This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fire by Friction

  Though I have focused mostly on Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants of my area in this Blog, my interests in Ethnobotany are many and varied. Though Edible and Medicinal Plants and Herbology have remained my passion, I still dabble in other aspects of Ethnobotany from time to time. If you have been following this Blog you will remember my forays into Natural Dying, making Cordage etc. I also have a strong interest how cultures from around the globe use plants in their everyday lives.
  Ethnobotany is the study of how cultures (Ethno) use plants (Botany). Historically, and in modern times, humans have used plants in every conceivable way to help them survive. I have studied Primitive Technology for may years and have taken may classes learning basic Primitive Technology. I teach basic Survival workshops for the public and have designed and taught many Survival classes for young students while I was an Environmental Educator.
  Making fire has been an important part of human evolution. Today we take this hard earned art for granted, we go to the store and find hundreds of ways to easily start fires. I remember when I used to do alot of backpacking, back then, "getting back to Nature" would always involve having the latest fire starting device and technologically advanced cook stove we could find, because one thing is for sure, you don't want to be without fire in the Wilderness.
  Fire by friction (the old adage, rubbing two sticks together) is the oldest and most Primitive way of making fire. What started me thinking about writing about using plants to make fire was the fact that it has been cool here and the Yucca plants I need for the project are at the perfect stage to do this. What follows is a very BASIC explanation on how to make fire using Yucca Flower Stalks.

Dried Yucca Flower Stalks

  The dried flower stalks are the part you need to make the fire making tools. By this time of year the stalks have been drying in the hot sun for over a month, so they are good and dry. 
 Above are all the parts of the apparatus, known as the Bow Drill, you will need to be successful. The parts you will make from the Yucca Stalks are the Fire Board and Spindle. The Spindle is just a straight part of the Stalk with points carved into both ends.

The Fire Board  is made from the thickest part of the stalk and is flattened on two sides opposite each other so it will lay flat on the ground and you have a larger flat surface to work on. A notch is made in the fire board where the spindle is going to rub to collect the hot coal you will produce. Here is a closeup of the fire board with the notch and the depression that will except the spindle.

The Spindle gets wrapped in the string of the Bow, so as you move the Bow back and forth, the Spindle spins at high speed. The bottom of the Spindle is on the Fire Board, which is laying on top of the piece of Birch Bark, creating friction between the Spindle and the Fire Board. The top of the Spindle is being held in place with the Hand Hold. You must lubricate the Hand Hold to prevent friction from happening where your hand is. Also, note the position of my wrist, it is leaning against my shin for support so the Spindle doesn't wobble all over the place. Placing enough pressure on the Spindle with the Hand Hold, start cranking back and forth with the Bow to start to get the Spindle to spin as fast as possible. Notice in the photo the amount of smoke you will make just by rubbing two sticks together! When you get to the point that your arm is about to fall off and you are making a prolific amount of smoke, stop cranking and carefully remove the Spindle from the Fire Board. Hopefully, if you did it long enough, all the dust created from the friction will have gathered into the Notch of the Fire Board and the friction itself will have heated it up enough to start it glowing like a red hot coal.

 Once you have a glowing coal, pick up the Birch bark and transfer the Coal into the center of the birds nest shaped Tinder Bundle. This bundle is made from Cedar bark shavings and Milkweed seed Down (using more common plants!).

  Once the Coal is in the Tinder Bundle, gently blow on the Coal to get it to glow super hot and the Tinder Bundle will start to smoke profusely. 

  Just a few more breaths and the bundle should burst into flame! I didn't mention this before but you should already have your Tepee fire set up and ready to accept the flame.
  Don't be discouraged if you don't get a fire the first few times, you'd be surprised how much practice it takes to be successful. Once you where through the fire board in one spot just start another hole and notch next to it. Good Luck and stay warm!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Jerusalem Artichokes / Sunchokes

Chokes on Plant
Ready to eat !

  Autumn is a time for harvest. It is a good time to dig roots a tubers as the plants are beginning to store their  nutrition in their roots for surviving a long winter and to have a nutritional boost in the Spring to get them started.
  When I teach Wild Edible and Medicinal Plant workshops, one of the important rules of collecting that I teach my students is not to rely on common names for a plants identification. Jerusalem Artichoke is a perfect example of a common name that can mess you up when trying to figure out a plant. This plant has nothing to do with Jerusalem and is not related to Artichokes in any way! Rather than type out a long explanation I would like to point you to a site I found that does a great job in explaining the whole deal: http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch26.html . Just keep in mind the whole thing about common names and you will have a safer collecting experience.
  I brought my Chokes with me when I moved to NC. It doesn't take many as the reproduce like crazy. If you plant them you better have a place set aside that you can dedicate to the chokes for the rest of your life! They are  extremely prolific. Even if you leave a small piece in the ground when digging them up you will have more plants than you know what to do with in a couple of years. On the bright side, you will never go hungry again!
  Jerusalem Artichokes are actually sunflowers. They bloom in the early Autumn, rather than in the summer like most sunflowers. They can grow quite tall, 7 feet or more is common, and the yellow flowers are small compared to the size of the plant. The flowers don't last very long and you should wait till the flowers and the plants die back before you collect the Tubers for optimal nutrition. Speaking of Nutrition, here is a site that shows the nutritional value of Jerusalem Artichokes:  http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2456/2   Besides all this, the polysaccharides  in Jerusalem Artichokes are in the form of inulin and not starch which means they has a very low glycemic index and are excellent for diabetics when eaten raw.
  Jerusalem Artichokes are really good! They have a mild flavor, are very crunchy (like water chestnuts) and can be used lots of ways in many recipes. I like them best raw, but they can be boiled, sauteed, juiced or baked. I've made them Scalloped on many occasion and they were delicious. The biggest problem is to know what to do with all those Chokes!