Building on the information presented in Edible Plants Part I found here on www. joellambert.com, the outdoorsman can add to his knowledge of edible, medicinal and useful plants. Assuming the recommended identification guides have been acquired and are handy, the outdoorsman can begin to use all his senses to create a better understanding of the plants found outdoors. After following plants through the various stages of growth (done easily by marking them with surveyor’s flags when identifiable), the outdoorsman can recognize what is useful during a plant’s life cycle throughout the seasons. Building knowledge may still seem to be an overwhelming task but when broken down to the basics, plant knowhow is easier to install.
Using Plants for Cordage:
For a plant to be considered “good cordage” it must have 3 attributes. It must be 1. Long, 2. Strong and 3. Flexible. Take grass for example. It is long and it is both long and flexible but it isn’t strong. A raspberry branch is both long and strong but it isn’t flexible. Good cordage has all three attributes like milkweed, nettles and even roots like those from evergreens. Cordage is generally best made when the cellulose from the green plants dries out and only the fibers are left behind. On the contrary, when using roots, they are only pliable when they are still wet. Once they harden, they will become brittle and not flexible. The easiest way to make fibers into cordage is simple twisting followed by reverse wrapping and then braiding.
Using Plants as Medicinal Teas:
Plant knowledge can also make the difference when it comes to making teas for improved taste and nutrition. Many teas have a high Vitamin C content like Pine. Others are used to treat high blood pressure like Hawthorne and some are used for headaches like the bark of willows. In the case of the latter, willow contains salicylic acid which has been synthesized into acetylsalicylic acid used in modern aspirin. Even chewing the leaves imparts the aspirin flavor in one’s mouth. Other teas are natural sedatives and have anti-depressant qualities like St. John’s Wort. In an emergency situation when tensions are high, having plant knowledge to help distinguish what plants serve your mental and physical ailments is a major game-changer.
Using Plants as Food:
In the previous plant article, I referenced the Military’s often incorrectly stated universal edibility test and speaking in absolutes. In that article I stated how any segmented berry is edible and any plant with a garlic or onion smell is also edible. To this I’ll add one more recently discussed with Marty Simon, my personal plant knowledge mentor and authority. Any fruit with a “crown” (imagine the raised circular ring found on blueberries) This also includes the “hawapples” found on hawthornes mentioned previously, blueberries, crab apples and bear berries.
Another universal practice that should always be observed is boiling plants coming from murky or stagnant water. These plants include the roots of cattail and Wapato AKA Indian Potato. Even though the plant is edible, the microscopic organisms in the water can wreak havoc on your digestive system and cause dehydration from giardia or cryptosporidium. Bring the water to a roaring boil at the bare minimum and boil longer to your comfort level before consuming any food from this type of water.
Utilitarian use of Plants:
Since I already mentioned it twice, I’ll mention it a third time. Hawthorne has another great use for the survivor. The thorns found on the tree are some of the most impressive found in nature. I’ve heard, from reputable sources, that birds have self-impaled on them while carelessly flying into the trees. These thorns can be used as gorge hooks for fishing or for spear barbs. Other thorny plants like blackberry can be used for rabbit sticks. The idea behind this concept is to insert a blackberry bramble into a furry animal’s burrow and start twisting. The brambles hook onto the fur and entangle. The animal is then easily retrieved. That same blackberry bramble can be used to raise bread by the way. The white “powdery” substance on the outside of the bramble is actually naturally occurring yeast. It can be collected on a wet rag and wrung out into flour. This yeast is also found on grapes and poplar trees too. It is a symbiotic relationship between it and the plant. By the way, the yeast found on poplar trees is also “Indian sun block” as it has about an SPF 15 if applied dry to the skin; yet another use.
The methods and information found in these two plant articles, you should have a general idea of how useful plants are to the outdoorsman. No one can prep for every occasion and the seasoned and knowledgeable hunter-gatherer type will outlast someone with strict reliance on stored goods. Equipment and supplies can be lost, damaged or stolen but knowledge can never be taken from you. With a solid base of edible, medicinal and useful plant knowledge, you can be prepared always.
For more edible, medicinal and plant photos, browse the albums on my FaceBook page. https://www.facebook.com/Estelawildernesseducation
About the Author
Kevin Estela is the Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education. He conducts private and semi-private wilderness and urban/suburban survival courses, tests and evaluates knives and equipment for various companies, is a Mountain Khakis Professional Ambassador, and is a life-long outdoors enthusiast with additional pastimes in canoeing/kayaking, fishing and cooking. Kevin's work has taken him from Los Angeles, CA to the United Kingdom and many points in between. Kevin is ranked in both Sayoc Kali and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a shooting enthusiast. Kevin is formerly the Lead Instructor for the Wilderness Learning Center. When not teaching outdoor skills, he is a full-time High School History Teacher and Track and Field Coach who lives in Connecticut.