Welcome again to the Fireside. Now that Nano Write is all behind us I have found my way back to the keyboard. This year was a successful year as I completed a full 166,000 words in 30 days. It looks like I will be able to use it as three novel series. I know I have a great deal of editing ahead of me.
It looks like spring has arrived at least we are hoping so. It is good to see people with dogs and children out walking in the evenings again. Even better, daylight has been extended to as late as 9 pm. My in floor heating boiler has all but stopped coming on as the thermostat is turned right down. We will have to just pretend for the next several months we have a a fire crackling.
Many over the years have suggested I share a little wilderness medicine with them. For those who do not know me I spent several years living in isolation in the far reaches of the Yukon Territory here in Canada. I was somewhat adopted into the Cree Native Culture where I learned much of what nature provides. Thus I thought I would make an attempt at something most of us have access to and the best part it comes free. There is much to learn but I will touch only on the most common.
They are an abundant source of many natural remedies most people are not aware of. We have one particular species which was very abundant. Most often it would be the first I would go to for my needs. Gather around while I recall some of which I hope you have ready access to.
It provides All
Lets stop and take a look in the forest or a single tree and see what it gives to all who choose to stop and visit. First it provides homes for many creatures, big and small. It can act as a huge umbrella during a rain storm. Notice how the base of a tree is always dry from the drip line of the outer branches. Now look inward to the trunk. This is a great place to have a dry bed during a rain storm. A shelter ready made for you.
Should you get tired when you are out hiking stop and lean up against a tree with your back touching the tree and in a few minutes you will be rejuvenated from the energy it produces.
In the evergreen family there are so many benefits I will list a few here just so you have an idea. They truly are remarkable, living through the forces of nature and sadly the abuse of mankind. They freely offer much of themselves for us, we can take without doing any great harm to them. Most often the smaller inhabitants will just scold us.
Chewing Gum and Antiseptic
Dried spruce gum peeled off of a tree looks very unappetizing and yet it has many qualities most people overlook. When you first place it into your mouth and start to chew it you will find it to be very granular and maybe if a bit distasteful. Fear not it will get better.
Chew the gum for several minutes not spitting and allow the gum and the saliva to mix well. Eventually the gum softens. Now you may spit...(I saw that) Do this a few more times spitting occasionally. (I saw it again) It will become very pliable plus it will become more and more pleasant to the taste. Feel free to swallow the saliva now. The gum has many great qualities and is an internal antiseptic for your mouth, teeth and yes even your digestive tract.
After awhile it will start to become granulated again and you can discard it. No need to worry about saving wrappers and it will not stick to a sidewalk. It could likely be called the first gum ever known to man. The best part is you know where it has come from and it is free.
Spruce gum can also be used as a throat lozenge for coughs and sore throats. It can be drank as a hot tea or the sap simply sucked on. Sap contains many properties mainly as an antiseptic but also an analgesic and if boiled over a low heat source can be used as a vaporizer with a towel over your head. If you lungs are congested they will soon clear.
One thing I found to be amazing is if you have a stubborn sliver which most of us get is to place a drop of soft fresh resin on the wound and it will draw the sliver out painlessly within a few hours, at the same time acting as an antiseptic.
Young needles in the spring are and excellent source of vitamin C when drank as a tea. It is a very potent form of vitamin C and should be drank only once a day. The needles will sink to the bottom eventually. Natural sources of sweetener like honey can be added if the taste is too bitter.
They are fairly common in the outdoors and they have a multitude of uses. My favorite is for an upset stomach or a headache. Willow bark tea is yet another common source for headache medication. Juniper berries can be picked directly from the shrub. They are generally a grey/purple in colour and are easily accessible.
Two or three popped under your tongue and you only need to wait a few minutes and what ever ails you will be gone. A word of caution do not bite down on them. They are generally very bitter and will leave you with a very nasty taste in your mouth for the longest while.
On a hot day slip a few into your mouth and just flip them back and forth across your tongue and your thirst will subside somewhat. The needles when they are young and a lighter green can be used for making tea. Just boil water and toss in a spoonful of crushed needles
Acorns can be picked directly off of the tree or harvested off the ground. It is a good idea to rinse them off and wrap them loosely in tinfoil. Place them on the rocks close to a fire or on top of a wood burning stove for a few days. After a few hours you will hear them snapping as they expand and open up, sending the young seeds free on inside the tin foil. Only pick the cones that are still closed.
It does take several cones to make a pot of coffee but be patient the taste is well worth it. By setting them close to the fire they take on a natural roasted flavour. Open the package and give the expanded cones a good shake saving all the seeds. Once you have a few teaspoons or so crush them and simply drop your bounty into a pot of boiling water.
Be careful as it may boil over on you. Just set the pot off to the side and allow it to simmer on its own. A few minutes later you have a lovely nutty tasting coffee that will refresh you. It almost has a okra taste to it.
In the Cree Native language it is called "Astâskamkwa." It can be readily found growing and hanging from trees. The natives have many uses for it. Fire starter, pillow and bed lining, to line the inside of baby carriers because of its insulating properties from the cold, plus it is absorbent.
It provides a great lining for birds and their nests. Moose, Deer and Woodland Caribou treat it as a source of food and it is extremely high in protein and is readily available. Go into an area where the lower branches have been picked clean and you know there is game close by.
Usnea can be harmful to humans as it contains some nettles that are hard to spot with the naked eye. Recent studies have shown it can have an adverse effect on the urinary track if ingested. I would avoid taking it internally. It can however be used as a poultice dressing for infection or even an open wound. Gather as mush as you think you will need. Boil it for a few minutes and apply it to the area as hot as you can stand it and wrap it. You will feel it drawing immediately. Remove it after a few hours. Apply it every few days and before long you will see the inflammation and infection gone.
Usnea has many uses, one of my favorites is as a fire starter once dried. Take a small amount of the whiter coloured moss and place in in a nest with a few small dry twigs. With a flint and steel one small spark will set it ablaze. It has a natural accelerant that will catch immediately. Matches or a small magnifying glass, even bifocal glasses and sunshine will ignite it quickly. It burns very rapidly so be ready to add more fuel right away. In the case of a wildfires crowning from one tree to the next usnea is usually the culprit for fuelling the flame.
Hug a Tree
Do I like trees you may ask? Over the years they have brought much comfort in the log homes they have built for me. Heat in the winter months. They give shade on a hot day, protection from the elements. Yes I do like trees, they are living and give life. In all likelihood they have built the home you find yourself in today. They are a great renewable resource which have provided many with an income over the years. But again a resource which we need to manage properly, sadly we have done a poor job of caring for.
There are many other functions trees have in our everyday lives we forget about. The clean the air we breath, provide nourishment to the younger trees as they die off and much we still are to discover.
The best part of hugging a tree is when you find one like this I found myself sitting in one recent summer that hugs you right back.
© Rolly A. Chabot
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