Time for a Spring Salad

The forest has awakened to Spring once again, invigorated by the chants of Peeper frogs summoning warmer days ahead. Buds have become tiny, tender leaves, but flowers haven’t yet opened, save the small purple blossoms of ground ivy, snaking its way across the fields and meadows. It has been quite gusty as of late, though it is nice to hear the wind rushing through the trees instead of the buzzing of mosquitoes and flies.

On earlier jaunts I had noticed the rise of young Stinging Nettles in the moist hedges of my local woodland. And now that other greens have popped up above the soil, I decided it was time to savour a Spring salad. Of course, always use an amount caution when foraging – be mindful of poisonous look-alikes. If you aren’t sure about the identity of a certain plant, leave it alone…whatever you do, don’t pick and eat it without making a positive ID that it is safe to consume/edible. Cross-check with more than one source/guide for confirmation.

So, off the find the nettles! I didn’t need to look far…

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Here’s a small bed of Stinging Nettles with some Hedge Garlic (aka ‘Garlic Mustard’, or ‘Jack-by-the-Hedge’, as it is known in the UK). Hedge Garlic, Alliaria petiolata, is an invasive plant, so there’s no need to worry about over-harvesting – by mid May, it pretty much takes over the forest floor. The leaves have a wonderful mild flavour, but as the plant matures, it will become more and more bitter.

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Notice how I am picking just above a leaf node with my hand positioned above the plant – gathering nettles in this manner promotes new growth and minimises the chance of you getting stung.

With a bit of each collected, I marched on, seeing what else I could find. Farther up the trail I came across some Ramps.

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Wild Leek (Allium tricoccum var. burdickii), a very close relative of Ramps (Allium tricoccum var. tricoccum), has become quite popular with specialty, wild food-themed cooking, and is now a rare sight in the Northeast. Because the two appear almost exactly alike, be sure you aren’t harvesting Wild Leek by looking at the base of the leaves – if you see a layer of dark reddish-purple, you’ve found Ramps…if it is white or a light green, it’s Wild Leek, and should be left alone.

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The reddish layer at the base of Ramps.

Now I needed something to add a little zest to my salad, and so my search took me to the wetlands. I noticed a lot of Skunk Cabbage and some Indian Poke (False Hellebore) on the edges of this rocky stream along the way.

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There were also a few Trilliums nestled among the roots of trees and around the stones, but I thought it best to leave them as they should only be gathered where they grow in abundance. Instead I dug up the rhizomes of a Toothwort, which are crisp and have a horseradish-like taste.

Happy with all that I had gathered, it was time to head home. But before I could dig in, I needed to prepare the nettles so that they could be consumed raw. The method I use is to brush back the stinging hairs using the fingers, and then to rub the plant in between the palms to ensure all the hairs are flattened. I cannot say whether this technique will work with older nettles, so do so at your own risk.

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Bon Appétit! :)

Though it was a quick munch, it was certainly healthy (and delicious :D ). The nettles themselves are rich in magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

Bushcraft vs. Survival

If you were to ask 100 people who identify themselves as Bushcrafters what ‘Bushcraft’ means, you’ll likely get 95 different answers. But the common core of all these perspectives is that we all like to spend time outdoors, share our knowledge with others, and learn more. And if we look at the very essence of Bushcraft, we find a variety of skills which have allowed people to live in the wilderness for millennia. Of course, these skill-sets would vary depending on location, but the goal is universal – to live in the bush.

Many of the skills used today, such as tracking, making snares and traps, maintaining a fire for warmth and cooking, or identifying useful (and edible) plants/trees, would have been recognisable to our Ancestors, though they wouldn’t have called it ‘Bushcraft’ – it was a way of life for them, as it is for the primitive tribal populations that exist today, even though modern influence has made it’s way into their societies. Skills were passed-down to the next generation, and from that generation to the next, and so-on, preserving the knowledge.

Of course, today we have nylon tarps, firesteels, down sleeping bags, and the like, so we no longer need to rely on building shelters, an open fire, animal furs, etc. But a key element of Bushcraft is “the more you know, the less you carry”, and it is worth minimising our kit as we learn more and feel comfortable with. We shouldn’t have to be burdened with so much kit that we end up not getting anywhere, looking (and feeling) like a pack mule.

Another aspect of Bushcraft which has gained popularity in recent years is the code of “Leave no trace”, akin to the old backpacker’s maxim, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” Let’s face it – we live in a disposable society, and wherever you find civilisation, there will be trash/litter. The idea of “Leave no trace” is to minimise your impact on the environment and leave everything the way you found it out of respect for Nature. This means taking out everything you brought in, disposing of waste properly, picking up litter left behind by others, and restoring your campsite to the natural setting of your environment. If you have a fire, whether it be open or contained in a wood stove, the ashes, after they are doused and cool to the touch, should either be scattered about the surrounding area, or buried.

A lot of people today link Bushcraft with survival, often using the two terms interchangeably. “Survival” has also become popularised on TV, where it’s meaning seems to be taken very much out of place. As I understand it, a survival situation is one in which your life is potentially in danger, and you have minimal tools or none to work with. Often, survival scenarios are brought about through carelessness, unpreparedness, or rash actions. Survival skills, on the other hand, are abilities you put to use to get yourself out of a survival situation alive. Going into the woods with a pack for an overnighter isn’t “survival”, though during that time you may practice some survival skills…and hopefully you never find yourself in a situation where your life depends on them.

Now, I could go on and on about these skills which require physical effort (friction fire, natural shelter building, etc.), but something that is far overlooked yet so critical to survival is mental preparedness, being able to overcome fear and panic…these are probably your worst enemies in a survival situation. Once fear and-or panic takes hold of a person, he or she will do very irrational things, greatly lessening their chances of getting out alive. There are, however, a number of ways to overcome fear and panic. Stop, think about your situation and consider your options, plan your next move, and then act.  You can also find solace in spirituality, and use humour to your advantage. And don’t underestimate the beneficial effects of controlled, deep breathing.

In conclusion, one can say that there are some similarities between Bushcraft and survival, but they shouldn’t be interpreted as the same. I hope this clears up some of the confusion.

An Introduction and a Few Thoughts

Greetings, fellow bloggers, Bushcrafters, backpackers, and outdoorsmen/women :) . My name is Jon, and in this blog I will be sharing with you my knowledge, outdoor experiences, reviews, and new things I learn along the way. I believe that there is never a point at which one can know everything there is to know about the wilderness – you are forever a student of the bush…as Horace Kephart once spoke, “In the school of the Woods, there is no graduation day.”

I am not paid by anyone to post, nor will I endorse products for the sole monetary benefit of a company. I will, however, give you my honest opinions, and do my best not to ramble :P.

It is my belief that Nature is the greatest Teacher of all…not cruel, “unforgiving”, nor a force which must be tamed. But She will unleash Her wrath upon those who underestimate Her power, venturing into Her realm ill-prepared and ill-mannered. Yet She may spare the fool, if the person is quick to adapt to the situation, put aside their ego, and learn. She is the Mother of the Primitive folk, tribal peoples who have lived in Her domain for years untold, and lover of he/she who respects Her and nurtures Her realm, ever willing to learn more, always with an open heart and mind.