Tag Archives: survival

18 Medicine Cabinet Essentials: A 1935 Slant

Back in 1935, recommendations for essential items in the home medicine cabinet was, not surprisingly, pretty simple. Though the names of items have changed — as has the death grip that brands now have on the public — with a few additions what might be in your medicine cabinet now is really not so much different than before World War II.

There were 13 must-have home medicine cabinet essentials recommended in a home economics textbook from 1935. I added five to allow for advances in medicine for a total of 18 items that every home medicine cabinet should try to have in stock. Note that this list does NOT include herbal- or plant-based medicines or treatments; those are for a future post but many can be substituted for items listed below.




(Source: ‘Home Living,” by Justin and Rust. 1935)

Alcohol (rubbing): Alcohol was recommended as an antiseptic for wounds and cuts before applying healing creams or lotions. It can also be used as a soothing muscle rub.

Baking soda: Baking soda can be used for anything from an antacid to a fire extinguisher. For the home medicine cabinet, baking soda is indeed great to use as an antacid if you have an acidic stomach, heartburn, gas, or other stomach issues. It’s also great for brushing your teeth, as a natural deodorant, and as a skin softener when dissolved in a warm bath. Baking soda has also been known to treat colds and flu, treat bladder infections, and as a soothing gargle for sore throats.

Boric acid solution: Boric acid solution has mild antifungal and antibacterial properties and as such is used as an antiseptic for abrasions and mild cuts. Boric acid solution can be used in the eyes (a common treatment for pink eye), ears, and skin, and is frequently used for foot fungus issues like athletes foot. It can be purchased in different solution strengths and also in powder form, so consult your pharmacist to be sure you’re buying the correct solution for your desired treatment.

Cascara bark (Rhamnus purshiana): This was a common laxative on its own back in the day, and is still used as a common ingredient in brand-name laxatives and other medications. Fresh bark must be aged for at least a year to be used safely, or baked thoroughly in an oven. But it is safer to use over-the-counter laxatives that contain cascara bark until you learn how to harvest, process, and use your own.

Baking soda, Epsom salt, and salt are as beneficial to the modern medicine cabinet as they were in the 1930s.

Epsom salt: Epsom salt was used as a common bath soak to enhance relaxation, and studies show that soaking in an Epsom salt bath does indeed elevate our levels of magnesium, which helps to increase levels of serotonin in our bodies and help us relax. Epsom salt is also a mild anti-inflammatory, which relieves cramps and other pains. It can also draw out splinters when used as a soak as well.

Iodine (liquid): Iodine is a disinfectant and sterilizer, and is used as a wound cleaner to prevent infection. it can destroy both viruses and bacteria and is immune to the resistance issues present in antibiotics.

Lysol: Lysol was recommended as an astringent and disinfectant and is still used for this purpose today.

Mineral oil: This used to provide the most common relief for constipation as a laxative. However, it has also been used to treat scalp conditions like dandruff, and skin conditions like psoriasis.

Salt: It was used much more frequently for health and medicine, and with good reason. Salt water is a great gargle to help heal sore throats and painful gums. Salt can also help soothe insect stings when applied as a paste, and help to relieve poison ivy or oak when used as a saltwater soak.

Unguentine, a recommended antiseptic ointment in 1935, is still available as a pain and itch reliever.

Unguentine: Unguentine was one of the few branded products available over-the-counter in 1935. It’s an antiseptic ointment and topical pain and itch reliever that is still available today for use on minor burns, cuts, and scrapes.

Vaseline: A petroleum product, Vaseline traditionally was used as a skin protectant during harsh weather, and even killed lice on the scalp when applied in a thick layer, which suffocated the insects. It has also been used as a moisturizer.

Vaseline, carbolated: Carbolated Vaseline was a drawing salve (sometimes called black salve), used to draw out infections and help heal wounds, or draw out small invaders like splinters or bee stingers. It is available today as Watkins Petro-Carbo Salve, and and is still used as a wound healer and preventative against infection.

Zinc oxide ointment: An ointment of zinc oxide relives a variety of minor skin ailments because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used to treat skin issues like minor burns, diaper rash, hemorrhoids and acne. Many over-the-counter skin creams and ointments have zinc oxide as a main ingredient; Calamine lotion’s main ingredient is zinc oxide. Zinc Oxide is also a widely used sun screen.


While many of the medicine cabinet essentials from 1935 are still worth having on-hand, there are some modern additions that some would consider essential for the home medicine cabinet (again, plant- and herbal-based medicine cabinet essentials deserve an article of their own)!

Antibiotic ointment: After cleaning and disinfecting mild wounds, cuts, or scrapes, an antibiotic ointment can help prevent infection.

A pain reliever such as aspirin, or an aspirin-free alternative are modern additions to the home medicine cabinet.

Antihistamines (oral): Having a basic oral antihistamine around can be wonderful for mild insect stings or other allergic reactions that don’t require medical attention. They can help stop an allergic reaction in its tracks by blocking histamine at the receptor site in the central nervous system. There are close to a dozen antihistamines on the market, so ask your pharmacist which one would be best for general, sedation-free use.

Antihistamine cream: The lotion form of the above has the same effect, and is great to relieve intense itching from insect bites or poison ivy or oak.

Decongestants: Decongestants (either pharmaceutical ones or manual ones, such as a neti pot) can feel like a miracle when a cold or allergies clog nasal passages and make basic breathing a chore. If you’re using an over-the-counter decongestant, talk to the pharmacist to make sure you’re selecting one that is appropriate for your symptoms (there are so many available now).

Pain reliever: Whether you are a fan of Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or plain old aspirin, a basic pain reliever or anti-inflammatory is essential for the temporary relief of headaches and other body pains.

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Respect for the Yummy Milkweed

This showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) can be confused with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). But never fear, as they are both edible.

There are close to 150 species of milkweed plants worldwide. About 25 of these are the only food source for monarch butterflies, and milkweed is an important nectar source for bees. And while a few species of milkweeds are edible to humans some are poisonous, and all should be treated with respect. If you don’t know what you’re doing, do yourself a favor and don’t do it.

There are about 20 edible milkweed species floating around, which is good! That being said, basically all of the different milkweed species contain alkaloids, cardiac glycosides, and toxic resinoids. As the scary names imply, these can all be bad. The secret lies in knowing what you’re doing when it comes to eating these plants, and don’t eat them at all if you can’t remember what the rules are. (Note: Make sure you refer to a reputable botanic key to identify plants, or have an expert show you.)


Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the most widely known and distributed edible milkweed, though it is definitely not the only one. Common milkweed looks very much like showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa, see above), though the flowers of common milkweed are, of course, not as showy as the flowers above. Both are edible and can be treated the same way.

Here are some other edible milkweeds that are not as commonly known, including their reported edible parts. For these plants it’s important to consult a reputable edible plant resource that speaks to these plants specifically before consuming them (note: my source for the following is Plants for a Future, which provides wonderful information on edible and medicinal plants):

  • Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, see photo below): flowers, leaves, oil, seedpod
  • Purple silkweed (A. lanceolata): flowers, leaves, and seedpod
  • Green milkweed (A. viridiflora): flowers, leaves, oil, root, seed, seedpod
  • Butterfly milkweed (A. tuberosa, note all references say to either avoid this plant or consume in low quantities): flowers, leaves, oil, root, seedpod
  • Purple silkweed (A. hallii): flowers, leaves, oil, seed, seedpod

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), is edible too, though many references recommend staying away from narrow-leaved milkweeds because of higher toxicity levels.


The edible parts of some milkweed plants include the new shoots, which taste like asparagus and can be harvested in spring when they are less then 8 inches tall. The flowers and flower heads taste like peas, and can also be harvested. As the plant matures the seed pods can be picked when they are about 1 inch long or less; as the pods increase in size, they also increase in bitterness and alkalinity.

The root of milkweed may nor may not be edible, depending upon the source you’re consulting. My policy is that when it comes to conflicting information regarding whether a plant or plant part is edible, I err on the side of caution and don’t eat it.

Some sources say that young seed pods and shoots of milkweeds can be eaten raw, but I don’t recommend this. These sources also recommend only eating the raw plant parts in  low quantities, and in my mind it’s always better to process plants that contain any alkaloids and toxins properly just to be safe. Processing the plant parts also removes bitterness, and just makes them taste better.

To process your shoots, flowers, and seed pods, place them in a pot, and cover them with boiling water (do not use cold water…make sure you boil it on its own first), then bring everything back to a boil. The water must then be discarded, and the process repeated two to three times. A tea kettle kept at a boil on the stove comes in handy for this.

To eat the plant parts after processing, boil them normally for about 15 minutes, until tender. You can serve them with butter, a sauce, or any other way you’d eat asparagus, peas and the like. Also feel free to include them in soups, casseroles, eggs, and more. They are very tasty. The flower heads can be boiled down to make a sugary syrup because of the sweet nectar, and feel free to pickle the seedpods in the same fashion as you make cucumber pickles.


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A Depression-era Kitchen, and a Matter of Opinion

A Depression-era kitchen has the power to evoke memories, dreams, and realism.

Back in April, I posted a photo of a kitchen onto the Rural Spin Facebook wall, with little information beyond saying the photo was taken between 1935 and 1942 via the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information program. I asked people for their thoughts, and the photo was met with a wide variety of responses. Most shared positive memories and dreams, some took a practical look at the kitchen, and a small portion didn’t like what the photo represented to them:

  • “It is a very servicable kitchen. I just LOVE the wood stove over in the corner – and the cast iron is FABULOUS!! It is a very sustainable kitchen. My great grandmother had a kitchen like this – as did my grandmother early in her life.”
  • “This is when kitchens weren’t about decor, or high priced gadgetry, but the life center of the home. Well worn pieces that were tried and true, staples and cooking utensils within easy reach, a good, sturdy table where much of the preparations were done on, not to mention the eating! Let’s not forget the simple straight backed chair …a place to rest while peeling potatoes or having a quick cup of tea or coffee. All about simplicity and practicality.”
  • “Thoughts? No one is stopping you from living like that.”
  • “There is NOTHING wrong with this kitchen. I love it, and my wife wants that stove!”
  • “It is way way way bigger than grandma’s but much the same otherwise….. loved it — Oh, and she had 2 lamps hung on the wall – one by the table (which was against one wall with a long bench) and the other was on the wall by the stove on the opposite wall….”
  • “They’d need the woodstove, big time, the walls are uninsulated, only electric appliance appears to be the radio, no electric lights, unlikely that there is running water, most likely either a hand pump at the sink, with an outhouse somewhere well out of sight. I don’t know too many folks who would live like this today, at least voluntarily.”
  • “No running water. What a dream.”
  • “Absolutely beautiful….wish I had a kitchen like this.”

And so the comments ran. They are all valid opinions, and a testament to how an image can conjure up a wide variety of thoughts, but also deep emotions. Reading the comments we can feel the power of longing some feel about having a kitchen like this and how the photo speaks to them in words of warmth, love, caring, and simplicity. To others, they see this same image and realize that there is some hard work ahead in this kitchen, be it the need to haul water to what it would be like doing laundry on a hot summer day. Others feel more comfortable with Teflon and the immediacy of hot water on command. They are just differing viewpoints, and without differing viewpoints life would be boring, indeed.

The fact of this kitchen is that it was taken as part of the Farm Security Administration program in Depression-era Dust Bowl. Government photographers and writers at the time were tasked with documenting the lives of destitute farmers, and most of the famous Depression-era photos we have come from this program. The program was originally touted as a way to assist very poor farmers, sharecroppers, and tenants who were being hit hard during the Depression. The program was hotly debated, and this ‘spin is not about the the program itself. Instead, this is about the power that an image can have over us, and help us dream of what we want for ourselves, or what we don’t want.

Florence Thompson, destitute migrant mother of seven and pea picker in California. Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1936.

One of the most famous photographs of the collection is undoubtedly that of this 32-year-old migrant pea picker in California. Florence Thompson, shown at right with three of her seven children, evokes strong emotions. We look at this photo and see worry and poverty.

But 40 years after the photo was taken, Florence was able to tell her story after having become aware of the photo’s existence. Florence’s daughter Katherine recalls a hard life that had its mix of good and bad, “We never had a lot, but she always made sure we had something. She didn’t eat sometimes, but she made sure us children ate. That’s one thing she did do.” (For the complete story of Katherine’s reflection on this photo, read the 2008 article “Girl from iconic Great Depression photo: ‘We were shamed”

In truth, this kitchen belonged to a poor family in the Dust Bowl southwest. Life was very hard for this family, and this kitchen is one of the nicer ones photographed that are available in the image collection (the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives collection can be found here). But like Florence’s daughter shows, even in hard times, even with rough kitchens and uninsulated walls and hard work, there is the spirit that even if someone doesn’t have a lot, at least they have something. And sometimes that “something” is worth more than a modern kitchen. Sometimes that something is, indeed, about warmth, love, caring, and simplicity.


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Creating a Personal Seedbank

Heirloom, open-pollinated plant varieties are your only bet for a successful personal seedbank.

You have probably heard of seed saving, where you save a plant’s seeds or tubers at the end of a growing season to serve as the seed source for the following year. This is great because choosing the proper plants and practicing proper seed-saving methods gives you to a free, self-perpetuating garden year after year. Saving seed also means you can share seeds with friends and neighbors, so everyone can start growing their own.

Many people, however, are not as familiar with the concept of a personal seedbank. A personal seedbank is like seed saving on steroids. You save seed for the coming season’s planting, but you also bank seed for longer storage, just in case.

What that “just in case” might be varies. Some people have created a personal seedbank as insurance against crop failures. Others believe a personal seedbank is necessary in the event of a partial (or total) societal collapse. Many people just like the idea of being sustainable and self sufficient. And, of course, seed saving can be a fun hobby.


The most important thing to remember when planning your personal seedbank is that you can only save and store open-pollinated, non-hybridized, non-GMO seeds. Why? Because genetically modified and hybridized seeds have been dinked with by large corporations such as Monsanto, which doesn’t want you to be able to save your own seeds. Why? Because they want you to have to buy seeds from them year after year. Hybridized or GMO seeds frequently have sterile first generation offspring (F1 is a designation you might have seen). This means that while you’ll get viable plants from the seeds you buy, the seeds you save from those plants will likely be sterile. If they’re not sterile, they’ll produce offspring that are so unlike the parents with such a wide variety of characteristics that they will be a disappointment and not useful. Only buy heirloom, open-pollinated seeds from trusted sources.

The second thing to decide when planning a seedbank is what kinds of seed you want to save. The best seeds to save are from fruits and vegetables you enjoy eating the most, but experience comes into play, too. If you’re a beginning seed saver, to start it’s best to bank seeds that require the lowest skill set. This way you can focus your first growing season on learning seed saving techniques and still have viable, usable seed banked in preparation for the following growing season, at which time you’ll expand your skill. The easiest seeds to save and bank are self-pollinated seeds (see below for more info on this).

The third thing to decide when planning a seedbank is what seeds would be best to save. This can vary greatly depending upon the reason why you are choosing to create a personal seedbank. If you’re banking seed as insurance against a crop failure in your garden or to be more self sufficient, then banking what you like is the best option. If you’re banking seed as insurance against a societal collapse, then you’ll need to bank a wider variety of seeds and include many types that you may not have ever grown before, including grains like wheat or barley. Be advised, though, that in these cases it is a good idea to get some experience growing these seeds before a collapse occurs; your seedbank will be useless if you don’t know how to grow the seeds you have.

Ready-to-order seedbanks are great options until you have a chance to store your own varieties.


If you’ve never saved seed before, you’ll have to buy your first seeds from a commercial grower or be lucky enough to have seed-saving friends who are willing to help you with your first crop. Excellent commercial sources for heirloom, open-pollinated seeds include Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seed Search, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Sustainable Seed Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Abundant Life Seeds, among others.

Another alternative is to buy a pre-made seedbank that is already packaged and set for storage. This is a great idea for those who want a head start on their seedbank and have some insurance on-hand until a self-made seedbank has been created (which can take several years). A good source for a seedbank such as this is sold by Camping Survival. They sell a 6-can set that is organized by use type. For instance, the “Culinary Herb” can includes a variety of common herbs from basil to thyme, and the “Ancient Grains” can includes barley, flax, amaranth, and others. The ‘Medicinal Herbs” can is especially beneficial to have and is often overlooked in seedbanks.


The best and easiest seeds to save (and therefore bank) are self-pollinated seeds, which include tomatoes, beans, lettuce, peas, chicory, and endive. These plants have reliable seed set the same year they are planted, and they are self-pollinating. Self-pollinated seeds fertilize themselves, meaning the pollen from a plant’s flower fertilizes the stigma on that same flower. No muss, no fuss. There are few worries about cross-pollination or accidental hybridization. You get the same variety of tomato or bean year after year, though it is recommended to separate varieties by a row, just in case.

Self pollination is one way seeds of concern to home growers reproduce; the other two modes of reproduction are insects and wind pollination. This is where things can get tricky, because in these cases pollen from a plant up to a mile away can fertilize a plant in your garden. This increases the chance of hybridized plants, whose seeds will not breed true when planted. Because of this, insect- and wind-pollinated plants such as corn or onions have to be manipulated by the grower to ensure that pollination is limited to same varieties.


More experienced seed savers can take on plants that require more intervention to insure that saved seed breeds true.  Crops such as corn, cucumber, radish, spinach, and squashes (among others) produce seed the same year they are planted, but require the grower to intervene to prevent unwanted hybridization. This intervention can come in the form of hand-pollinating the plants to prevent cross-pollination, or making sure there is considerable distance between the variety you are growing and other varieties (this distance can vary between 100 feet and a mile, depending upon the plant).

Biennial vegetable seeds set seed the year after they are planted, and as a result expert seed savers can take on the two-year commitment needed to save these seeds. Biennial vegetables include onions, carrots, cabbages, beets, swiss chard, turnips, celery, leeks, and others. Instead of harvesting at the end of the first growing season, the plants need to be successfully overwintered the same year they are planted (this can vary depending upon if you live in the north or south). The second growing season is when the plants will flower and set seed. These plants also need to be separated from other varieties to avoid cross-pollination.

Seeds like beans, peas, and cucumber can be dried and frozen and remain viable for storage.


No, this has nothing to do with religion. What it does have to do with is how well a seed withstands the freezing and drying conditions that are necessary to maintain a seedbank. Orthodox seeds can be dried and frozen for storage and remain viable for a period of time, but some seeds take to this better than others. Some seeds can be stored up to 10 years or more, others begin to lose viability after one year. For most common vegetable plants, three to five years is about as long as they can be stored, though some plants (like parsnips) really need to be used within a year or two.

Ideally, seeds need to be dried to less than 7% moisture and, for maximum storage length, frozen to no warmer than zero degrees Farenheit (a home freezer may reach this temperature). The lower the temperature, however, the longer seeds will remain viable. Most vegetables known to the home gardener are orthodox seeds, such as peas, corn, and tomatoes. In fact, about 80% of plant species are orthodox seeds.

Recalcitrant seeds can’t be dried for storage and must be planted immediately. Tropical plants such as mangoes, coconuts, and tea are recalcitrant. Intermediate seeds can take some drying for short-term storage, but they are not viable options for a personal seed bank. Examples of intermediate seeds include coffee, papaya, and others.


The best free online resource for learning how to save specific vegetable seeds can be found at the International Seed Saving Institute. They have a complete seed-saving guide that you can find here, which includes how to address the pollination needs of individual plants and harvest the seeds to best advantage. I’ll be writing plant-specific seed-saving Spins this growing season, but for now ISSI is a great resource.

If you have a personal seedbank story that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments!


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15 Ways to Paracord Power

Paracord's construction gives it strength and durability, and opens the door for multiple uses.

For those of you who have no idea what paracord is (and I didn’t up until a year or two ago), it’s like the duct tape of the fiber world. Paracord is nylon rope that was originally used in parachutes in World War II, which is where the name came from (originally it was parachute cord). Now it is a versatile utility cording that is still used extensively in the military, but is also gaining in popularity for personal use. Military-grade paracord is so useful that it deserves a Spin so those without military connections can learn about and make use of this great material.

Military-grade paracrod comes in six different types. We’re going to focus on the best quality one that is most readily available to civilians: a variation of the military Type III paracord frequently called Mil-spec 550 paracord. Construction of 550 paracord is done by taking seven two-ply threads of nylon and wrapping them in a shell braided from 32 nylon strands. This composite construction gives paracord a tensile strength of 550 pounds (when the seven internal threads are removed the outer sheath has a tensile strength of 200 pounds). Not only that, but paracord is mildew and rot resistant, and it’s only 1/8″ thick, making it great for a variety of uses. Here are some examples of the uses of paracord, many of which focus on ways to help you survive if you get lost hiking, or otherwise find yourself in a survival situation:

A paracord bracelet is like having safety around your wrist.

1) Crafts and parawear: Braiding bracelets, belts, lanyards, or any object you can think of with paracord is easy, and since it comes in so many great colors it looks cool, too (not to mention the durability). And you’ll have paracord on you all the time, which is a great way to keep a little safety around your waist, wrist, key chain, or more. If needed, say to tie down a load on the roof of your car, all you need to do is unweave the bracelet or belt and voila! You are ready for the task at hand! This is especially useful for camping and hiking, where you can wear some safety so it doesn’t take up room in your pack.

2) Dog collars and leashes: You can braid great custom dog leashes and collars out of paracord; paracord’s strength and rot-resistance make it ideal for this purpose.

3) A saw: That’s right! By pulling on a length of paracord fast enough to create actionable friction, you can saw some things in half, such as two-inch wide tubular webbing! Check out this brief video from Estela Wilderness Education, LLC for a demonstration.

4) Catching food: Paracord is so versatile it can be used to catch animal food, big or small. You can cut a length of paracord and remove one of the internal two-ply threads for use as fishing line, or use the in-tact cord for animal snares and traps.

5) Useful thread: The internal threads are also thin enough to sew on loose buttons or torn seams in clothing or tents, and even as dental floss.

6) Camp construction and utility: In any sort of camping situation (intended or not) paracord has too many uses to mention. Because of its strength and rot resistance, it can be used for things like pole lashing, pulling logs, hoisting food into trees for protection, and for guy strings and shelter ridge lines for tents or temporary shelters. The only limit is your ability to adapt and improvise!

7) Making fire: Since paracord itself is nylon it won’t burn for you but it does catch heat so it can be used as tinder to light larger pieces of kindling. And, you can use paracord as the necessary string in a bow-drill, a primitive way to make fire if needed. Here’s information on making and using a bow drill from Nature Skills.

8) Medical emergencies: In the unfortunate circumstance that you get hurt while camping or hiking, paracord can literally save your life or the life of a friend. It can be used as a tourniquet, a sling, or to lash splints together on a broken limb. You can even string the paracord between two sapling trunks to make a stretcher of sorts.

9) Automobile fix: No, really! You can take 550 paracord and use it as a temporary replacement for something like a fan belt. Just be sure to knot the cord every few inches, otherwise the slippery nature of the cord will cause it to slip off.

10) Rappelling: No, paracord is not great as a regular climbing rope, but in an emergency situation you can rappel or otherwise haul your body weight with 550 paracord (provided you don’t weight more than 550 pounds).

11) Woven items: With enough skill you can weave things from paracord such as water bottle holders, fishing nets, bird nets, or other traps.

12) Pulley systems: Around the house or in the woods, having a good block and tackle pulley system can allow you to haul and lift weights much heavier than you could without pulley assistance; paracord is great in pulleys.

13) Weaving rope: If paracord isn’t strong enough for you, you can use it to braid even stronger rope for hauling or pulley purposes, such as to remove a stuck vehicle. This is an option if you are in a situation where you don’t have proper rope available.

14) Wrapping stuff: Paracord is a great material to use for all manner of handle-making, from knives to luggage to hatchets, tools, and more. Anything you want wrapped can be quickly covered with paracord!

15) Making weapons: Having to make primitive weaponry on-the-fly for killing food or protecting yourself is never something we want to have to do, but it’s nice to know that with paracord on hand you are covered.

Paracord shoelaces eliminate the need for melting the ends.

Not all paracord is created equal. Much of the paracord that is available is substandard quality that is not up to military specs and as a result will not provide the benefits outlined in this article, so don’t go buying it from some place like Walmart and expect it to perform for you in any useful capacity. I recommend buying your paracord from Camping Survival. This site provides mil-spec 550 paracord at a great price not to mention proper paracord shoelaces (with aglets so you don’t have to melt the ends), bracelets, belts, and kits to make your own braided paracord items.


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Winter Edibles: Cattails

Cattails are a common edible during the growing season, but they can save your butt in winter.

People like to learn about and collect wild edible plants for a variety of reasons: survival foods if they are lost in the wilderness, a source of free food and culinary exploration, or just plain outdoor fun. But it’s a common mistake to only think about many wild edibles as food sources during the growing season. In fact, there are edible plant sources during the winter, too.

Cattails are one of those plants that can be counted on as a winter edible, which is one reason it is sometimes known as “Supermarket of the Swamp.” Cattails are a great winter edible because they are easy to identify, they occur frequently wherever shallow water is present, and they usually exist in large stands. Their sheer quantity can provide a substantial food source if you really get your butt in a sling in the wild.

The reliable edible part of the cattail in the winter is the plant’s roots (rhizomes), which are a great source of starch and can also be turned into a flour. You may also find the coming season’s growth shoots (corms), which also make an excellent edible, attached to where the rhizomes meet the base of the plant.

To harvest the plant, reach to the plant’s base and dig or pull the rhizomes out of the soil. Cut them from the dry, above-ground stems and wash them thoroughly. At this point you’ll be able to separate the rhizomes, which will be brown and covered with root hairs making them look like an old rope, from the more succulent corms. From here you can do several things:

You can make a flour with the rhizomes: Peel the rhizomes and crush them in a fair amount of cold water to separate the white, starchy goodness from the fibrous portions. Remove the fiber and let the container sit for several hours until the starch settles to the bottom. Pour off the water carefully and strain the starch if you can. From here you can use the pasty starch as a flour immediately or let it dry well for storage. If you dry it for storage, you’ll need to grind it fine, but then it can be used in conjunction with other flours in baking.

You can supplement a soup with the above starch: Follow the same instructions as above, but instead of straining off the starch, heat the water and starch and add any other wild edibles you’ve been able to collect. Staying hydrated in a winter survival situation is very important, and this soup will kill a few survival birds with one stone (hopefully you’ll have a bird to add to the soup, too).

You can eat the corms: The corms may be as small as peas or larger, depending upon where you are and how far along you are in the winter season. Peel or scrub these new shoots and eat them as-is, or you can slice them and cook them. I recommend adding the corms to the above soup if you’re in a survival situation; it will provide warmth, hydration, and starch for energy. But if you’re just eating the corms for an interesting food item on your table, they are tasty cooked in some butter with a sprinkling of salt and thyme!

Sources: “Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America” by Lee Allen Peterson, “Wild Edible Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 natural Foods” by Thomas S. Elias & Peter A. Dykeman.


Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Edible Plants, Fun Experiments


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Edible Winter Barks

While the bark of this small pine is edible in winter, choose larger trees.

One of the things I’m into here at Rural Spin is edible plants. I know my plants pretty well, and it’s fun to know what I can eat in the wild if I really had to in any kind of survival situation. (Hey, I hike a lot.) Most people think edible plants can only be found during the growing season. Not true! Even in winter you can forage for wild edibles, and one of the mainstays is tree bark!

I know what you’re thinking. Eating tree bark seems so…impossible. It is bark, after all! But properly prepared, bark can provide needed energy if you really get yourself in some serious doodoo. But it’s not like you can just rip it off the tree and start to nom. The edible portion of select trees is the inner bark, which sits between the outer rough bark and the tree’s wood. Inner bark is paper thin, really, so you need a lot of surface area to provide any sort of meal. Because of this, stick to the tree’s branches if possible–going at it on the main trunk can kill the tree.

Once you get a hold of enough inner bark, you can do one of two things with it: You can either boil it and eat it out-right, which would be a low point in your culinary experience, or you can dry it and grind it into a flour, which makes a kind of cake when mixed with water and cooked near a fire. Personally, I’d go with this route.

So what species of trees provide edible barks? There are five trees in particular: spruce, sweet birch (also known as black birch), slippery elm, pine, and hemlock (the tree…not the poisonous herbaceous). We’ll cover plant ID in later posts, but just know those are the ones to look up if you’re interested in this sort of thing!

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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Edible Plants


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