Teasel!

It grows along side of the road.  You’ve likely seen it!  Many of the medicinal plants used today (by Americans) thrive in waste areas, which, along side of the road is most definitely in that category.  But on to the uses!

The root of this plant is used.  Look at it…would you want to use it’s…umm…leaves?

Teasel is useful as a diuretic, stimulates sweat, and helps in digestion, helps to heal the liver, enhances appetite and cures diarrhea. It also helps to rid the body of toxins, which is mainly why I am interested in it.   It appears to help the body deal with a disease, such as Lyme Disease, better.

However, Lyme Disease or not, Teasel seems to be a plant that you should remember!

– Miranda Vivian

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

Parsley is a plant that creates a great deal of relaxation. Next time you see it as a garnish on your dinner plate, go ahead, have a bite. Taking a bath with parsley leaves will cause muscles to relax and stress to be relieved. Beyond that, parsley is a diuretic, alleviates the pain of menstruation, prevents bad breath when chewed, is high in vitamins A and C, and it stops excess milk production in nursing mothers. Parsley should not be used by pregnant women and may be toxic when used in high doses. When a tea of parsley is made, it can be used as a conditioner for your hair.

Sage is an astringent, antiseptic, and is good for mouth sores and sore throat. It can be used as a mouth rinse when made into tea. Sage can be used as an antiperspirant as it dries up excess moisture. It may help to lower blood sugar in diabetics. The juice of a leaf may be put on an insect bite to reduce the swelling (and pain). Put sage leaves in your bath (or make a lotion with the essential oil) and it will help with itchy skin problems.

Rosemary is a diuretic. Make it into tea to relieve stress and for headache relief. Rub the essential oil on your skin for a muscle relaxant. You may take a bath with rosemary leaves for the same effect. Do not take the essential oil of the rosemary internally. Women who are pregnant should not use rosemary medicinally, though the amount used for seasoning foods should be fine. A tea made from the leaves may also be used a conditioner to strengthen and smooth hair.

Thyme has antiseptic properties. It is known as a cure all for stomach ailments such as diarrhea , lack of appetite, and stomach worms. Thyme also has anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties.

And in case you didn’t get the title, here is a quote for you.

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine” – Simon and Garfunkel

– Miranda Vivian

Surviving the First Week: Spring and Fall

If you can beat the heat of summer and you can survive the cold of winter, odds are in your favor for surviving the trials that come with fall and spring.

Weather during this time will be unpredictable. From cold and rainy, to sunny and snowy, to a nice calm day. You never really know what you are going to get. It wont take long, though, to learn to decipher the signs and read the weather. Until then however, you have this!

First off, stay away from the cities. I know you saw that one coming. Unless the cities are already abandoned they will not be safe. If you really want to salvage things, do it later!

Second is water. You cannot survive without it. You’ll want to stay near it. Be prepared for others staying near it as well. Learn how to find it and purify it.

Food! You are in luck as far as spring goes. Just like summer there will be plenty of insects for the picking. If you know how to hunt, kudos to you! Bees will (hopefully) be around. Apparently they remind people that eat them of popcorn, though I’m thinking it would be incredibly time consuming to remove all stingers and wings. However, there is the honey to consider. Many plants will be growing up around this time, such as Dandelions. You may be hungry, but you wont be starving to death. In the fall before the snow hits there will still be plenty of plants around. Dandelion leaves, wood sorrel, plantain. They will all be there, but not as easily noticeable. Look to the trees during this time of the year. You know what will be there? Apples! There are no poisonous apples, except in fairy tales. Remember that the may-apple is not actually an apple. Do not eat it! Of course, there will be pine as well.

Shelter

I’ve noticed that even in the middle of spring, there are dried leaves on the forest ground. These leaves provide for excellent insulation against the cold. Debris huts are not difficult to make. Basically it is made by building a semi-sleeping bag out of sticks and leaves. Bottom line, if it keeps you warm and dry, it really is okay to be creative. Don’t underestimate the shelter of the trees above you either. If you don’t get wet and it is not too cold, the trees provide for an excellent shelter.

Warmth

You’ve probably already read “Surviving the First Week: Winter.” If so, then you probably already read some ways of keeping warm in the winter. Fire is the big one. If you can manage it, build two fires. Set yourself up between the two fires and you will stay extra warm. Remember insulation. Stuff leaves in your clothing. It may just keep you alive.

Now you’ve survived in the wild in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. What’s next? Well, I am assuming that you want to live longer than that, so check back soon to read tips on how to survive the month.

– Miranda Vivian

Red Clover

Red clover is a plant that is very common.  In fact, if you live in Europe or North America, you probably have some growing outside somewhere near you right now! 

The flowering head of the red clover increases urine production, improves blood circulation, encourages bone growth, fends off osteoperosis, helps to alleviate the symptoms of menopause, and acts as a sedative.  Red clover is a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin C. It has also shown signs of anti-cancer and anti-diabetic activities.  If you are taking hormone supplements, such as birth control pills, it should be avoided due to the estrogen properties in the plant. 

– Miranda Vivian

Wood Sorrel

Out of all the wild edibles that we know of, Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) is one that we eat the most often.

It is relatively easy to identify, looking much like a shamrock in shape. There are three leaves on Wood Sorrel, and each is a green heart-shaped leaf.

Personally, I find the taste of the leaves to be quite delicious, having a slight sour taste. Wood Sorrel is filled with Vitamin C and is fantastic for heading off scurvy. We might not have to worry about that so much now, but in the future it is possible that we will. It is a diuretic, antiseptic, and it helps to fend off nausea, sore throats, and skin sores. The leaves of the wood sorrel also helps to quench thirst. It is likely that wood sorrel iced tea would make a nice alternative to lemonade.

It contains oxalic acid which is slightly toxic when consumed in large amounts. Be careful not to eat too much of this plant at any given time and you will likely be fine.

The leaves of this plant are a fantastic addition to salads and are good just picked and eaten then and there. They are surprisingly flavorful.

I hope you enjoy Wood Sorrel as much as I do!

– Miranda Vivian

Surviving the First Week: Winter

What happens when civilization crashes during the cold months of winter? It is much easier to survive during the summer (see Surviving the First Week: Summer), but things don’t always go according to plan.

Let’s say you just didn’t expect civilization to not be there anymore for you and are caught unprepared. Hopefully this guide will help you to survive the first difficult week.

  • First: Stay away from cities! Flee! Run away! Cities are a deathtrap. Help will not be waiting for you there. Run to the woods. Stay away from former civilization.
  • Second: Warmth. It is winter and you need it. Do not let your clothing get wet! With luck you will not be wearing cotton. Yes, it is durable, but it sucks up water like a sponge. Hypothermia is much more likely when you are wet. Fire is something you need. With luck you have experience making a fire without the use of lighter fluid or starter logs. Same as in summer, if you have a spark you can make a fire. Look around for dry wood. If you snap a twig and the inside is dry, it will burn. Look underneath vegetation. You are more likely to find dry wood in those areas. If all else fails, use pine needles. If you are in a forest, there will be pine trees around. It may smoke a lot, but it will burn and will be a good fire starter. If there is snow on the ground, dig into it to make a hole for the fire. It is better to build a fire on solid ground. The “tepee” method is probably the best method of keeping a fire going. Once you actually have a fire going, stack wet wood around it. The wet wood will dry out due to the fire and you can use it later. It will be difficult to start the fire. It will be even more difficult to keep it going. Luckily all your efforts will help keep you warm!
  • Third: Water. If snow is on the ground, you are lucky! You have a water source right there. If not, follow your nose. You’d be surprised, but water has a very distinct smell. Especially running mountain stream water. Perhaps you have a cold and your nose is not working as well as it should. Watch the winter birds. They need water too! Of course make sure that you make your water drinkable. (See Water in the Wilderness)
  • Fourth: Shelter. In the winter you need insulation. If you’ve ever seen it done, or have done it yourself, a debris shelter is surprisingly easy to build. Nature Skills has a great article on making a debris shelter. There are some things that are important to remember when it comes to sleeping in a debris shelter. You have created a shelter that will keep you warm. Other animals may appreciate your efforts too. Don’t be surprised if a furry creature decides to curl up in your shelter before you get a chance. Don’t worry, typically it is easy to scare away small furry creatures.  Sleep naked.  It is easier to insulate if you only have to heat up the area between your body and the shelter.  If you have to heat up the area between your body and your clothes, it becomes more difficult for your body to heat up the space around you.  Get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of night.  Jog in place before re-entering your shelter.  Remember that this shelter is temporary and will only last a few days, if that.  If you are feeling creative, you can always try snow shelters.
  • Fifth:  Food.  It is much more difficult in the winter time to find foods to eat.  Pine needles are a good standby.  The inner bark of some trees (pine, maple) will keep you going.  Don’t forget about pine nuts! The roots of some plants, most notably strawberry root, will keep you healthy.  Horray for vitamin C!

With these things combined, you should be able to survive your first week in the wild during winter.  Check back soon for Surviving the First Week: Spring and Fall, and Surviving the First Month: Summer

– Miranda Vivian

The Primitivist’s Answer to Air Conditioning

Okay, maybe indigenous peoples didn’t have air conditioning, but they also weren’t the spoiled brats we are. One of the original heat engines is the Stirling Engine, invented in the early 1800s. Essentially, it is a closed-loop system in which a working fluid is alternatively compressed and expands when heat is applied. Constructing this kind of engine is a relatively easy task once you have the materials, which are actually very common. The old hard drive of a computer can function as a perfectly acceptable heat sink. The working fluid can be almost anything, although air is popular because it is so easy to obtain. But if you have the capacity, helium or hydrogen gas would be more efficient. And the pistons can be made out of just about anything you can you make pistons out of.

Usually a Stirling Engine is used to produce motion by simply placing the device in direct sunlight. Although any heat source of sufficient intensity can be used. This in and of itself is very useful since it directly converts sunlight into mechanical motion, with a possible 80% efficiency rate. The temperature differential necessary to run a Stirling Engine is surprisingly low. But the most fascinating aspect of a Stirling Engine is that it also works in reverse. If you input mechanical motion, rather than heat, the engine will output cold, rather than mechanical motion. Stirling Engines were used in early refrigeration and are still used in a number of industrial, high tech, and military situations. So if you were to connect a Stirling Engine to some source of mechanical motion, say a water wheel, you would get a constant output of cold from the Engine. This cold could be used to extend the life expectancy of food, or to make really hot days more comfortable.

-Benjamin Shender

Surviving the First Week: Summer

Things happen. It is possible that a collapse will occur before you are ready. Possibly you just do not have the time to dedicate to learning needed skills. Perhaps you don’t know where to start or where to look to learn those needed skills.(schools) Maybe you don’t have the money to invest in learning needed skills. Maybe you say to yourself, “Next month. I’ll start learning next month when I have more time/money/inclination.” It is possible that next month will be too late. What happens then? Survive as well as you can. Hopefully you’ll have someone with you that has been learning. It is likely that will not be the case.

  • First: Stay away from cities! Flee to the woods. You are much more likely to survive in the woods, far far away from the former civilization and other desperate people.
  • Second: Water! You need water to survive. If you are unsure of where the water is, watch the insects. They can’t stray far from a water source. They’ll lead you right to it. Of course, you’ll also want to know how to make your water drinkable. (Water in the Wilderness)
  • Third: Look around you. You are surrounded by food! Eat some delicious dandelion leaves. Have some wood sorrel (quite tasty, I have to say). Chew on pine needles. Use your nose and follow the wild onion smell. Even if you can’t take classes, invest in a wild edibles book and take a hike. You’d be surprised at the amount of wild edibles that surround you. Don’t forget the insects. Right now you might find the idea of insect eating disgusting, but you’ll get over that. Insects are full of protein and fats. Both are things you will need. Some good insects that would be good to eat are beetles and grubs that you find under a log. Not much effort or energy invested to get a decent meal.
  • Fourth: Depending on the season, a minimal shelter may be satisfactory. If you’ve ever been caught in the woods during a downpour, you probably already know that a grove of pine trees will provide an adequate shelter for a time. If you happen to get wet, make sure you are dry before the sun goes down. If you are wearing cotton, it will be safer for you to be naked than to wear soaking wet cotton. Hypothermia, even in the summer, is a serious threat when wet. Trial and error will be how you live during this time. Building a lean-to is not a difficult task. Possibly there are old barns or farmhouses in the woods, but be aware that others will have the same idea. Don’t worry. Use your creativity. Shelters are not hard to come by, and if you keep your eyes open, most of the time you wont even need to build one.
  • Fifth: Warmth. You have water, you have food, you have shelter. Perhaps you have gotten wet due to a downpour and now you are chilly. Maybe summer nights are just a little bit too cold for your liking. Maybe you need to cook your food before eating it. What you need is fire. There are several ways of making a fire. Maybe you’ll be lucky and have matches or a lighter on your possession. This will keep you going for the first little while, but not indefinitely. Keep in mind that if you can get a spark, be it from flint and steel, two rocks clanged together, or from a bow-drill, you can get a fire. It just takes time and effort. Right now, in the first week, is the best time to experiment with fire making. You might need it more later and you will probably have more energy in the first week than you will have for the rest of the month. The best woods for a fire are basswood, tulip poplar, and maple. For more information on fire making visit Primitive Fire.

With these things combined, you should be able to survive your first week without civilization.
Keep in mind to be cautious around other people should you see them.
Check back soon for Surviving the First Week: Winter.

– Miranda Vivian

Practical Skills: Atlatl

The atlatl or “spear thrower” is easy to make, easy to learn to use, and is one of the more effective “primitive” weapons available to man. The longest recorded throw was nearly 850 feet (or over 2.8 football fields), and while wooden versions of the atlatl do not have quite that distance, very few targets are going to be 850 feet away. The force of the atlatl dart has made the weapon legendary, at least among people who are not overly enamored with the bow and arrow. The Aztecs used the weapon to great effect against the Spanish conquistadors, who were shocked to learn that not only would their Spanish-made armor not stop the dart, but the dart would often continue through the solider and hit the man behind him! The Plains Amerindians of North America made great use of the atlatl, taking down buffalo in single shots.

The two major disadvantages of the atlatl over the bow and arrow is that, first, the atlatl dart is of far less forgiving construction than the arrow. An arrow must be straight. A dart must be straight, of an even consistency, and the spear head cannot be either too heavy or too light. The exact weight of the spear head will vary depending on the length of the dart, the atlatl itself, and the person wielding it. To help make up for this, the construction of the atlatl is easier than that of the bow. The second disadvantage is that the person wielding an atlatl must be standing and swing overhead in a gross movement. This means that it is impossible to use a atlatl without making yourself very plain to every animal paying even the slightest amount of attention.

An atlatl’s construction is based on several key features. The spur, the neck, the handle, and the counter weight.

The spur is simply a small point on the atlatl on which the notch of the dart rests. Since the spur cannot be very large this is the most likely part of the atlatl to break.  To help prevent this some people have been known to make spurs out of claws or shaped stones.

The spur is connected to the handle by a neck, which is narrower than the remainder of the atlatl. This part of the atlatl is designed to bend when the dart is thrown. Because of this atlatls that are intended for use rather than show are often made of a hardwood or bone. Reenforcing this part of the atlatl with sinew is not necessarily a bad idea, although the counter-weight will have to account for it.

I would tend to argue against conventional wisdom and suggest that the handle is actually the most important part of the atlatl. If everything else was made perfectly, but the handle was neglected, the atlatl would be nearly worthless. The handle should be crafted to the individual caster if possible, in order to prevent blisters and strain. I also strongly recommend a strip of leather be connected to the handle that can be wrapped around the wrist. A number of atlatls have been accidently cast with their darts by designers who have neglected this aspect.

The last part of the atlatl is the counter-weight. While not strictly necessary, it will increase the power of your atlatl, assuming it doesn’t break your atlatl. The purpose of the counter-weight is to further flex the neck of the atlatl, so it straightens out with more force. The counter-weight is typically a stone attached to the end of the atlatl below the spur. Whether or not it is placed directly below the spur it is important for the weight be evenly distributed. Hence, it would be acceptable to place two equally weighted stones on either side of the spur, but not only on one side of the spur.

While the dart is not strictly a part of the atlatl itself, it is ultimately the point. The atlatl dart should be of solid construction, but thin and flexible. The butt of the dart should be notched so that it can nestle around the spur. The tip should either be carefully weighted or be simply carved out of the dart itself. Fire-hardening such a point would be a necessity.

Construction materials for atlatls have included hardwoods, bone, sinew, leather, tortoise shells, sea shells, sandstone, soapstone, claws, and even jade. Although the jade atlatls were more for ornamentation than for use.

The atlatl, once completed, works like this. The thrower stands with his feet spread at shoulder’s width facing the direction of his target. Advanced throwing techniques include a running step before casting. The thrower holds the dart against the spur as he throws in an overhand motion similar to throwing a baseball. At the top of the arc the thrower releases the dart, but not the atlatl. The atlatl will flex with the force of the throw, assisted by the resistance of the counter-weight and the carefully crafted spear head. As the throw ends the atlatl snaps back into shape and the dart is propelled forward with exceptional force. This causes the dart to flex as it moves forward. The dart will continue to flex, or wobble, back and forth until it strikes a target. At that point the dart will release the potential energy built up in the flexing motion into its target. The flexing also improves the range of the dart.

The atlatl can be a very effective hunting tool, or a very effective weapon of war. It’s construction is easier than that of the bow, although the dart is harder to make than the arrow. It is also effective in humid and wet environments, where the bow becomes nearly worthless. And the atlatl dart will strike a target with greater force than an arrow. It is very easy to learn, and a dedicated student of sufficient athletic inclination could reliably hit large targets at distance after an afternoon of instruction. This last is something I can personally vouch for, having used an atlatl several times.

The exact design of atlatls is so varied that it was easier for the purposes of this article to explain the fundamental theory of the atlatl rather than give specific designs. Take this as a challenge to your creative side. Design an atlatl of your own making. If you email a picture or diagram of the design to aftermathemail@yahoo.com I will post it with your commentary (assuming the commentary isn’t a string of profanity, of course).

-Benjamin Shender

Figs!

Better late than never, that’s what I’m going to say. So here we are, very much behind schedule, more herbal medicines!!! This one is by request. Figs.

I’ve heard it said that even if you have to get figs from a fig newton, eat figs every day. So, of course, I researched. What is it about figs that are so special? I realize that fig leaves are made popular by Adam and Eve, who, honestly, probably never wore fig leaves as they tend to cause blistering. I suppose if they did wear fig leaves, they probably never wore them again. However, I digress. It is not the leaves that I am interested in. It is the fruit.

The fig fruit has been used to treat sore throats, tumors, skin problems such as warts and even smallpox, hemorrhoids, kidney stones, toothaches, and much more, mostly in fermented fruit form. It is also worth mentioning that figs have been noted to give a person increased strength, stamina, and vitality.

They are, of course, also a laxative. From what I have heard, figs “clean you out” so well and so wonderfully that it gives your immune system a hardy boost. This makes sense, as once your body is cleansed your body doesn’t have to work quite as hard as it would otherwise.

So, go! Grab yourself a fig newton today and feel better, stronger, and healthier! Though, if you can, it would probably be better for you if you had the fig without the newton.

– Miranda Vivian

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