers in Appalachia for treating…

  • Poultice from leaves for inflammation and sores.
  • Inner bark tea for periodic fevers, diarrhea, pinworms, as a digestive aid and for rheumatic pain.
  • Supposedly, inner bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac.
  • The bark could also serve as a substitute for quinine in treating malaria.
  • Tooth aches.
  • Used as a tonic to induce perspiration to treat fevers.
  • Root bark and seeds useful as a wormer for the body.
  • Cough syrup from bark.


  • Fire Craft ~ Wood for friction fire, inner bark for tinder, hot, quick burning firewood which does not produce long-lasting coals like other hardwoods.
  • Cordage ~ Inner bark fibers can be processed into cordage and rope.
When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Indigenous cordage: Clockwise from 12:00 ~ Dogbane; Tulip Tree; Okra, and Yucca.

  • Containers ~ Outer bark crafted into berry baskets, arrow quivers, and larger pack baskets.
  • Carving ~ The soft hardwood lends itself to easy carving of spoons, bowls, pottery paddles, canoe paddles, and even the canoe itself. One common name of this tree is Canoe Wood.
This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree paddle and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

  • Insulation ~ Shredded inner bark can be stuffed between layers of clothing to create dead air space to retain body heat in a survival situation.
  • Roofing/Siding ~ Outer bark slabs used for shingles and siding on shelters.


Hickories make excellent wildlife resource as squirrels and feral pigs love to eat their nut meat. Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa), and Shagbark (Carya ovata) are the three hickories I’m most familiar with in Georgia, Mockernut being the most common.


  • Sap ~ Sap water from hickories can be consumed without treatment.
  • Nuts ~ Contains fats (18g/serving), protein (3.6g/serving), and carbohydrates (5 g/serving) – Serving size = 1 oz.
  • Hickory syrup from crushed and processed nuts.
  • Cooking oil from nuts.
  • Kunuche (ku-nu-che) ~ A traditional Cherokee hickory nut soup.
  • Nuts with exterior husks are useful as charcoal for cooking food.
Scott Jones using hickory nuts as charcoal

Scott Jones (Media Prehistoria) using hickory nuts as charcoal.

  • Hickory Milk ~ “They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes.” – Source


  • Infusion of boiled bark for arthritis pain.
  • Inhaling fumes of young shoots on hot rocks as a treatment for convulsions.
  • Cold remedy
  • Liver aid
  • Gynecological aid
  • Dermatological issues


How to Handcraft a Custom Ax Handle from a Tree - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This ax handle started out as the hickory tree pictured in the background

Hickory was used by the Cherokee’s for…

  • Stickball sticks
  • Crafting bows
  • Handles – (Here’s my tutorial on carving an ax handle from hickory)
  • Firewood
  • Smoking meats
  • Furniture
  • Inner bark of Mockernut and Shellbark Hickory used to finish baskets
  • Ashes from hickory were used by settlers to make quality lye for soap.
  • Inner bark used for cordage. Mark described a method of slicing down a hickory limb to remove the bark and twisting it to make a strong rope. I’ll explore that method in a later post.
  • Green nut husks used as dye – (My bed sheet tarp was dyed with hickory and black walnut dye)
  • Nut oil mixed with bear fat as an insect repellent.


There are 36 pines in North America to choose from. These evergreens are easy to spot for anyone. To narrow down the species, count the needles. The Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is the only species with 5 needles in the fascicle sheath (the paper-like sheath surrounding the base of the needles).

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hemlock is a part of the pine family and grows in southern Appalachia. Like other pines in our region, the inner bark is edible.


  • Pine nuts are edible and tasty.
  • Inner bark was eaten when other foods were scarce. Should be boiled/cooked since it is high in turpenes. Can also be dried and ground into a flour.
  • Pine pollen can be collected and is edible and used like flour.
  • Long strips of inner bark can be boiled to make pine noodles.


  • Pine needle tea has the following medicinal properties: antiseptic, astringent, inflammatory, antioxidant, expectoranthigh in Vitamin C for colds – flu – coughs, congestion, and even scurvy.
  • Shikimic acid, the main ingredient in Tamiflu, is harvested from pine needles in Asia.
  • Pine resin applied to skin conditions.
  • Arthur Haines describes on his YouTube channel how pine pollen provides multiple avenues of protection against radioactive cesium.
  • Warm poultice of pine resin will draw splinters and foreign matter from skin.
  • The inner bark can be fashioned as an antiseptic Band Aid for cuts and scraps
  • Chew softer sap straight off the tree like a gum for sore throats and colds. You could pre-make “gum” with these ingredients: bees-wax, pine sap, and honey.


See more useful fire craft articles on our Bombproof Fire Craft page.

  • Wood for shelters and bows for bedding.
  • Rescue Signals ~ A pre-made signal fire built with green pine boughs on top will generate enough white smoke to be seen for miles.
  • Pine needles were used to make baskets and resin was used as a sealer.
  • Logs were used in home building.
  • White pine and hemlock are both good wood for friction fire.
  • Dried and ground hemlock inner bark used as flour.
  • Dried pine “flour” is useful when rubbed on the body to cover human scent while hunting.

Mark says that Cherokees called trees “The Standing People.” Trees do not walk to new locations like animals in search of food. They are always in the same spot. Learning to identify trees and their resources will put you in a better position of appreciation and stewardship of your natural environment.

To mention all the trees used by the Cherokee would be better addressed in book form. In this article, we’ve highlighted three of my favorite trees in our woodlands. I’ll write future blogs covering more. Here’s a teaser on future posts… Dogwood, Sourwood, Basswood, Black Walnut, Persimmon, Beech, Black Cherry, and the list continues.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.


Chaga Mushroom: Tinder Fungus and Pharmacy Growing on a Tree

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by Todd Walker

Chaga Mushroom- Tinder Fungus and Pharmacy Growing on a Tree - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

On a warm July day in 1993, my interpreter and I took a stroll in a beautiful white birch forest outside our youth camp in Siberia. Papery tree trunks erupted from the landscape as far as the eye could see. I’d once drawn a forest scene like this in sixth grade but had never touched, smelled, and listened to such picturesque trees growing east of the Ural Mountains.

As we walked, Sergei stopped and pointed out a black mass growing on the side of a tree. Little did I know how important this crusty, charcoal looking fungus called Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was to the people of Siberia. Twenty-plus years later, I’m just discovering why this wild mushroom is called a…

“Gift from God”

We humans have been using the wild plant world to heal and nourish since our beginnings. Oftentimes we walk past nature’s medicine cabinet unaware of its beneficial properties underfoot and overhead.

I’m always cautious about harvesting wild mushrooms. However, Chaga mushrooms look nothing like a typical story book mushroom with gills, domed cap, and a fairy sitting underneath. This multicellular fungi consists of spores and grows for twenty years on birch trees in northern latitudes. The blackish outside reminds me of charred wood. Beneath the blackish crust (called the sclerotium) is a rusty orange/brown interior resembling a wine cork but as hard as the wood on which it grows when dried.

Photo credit: Daryl Halseth

Photo credit: Daryl Halseth

Obviously, Chaga doesn’t grow here in our Georgia climate. This doesn’t mean we can’t tap into its benefits down south.

Chaga and Cancer

For those who have followed our journey on this blog, you may recall that in January of 2012, my wife, Dirt Road Girl, was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer. The chemo and radiation treatments almost killed her. The side effects of the aggressive drugs have wreaked havoc on her body.

Don’t get me wrong, we are so thankful we have the chance to spoil our three grandsons together! Her last scan (December 2015) showed no growth! But it’s all the side effects of her daily chemo pill that we hate. During our fight to beat this disease, we’ve sought alternative methods to restore her health. Our latest research points to the potential anti-cancer benefits of this wild mushroom.

Below are few of the things we’ve discovered about Chaga and cancer. This information is shared with you for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be medical advice. We are not medical professionals. Do your own due diligence and research. We’re just two individuals on a quest to live life and regain health.

Health and Healing Claims of Chaga

We’ve just begun using Chaga so our personal results are limited. My research of scientific studies and anecdotal evidence points us to the following health benefits…

  • Natural energy booster and hunger suppressant
  • Melanin found in the black crust (sclerotium) is high in antioxidants
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-cancer due to phyto-sterols
  • Aids in the side effects of chemo/radiation treatments without harming healthy cells
  • Anti-viral
  • Anti-parasitic (rid intestinal parasites)
  • Anti-allergic
  • Antioxidant properties
  • Topical treatment for skin conditions (psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, etc.)
  • Blood sugar regulator
  • Liver protection and detox of the body
  • Immune system enhancer and modulator (claims to help with auto-immune diseases such as lupus and psoriasis)
  • Increased T-cell activity due to beta glucans present in the mushroom

Technical Jargon

Without getting too technical, antioxidant foods are measured in what the USDA calls Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC scale. The higher the ORAC score, the more antioxidants are present.

Then the SOD acronym pops up – Superoxide Dismutase. Our bodies produce this enzyme to counteract harmful oxidation in cells. Chaga extract is said to stimulate the production of SOD.

Studies show Chaga to be high in ORAC and SOD.

Extraction Methods

To get to the good stuff in Chaga, the most common method is hot water extraction. Advice on this process varies. Some avid tea drinkers advise to not heat Chaga above 125º F for fear of destroying its beneficial properties. Others boil the conks for several minutes or simply steep as one would any tea.

Chaga Mushroom- Tinder Fungus and Pharmacy Growing on a Tree - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Chaga tea at camp. Thanks Daryl and Kristina!


Joel Bragg, a Pathfinder buddy, sent me several pieces of Chaga in a trade. I simply boil a few until the water turns a dark color, usually about 5-10 minutes. Strain and drink. I use the same pieces over and over until the tea isn’t dark. Don’t discard used Chaga. Use the tincture recipe below to extract non-water soluble goodness. Once all the medicinal components have been extracted, Chaga can be burned like incense. I’ve not seen any studies of the usefulness of burning Chaga but it has a pleasant smell to me. It makes a great addition to your fire kit, as well.

Chaga Mushroom- Tinder Fungus and Pharmacy Growing on a Tree - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Photo taken by Bill Reese of Instinct Survivalist on our recent camping trip to Raven Cliffs. Enjoying a cup of chaga tea.


I’ve also ground Chaga chunks into a fine powder with our VitaMix. It’s a dusty affair. Steep a spoon of powder in hot water and strain through a filter. DRG wants to try the crock pot method for larger batches of tea extract.

I enjoy my Chaga tea straight (no additives). I add coconut oil occasionally, not for flavor, but for the added health benefits. DRG flavors her tea with a few spices – cardamon, cinnamon, and/or ginger.


Hot water doesn’t extract all the good stuff, though. Other bioactive ingredients are non-water soluble and accessible through alcohol extraction. Add three table spoons of ground Chaga to one pint of vodka. After two weeks in a cool, dark place, filter the tincture and take 2-3 table spoons 3-6 times daily. This recipe and others can be found here.

A combination of both water and alcohol extraction can be used for full benefit.

Where to Buy/Find Chaga

As mentioned previously, I’ve collected a good supply from a few of my bushcraft buddies. Thanks guys! If you can’t harvest wild Chaga, ordering is an option. Not all Chaga is created equal. There’s cultivated versions, lab-grown, and wild Chaga. You want conks that naturally grow on birch trees.

If you live in an area like me, there are no Chaga mushrooms growing in my Georgia forests. I don’t always buy Chaga, but when I do, I buy from Dragon Fire Tinderbox…

I highly recommend this small, family owned and operated business. I know and trust Dragon Fire Tinderbox. My review of their tinder material is here. Daryl and Kristina also hand-harvest Chaga using ethical practices and respect for the wilderness.

Being relatively new to the medicinal benefits of Chaga fungus, Daryl has been very helpful in pointing me to research. He even has a Facebook group dedicated to the benefits of Chaga.

Chaga and Fire

Chaga’s ability to ignite from a relatively weak spark off flint and steel is how it earned the name True Tinder Fungus. I’ve experimented with other tinder fungi and have only achieved flint and steel ignition on Chaga. You must create surface area by scrapping or shaving the inner portion into a pile in order to catch the spark.


Before modern ignition sources like lighters and matches, a smoldering chunk of tinder fungus allowed one to carry fire over distance. Dried tinder fungi are great coal extenders and hearth boards when practicing primitive with your bow or hand drill.

Research Sources:

Do your own research before taking natural supplements. I plan to keep everyone updated on our Chaga journey. If you’ve had experience with Chaga, good or bad, we’d love to hear from you.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

39 Manly Uses for Coconut Oil in Your Bushcraft Kit

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by Todd Walker

39 Manly Uses for Coconut Oil in Your Bushcraft - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

When it comes to packing for an outdoor adventure, leave the single-purpose items at home unless you have a pack mule to carry it all. Each item in your camping/bushcraft/survival kit should be able to perform at least three different tasks beyond its intended purpose.

Manly woodsmen, listen up. The women folk are more aware of the benefits and well ahead of us in using this stuff. Time to catch up!

It may not be as sexy as an ax or knife, but smart woodsmen should pack this non-sexy stuff in all their kits – bushcraft, EDC, Get Home Bag, camping, etc. I rarely go to the woods without it. As a utilitarian resource, I also keep a small container in my shop, bathroom, kitchen, school desk, and truck.

Here’s your multi-tasking resource…

Coconut Oil (CO)

There’s more to this tropical oil than its many health benefits. The saturated fat (medium-chain triglycerides) in CO burns quicker in your body than other fats boosting your metabolic rate and energy level. Don’t fall for the Big Fat Lie and fears of high cholesterol. The healthy fats in CO have been found to raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower the ratio of LDL to HLD.

The eastern woodlands is not a tropical paradise. You won’t find coconut trees growing along the banks of the Chattahoochee. Still, CO is inexpensive and readily available. For the best health benefits, stock up on expeller pressed, organic, unrefined virgin coconut oil (industry experts label extra-virgin as a marketing ploy). This type of CO has a stable shelf life of 2 to 5 years.


An eclectic mix of containers for my Lucky Sherpa Salve… main ingredient is CO.

Repack the CO in smaller containers and add them to your survival kits. The anti-bad-stuff properties alone make CO an essential resource to carry on your next wilderness adventure.

  • Anti-bacterial – treats skin infections and kills bacteria
  • Anti-viral – kills many common viruses
  • Anti-fungal – effective on Candida; yeast infections, diaper rash, and lady-parts infections
  • Anti-inflammatory – suppresses inflammation and helps repair tissue
  • Anti-parasitic – helps rid your body of pesky parasites like tapeworm and lice
  • Anti-microbial – fights infection from bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi without harming beneficial gut bacteria
  • Anti-protozoa – kills giardia, a common protozoan infection from drinking untreated water
  • Anti-pyretic – reduces fever

Coconut Oil Uses in Bushcraft

There are 4 categories below where coconut oil is your pursuit of bushcraft skills.


If natural plant-based remedies are not available, CO is an excellent option for the most common injuries you’ll experience in the woods – cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, sprains, bites and stings.

  1. Cuts and scrapes: a thin layer applied forms a protective barrier against bacteria and foreign matter.
  2. Bruises: speeds up healing by repairing tissue.
  3. Burns: apply immediately to affected area and repeat as necessary
  4. Bites and stings: relieves itching and stinging. Better yet, make your own Plantain Salve with 3/4 cups of CO using this recipe.
  5. Chapped lips and skin: softens and moisturizes cracked, dry lips and relieves psoriasis and other skin conditions.
  6. Sunburn: relieves the burn and heals the affected skin.
  7. Sunscreen: not a high SPF but adds a little protection for your skin.
  8. Nose bleeds: coat the nasal passage with a layer if you’re prone to nose bleeds in certain weather conditions.
  9. Allergies: CO is a solid around 76º F. Melt CO and snort/sniff it up your nose to coat sinuses and protect from pollen. Also helps kill airborne germs associated with flu and colds.
  10. Salves: add healing herbs to make a salve.

Personal Hygiene

  1. Shaving: use it as a shave cream and after shave if you need to shave on your adventure. Or grow a beard…
  2. Beard: yep, it’ll condition, tame, and sanitize any mountain man beard. Stops the itching too!
  3. Soap: use CO as a soap substitute.
  4. Foot care: nothing like a good foot massage after a day of trekking. Rubbing CO on your feet also kills harmful fungi and bacteria on the skin and toenails. Effective on athlete’s foot. Feet are likely your only means of conveyance. Take care of them.
  5. Maceration: wet feet that look like prunes are asking for blisters and can cause painful cracks after drying. Rub CO on your soles before putting on clean socks and footwear. Apply a coat to dry feet and wear socks in your bedroll for overnight moisturizing and protection for the following days trek.
  6. Teeth and bones: brush your teeth with a mix of CO and baking soda. I use CO for Oil Pulling too. Aids in absorption of calcium and magnesium for strong bones and teeth.
  7. Deodorant: CO alone is somewhat effective as a deodorant. Or you can make an aluminum-free all-natural deodorant stick ahead of time so you don’t smell like Sasquatch. Your camp mates will thank you!
  8. Bushcraft Dog: works on pets too. Apply to your dog’s skin and coat for any itchy issues.

Field Gear Maintenance

  1. Leather: cleans, conditions, and preserves leather in the field.
  2. Wood: apply a coat to ax handles, wooden spoons, and buck saws as a preservative.
  3. Metal: wipe down your cutting tools with a thin layer of CO to prevent rust.
  4. Lubricant: use to lube your crosscut/bucksaw for smooth sawing. A dab in the socket of your bearing block on a bow drill set reduces friction.
  5. Cleaner: add an abrasive like baking soda to CO to scrub sticky stuff of knives and other gear. Even works on pine sap.
  6. Fixin’ Wax: CO can be substituted for the tallow in my Fixin’ Wax recipe.
  7. Oil lamp: not a maintenance item per se, but CO can be pressed into service as fuel for slush/oil lamps.
  8. Rust remover: coat area and let it sit for an hour. Rinse with warm water.
  9. Waterproofing: seals seams in leather and canvas.
  10. Non-toxic: clean your eating knife and utensils with CO. Safe for animals and humans.

Camp Cooking

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

  1. Cooking oil: CO is an excellent butter substitute.
  2. Oxidation: less heat sensitive than vegetable oils so there’s less oxidation from heat. CO is more stable for stir-frying squirrel and sauteing wild edibles.
  3. Coffee: add a heaping spoonful to your campfire coffee to start your day in the woods.
  4. Hot Cocoa: I’ve dubbed cocoa/cacao the 11th C of Survivability. Adding CO to this rich beverage only cements the meal-in-a-cup on top of the list of stuff to never leave out of your kit.
  5. Flavor: my nephew, Jake, cooked a snake on our backpacking trip with unrefined CO.
  6. Energy: eat a tablespoon, with or without other food, to boost energy and endurance.
  7. Vitamin absorption: CO helps your body absorb fat soluble vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
  8. Colon detox: shown to reduce waste and toxins from your digestive tract.
  9. Constipation: squatting in the woods, the perfect human potty position, when your system is backed up is a physical challenge. CO contains fiber and helps get stuff moving after that campfire chili encounter. No more “grrrrrrrrr” sounds coming from the latrine bushes.
  10. Diabetics: CO is associated with insulin and blood sugar control.
  11. Spread: use it as a spread on your bannock, dutch oven biscuits, or anything you’d slather butter on at home.

If you got this far, I need to add a CYA statement. I’m not giving medical advice nor am I a health care provider. This stuff is for informational purposes only and comes from my experience with coconut oil. Do your own research.

This is only a fraction of the manly uses of CO in the great outdoors. I’m sure you’ve got unique, unorthodox ways to use this magical oil. Share in the comments if you don’t mind.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

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Hunger Games: Find this Wild Food and You’ll Never Starve

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by Todd Walker

Hunger Games: Find this Wild Food and You'll Never Starve - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Two weekends ago I spent two days learning from a walking encyclopedia. Mark Warren operates Medicine Bow, a primitive school of Earthlore, in the north Georgia mountains near Dahlonega. Though I attended his Stalking/Tracking class, Mark’s willingness to veer onto other paths and integrate useful plants in the Eastern Woodlands only enhanced my learning experience.

One edible plant we discussed was Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia). Other common names include ~ Duck Potato, Arrowhead, Wapati, or Katniss.

I had an ‘ah ha’ moment with the common name Katniss

As a fan of The Hunger Games, I always wondered how the arrow-slinging heroine, Katniss Everdeen, received her unusual moniker. Now it makes perfect sense on two levels.

  1. Sagittaria in Latin means “arrow”. It also refers to the archer constellation Sagittarius. The obvious one, right?
  2. A lesser known botanical reason can be found in her deceased father’s words which Katniss recalls early on in the trilogy…

As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.

In keeping with the Hunger Games theme of this article, we’ll use the common name Katniss when referring to this wild food.

Katniss (Sagittaria latifolia) tubers were a staple in nature’s pantry for indigenous peoples of North America. Mark told us that the Cherokee of Appalachia cultivated this wild plant in wetland habitat as a sustainable food to feed their families. Roasted duck and duck potato sound delicious!

Katniss the Plant

The day before our class I snapped a few photos of a wetland near my school with a closeup of a toxic plant which resembles katniss. Mark took our class to a wetland area near a meadow to observe a patch of katniss. After comparing both plants, one can easily distinguish between the toxic Arrow Arum (Peltandra virginica) and edible katniss (S. latifolia).

Identification: Palmate vs. Pinnate

The leaves of katniss are palmate and arrow arum are pinnate. Leaves can vary greatly in size.

  • Palmate – leaves where the nerves radiate from a central point like a curved star burst.
Hunger Games: Find this Wild Food and You'll Never Starve - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Palmate pattern on Katniss

  •  Pinnate – leaves that have a main nerve (midrib) with other nerves branching off the full length of the midrib like a feather plume.
Pinnate pattern on Arrow Arum

A closeup of the pinnate pattern on Arrow Arum

A look at the entire Arrow Arum leaf

Arrow Arum leaf

Arrow Arum’s arrowhead-shaped leaf is often mistaken for katniss. With the side by side comparison above, it’s easy to see which is edible by the distinct difference in the leaf veins.

Arrow Arum found near Katniss

Arrow Arum in Katniss habitat

Katniss Habitat

Katniss can be found along shallow edges of ponds, streams, swamps, and bogs. Beaver habitat is another prime location for this aquatic plant.

A large beaver-manufactured wetland habitat near my school

A large beaver-manufactured wetland habitat near my school

Their range extends across North America in wetland areas except in extreme northern climates. Large colonies can be found in the shallows of lakes. Larger broadleaf arrowheads typically produce larger tubers.

Harvesting Katniss

Mike Rowe should do a Dirty Jobs episode on harvesting this aquatic food. Nothing about the process is clean. You can’t “cheat” by just pulling on the green stalk to reach the tubers. So roll up you sleeves and get ready for some mudslinging.

I trust and respect Samuel Thayer, author of The Forager’s Harvest. He’s been harvesting wild edibles since he was a kid. I tried his stomp method described on page 111.

Once you become an ‘expert’, you stop learning. There are many people with more foraging knowledge and experience than this novice forager.

But here’s the thing…

You and I will never deepen our knowledge or experience until we trade theory for ACTION. I’ve read books and articles about locating, identifying, and harvesting katniss. But this plant’s starchy tubers are more elusive than I had anticipated.

I have the locating and identification part down on katniss. Putting duck potatoes in my skillet has me stumped… for now.

I now know a few methods that do not produce desired results. Here are a few dirty lessons learned from my recent foraging foray in hot August humidity… waist deep in a Georgia mud bog.

Stomp Method

Traditionally, Cherokee women would wade barefooted into a colony of arrowhead and stomp around freeing the tubers from their muddy bed so they would float to the surface for easy pickings. Days of litter-free waterways and pristine shorelines are long gone. You may opt for an old pair of tennis shoes or waders to protect your feet from painfully locating Bubba’s broken beer bottle.

Fails, in my experience, are instructive. So are experienced foragers. I trust and respect Samuel Thayer, author of The Forager’s Harvest. Unlike me, Mr. Thayer has been Doing the Stuff of foraging wild food since his childhood. I tried his stomp method described on page 111.

Based on my personal experience, you’ll never fully appreciate this method until you’re waist deep in muck hoping you can break the Earth’s suction on your feet and return to solid land. Thayer’s harvesting accounts produced tubers consistently. All I got was muddy… and a bit smarter in the process.

Stomping in progress

Stomping in progress

Armed with hip waders and a walking stick I made my way to my friend’s property where a thick stand of katniss grows in the swampy end of their pond. The walking stick served two purposes: To move weeds in front of my feet to check for snakes; and, as a horizontal support on top of the bog surface to aid in my rescue from the jaws of waist-deep mud holes.

How hard can it be, right? Just jump into a thick clump of katniss and start stomping a man-size hole in the marsh. The embed tubers are supposed to break free from their rhizomes and float to the top of the water.

After an exhausting hour of thrashing and spinning in muck, not one tuber floated to the surface. In a long-term self-reliance situation, my haphazard expenditure of calories, with no return on investment, could be costly. This is the main reason we should trade theory for action to develop skills and techniques that actually work when it counts.

One other thought about harvesting wild food. Functional fitness should become a priority for anyone pursuing self-reliance. If modern systems fail, imagine the physical dilemma you’ll face harvesting food and performing daily tasks without an established base of fitness. Just a thought.

What went wrong?


After more research and asking online friends, my problem may stem from bad timing. That is, the tubers on our Georgia plants may not haven’t developed yet. We’re in the dog days of summer here. Katniss plants develop tubers later in the fall as a source of starch for the winter months.

More experimental foraging will take place in the same location in September and October, possibly as late as November. Once the arrowhead leaves turn brown and die back, larger tubers should be hiding in their mud beds under cold water. I image a campfire will come in handy on this adventure.

Other Methods from The Forager’s Harvest

  • Potato Hoe – Use a four-prong hoe to rake down into the mud bed to break the tubers free. From what I read, you have to rake a deep hole to reach the “tuber zone.” Thayer used the hoe while in a canoe and standing in the water with good success.
  • Hands – Locate the rhizomes and carefully trace down to the end to find the tuber. I attempted this method a few times as well.

I will not be tuber-less. I have faith that this wild food colony will give up her hidden treasure. Stay tuned for updates in my soggy saga. I will find this elusive Katniss tuber and not starve! Recipes will follow.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.