7. Food

7.1. Plants

The archives:

Plants are the major source of carbohydrates in a survival situation, in addition to being under most circumstances more easily available. The problem with plants is that you need to know what you are doing when using them. This is of course also true when it comes to hunting, but in general the only consequence of messing up is that you don't get anything to eat, perhaps with the exception of fishing with rapid expanding bait and shooting at anything that moves.

Edibility tests.

There are several edibility tests that have been published. They all suffer from the disadvantage that they are NOT foolproof, and that you CAN poison yourself if you use them [Par Leijonhufvud].

The edibility test (including the berry rule) below is from "Wilderness Survival" by Greg Davenport, Stackpole Books, March 1998.

Universal edibility test:

If food is scarce and rescue is not eminent, you may elect to perform the edibility test. The test takes 24 hours to complete and during this time no other foods can be consumed. Because of the time element and the restrictions on your diet, this process should only be undertaken when deemed necessary to your survival. The following is a sequential list of how to perform the edibility test:

   a.)	General rules of the edibility test:

    1.)  Insure there's an abundant supply of the plant.

    2.)  Use only fresh vegetation.

    3.)  Always wash your plants with treated water.

    4.)  Only perform the test on one plant/plant part at a time.

    5.)  During the test, don't consume anything else other than purified

    6.)  Don't eat eight hours prior to starting the test.

   b.)	Identifying characteristics of plants to avoid:

    1.)  Mushrooms or mushroom like appearance.

    2.)  Umbrella shaped flower clusters (resembling parsley, parsnip, or

    3.)  Plants with milky sap or sap that turns black when exposed to the

    4.)  Bulbs (resembling onion or garlic).

    5.)  Carrot like leaves, roots, or tubers.

    6.)  Bean and pea like appearance.

    7.)  Plants with fungal infection (common in spoiled plants
         procured off the ground).

    8.)  Plants with shiny leaves or fine hairs.

   c.)	Break the plant into it's basic components: leaves, stems, roots,
	buds, and flowers.

   d.)	Test only one part of the potential food source at a time.

   e.)	Smell the plant for strong or acid like odors.	If present it may
	be best to select another plant.

   f.)	Prepare the plant part in the fashion in which you intend to
	consume it (raw, boiled, baked, etc.).

   g.)	Place a piece of the plant part being tested on the inside of your
	wrist for 15 minutes.  Monitor for burning, stinging or
	irritation.  If any of these occur, discontinue the test, select
	another plant (or another component of the one testing), and
	start over.

   h.)	Touch a small teaspoon portion of the plant to your lips.  Monitor
	for five minutes for any burning or irritation.  If any of these
	occur, discontinue the test, select another plant (or another
	component of the one testing), and start over.

   i.)	Place the plant on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.
	Do not swallow any of the plant juices.  If any burning or
	irritation occurs, discontinue the test, select another plant
	(or another component of the one testing), and start over.

   j.)	Thoroughly chew the teaspoon portion of the plant part for 15
	minutes.  Do not swallow any of the plant or its juices.  If you
	experience a reaction, discontinue the test, select another
	plant (or another component of the one testing), and start over.
	If there is no burning, stinging or irritation swallow the

   k.)	Wait eight hours.  Monitor for cramps, nausea, vomiting, or other
	abdominal irritations.	If any occur, induce vomiting and drink
	plenty of water.  If you do experience a reaction, discontinue
	the test, select another plant (or another component of the one
	testing), and start over

   l.)	If no problems are experienced, eat one half cup of the plant.
	Prepare it in the same fashion as before.  Wait another eight
	hours.	If no ill effects occur, the plant part is edible when
	prepared in the same fashion as tested.

   m.)	Test all parts of the plant you intend to use.	Some plants have
	both edible and poisonous sections.  Do not assume that a part
	which is edible when cooked is edible when raw (or visa versa).
	Always eat the plant in the same fashion in which the edibility
	test was performed on it.

   n.)	After the plant is determined to be edible, eat it in moderation.
	Although considered safe, large amounts may cause cramps and

The berry rule:

In general, the edibility of berries can be classified according to their color and composition. The following IS A GUIDELINE (approximation) to help you determine if a berry is poisonous or not. In NO WAY should the berry rule REPLACE the edibility test. Use it as a general guide to determine if the edibility test needs to be performed upon the berry. THE ONLY BERRIES THAT SHOULD BE EATEN WITHOUT TESTING ARE THOSE THAT YOU CAN POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AS NON POISONOUS.

    a.)  Green, yellow, and white berries are 10% edible.

    b.)  Red berries are 50% edible.

    c.)  Purple, blue, and black berries are 90% edible.

    d.)  Aggregate berries are 99% edible.  Some examples are:
	1.)  Thimbleberry.
	2.)  Raspberry.
	3.)  Blackberry.

Plant parts to use.

Various parts of plants will contain different amounts of energy. In most cases the most energy-rich parts are roots, seeds, and nuts, followed by fruits and berrys.

Biannual and perennial plants store energy i their roots for the next year (only in the first year form in the case of biannual). Most plants store either starch, inulin or sucrose. Inulin resembles starch, and is digested in basically the same manner (you need some enzyme systems activated, but this happens in at most a few days). With the sucrose storing plants (e.g. reed, Phragmites communis) you have to retain any liquid you boiled the roots in.
Seeds and nuts
This is another place the plants store energy. The exact type of content will vary between species. This is sometimes high energy food, with high carbohydrate levels and/or fats.
Fruits and berrys
These tend to store sugars, which means that they give quick energy, but that it is gone just as quickly. Also note that in the case of berrys that it is generally impossible to eat the amount of berrys needed for a minimal energy intake without adverse effects, since they contain rather low levels of sugar, and often are rather acidic.
Shoots from edible plants can contain valuable amounts of carbohydrate, in some cases in the form of sugars (e.g. Pinus silvestris shoots in early July can be 10% sugar by dry weight).
Sap and cambium layers.
These will contain carbohydrates, in varying amounts. The levels vary between seasons.
Also other parts of plants can be eaten, flowers, stalk-marrow, leaves, etc.

Digging stick.

The digging stick is an indispensable tool for digging up roots. To make a digging stick is simple. Take a stick from 50 to 150 cm long (18-60"), and point the end, either to a flat shovel/chisel-shape or to a point. Fire-harden for durability.

7.2. Hunting & trapping.

The archives:


Ojibwa bird pole

Ok,, it's a fairly simple device here's what you'll need to make your Ojibwa Bird Snare....Anyone feel free to add/correct me if I miss something...

You'll need a pole, lets say 2" diameter or larger, 5'-6' in length. Nice and straight... Push it into the ground so it stands firmly upright. About 3-4" from the top, bore a hole 90 degrees to the stick,,all the way through.

I use my awl from my SAK,but for simplicity sake,,lets say 3/8" diameter hole.

Now you will need a nice straight stick(4"-6"),slightly bigger than the hole.Strip the bark off the first inch then test it.It should not go into the hole,,but more like rest on the edge of the hole.start off with a slightly over sized stick,,you can always trim it to fit.

Run a piece of string through the hole (thin). 1 strand or two of inner 550 cord will work nice,,but kite sting will do just fine. One one end of the string tie a snare loop (slip knot). Place the stick into position and lay the loop or snare across the stick, covering the majority of the stick.

Where the sting runs into the hole,,you'll need to tie a small over hand,simple knot. At the other end of the string tie a weight,,rock,log,,,what have you. The weight should hit the ground by the time the entire snare is in the 3/8" hole. This will take some fooling around to get set properly.

Lift the weight,hold the stick and the string in one hand,place the stick at the holes edge and slowly lower the weight until the knot grabs on the stick and the edge of the hole. The knot actually holds the entire contraption together. Place your loop over the stick and away you go...

If the loop tends to blow off,,you can glue it down with a little sticky pitch,,or spit. I like the pitch better if it is available. A little notch or a sliver taken off the stick will also do... A couple of drips of hot wax will also hole them in place

Place your bird snare in an open field or where you see a lot of birds hanging around. Birds will naturally land on it.

You can adjust your trigger so even the lightest birds will tip it. I usually set mine for song bird type birds because they are plentiful. When the bird lands on the stick,it triggers the snare,,the weight falls and the bird gets trapped by it's feet..Check your snares often, as birds land frequently on them...

You can practice this by setting them up around your bird feeders at home,,but don't make them for real,,only practice... Watch how many times birds land on the stick!!
(Eric E.Noeldechen)

7.3. Cooking

Pit Fire Cooking

Pit Fire cooking can be broken down into two different types; one method uses dry heat the other uses steam.

To begin, dig a pit that is bigger than the amount of food you are going to cook. Line this with stones that are not from a water course or contain flint; these are likely to explode when heated. Now light a fire in the pit preferably using hardwoods, which will radiate more heat and give hotter embers. Let this burn for at least one and a half to two hours. Wrap your food in either edible green leaves or aluminum foil. (Cut your food into manageable pieces rather than lumps as this speeds up cooking.)

Now this is where the two methods differ. If you are using dry heat then place a layer of green leaves (Non Poisonous) on the embers followed by your food and then more leaves or grass. Now cover this with earth to the top of the pit.

If you are using the steam pit method then add water to the bottom layer of grasses before you add the food. A nice technique when using this method, instead of filling in the pit with earth; is to cover the top of the pit with a criss-cross of sticks. Cover this with grass or with a wet hessian/jute/cotton sheet; and pile this over with earth to create a pressure pit. This is called a Hangi. [Scott Wiggins]

If you wrap meat first in leaves, and then in clay before placing it in the (non-steam) pit all the juices of the meat will be retained. [Par Leijonhufvud]

Buddy Burners, Hobo Stoves, and Osborne Stoves

Buddy Burners

A simple and cheap cooking method is the buddy burner (I guess this would be another use for it too?) The is simply a strip of cardboard box rolled up and taped into a short fat cylinder (maybe 1 inch high) and soaked in candle wax, paraffin wax, old margerine, diesel, etc,etc.

Alternatively, the whole thing can be made inside an old tuna can, or the tuna can can be filled about 1/4 inch with inflammable stuff, and a paper towel put in as a wick. All variations on a theme.

Four 6 inch nails driven into the ground around this make a pan rest.

Or you can use it as a quick and convenient heat source in a hobostove or an Osborne stove.

The Hobo Stoves

Find a gallon paint can (exact size not important - experiment)

Cut holes in sides of can as below:-

                            X       \
                           X         O
                           |         O    /
                           |         O   /_______ WIND
                           X         O   \
                            X       /     \

OOO = Hole at bottom of can for air - make it large
XXX = Hole at top of can for exhaust - about 2/3 the size of the air hole

One top hole (placed in either off the above positions) or two can be used. I slightly prefer two cos it behaves the same regardless of wind direction or gusts.

There is a little art in placing the exhaust hole in a hobo. If you put it opposite the bottom air hole, the air just rushes thru and creates a burnt tunnel right thru the middle of your fuel. If you put the exhaust hole at the side, about 120 degrees round as above (or even less) from the air hole then it creates a vortex of gases in the stove and you get much more comprehensive burning. fire in the can for very full burning.

Shape doesn't matter either, I've used semi-circular holes, triangular, rectangular, whatever is easiest to cut with what's to hand.

Chuck anything combustible in, and sprinkle a couple of drops of petrol in the bottom hole (Non-lazybuggers can of course do this without petrol!!), and light it up. It's best to light a little fuel in it, let that get ablaze, then add more to get your furnace. If you slam it all in at the beginning it can smolder rather than flame for a long time due to reduced airflow especially if the fuel is damp. Starting it with a little fuel, I've had it full and blazing inside 2 minutes with fuel that was damp to the touch and that was in still air. The more wind, the easier. So err on the side of making the holes too big rather than too little.

Put a pan directly on the top of the can without the can lid (unless you are very fussy about carbon deposits on your pan) for maximum heat transfer. Or to bake, put lid on can, and baking receptacle on lid. Punch lots of holes in it to make a grill for small pans that don't fit on top of the stove directly.

Alternatively you can punch holes in the hobostove about half way up and put thick fence wire thru them to make a pan support that will allow the pan to sit down inside the stove. The resulting integral windshield and all-round heating is unbelievably efficient (exactly like the great efficiency of Trangia 25s and 27s despite only burning meths - cos of their integral windshield-pot-holder design)

The wind blows in the bottom hole, and the aerodynamics of the can suck the exhaust out of the top holes. This forms a vicious thru draught, and the fire burns almost white hot in a strong wind! It also uses very little fuel. Fire temperature can be controlled be turning can away from the wind a bit, or by obstructing the inlet hole.

When I've finished, I just let mine burn out and then bury the completely incinerated ash.

These things are unbelievably effective, dirt-cheap and fun to make. You can easily make one on the fly with a Swiss Army knife and a tin you pick up. You will probably find yourself making lots of different designs just for the hell of it!! They are also useful in that you can burn up your camp rubbish to cook your next meal!

Different sizes of can are needed for different fuels. E.g. a dense fuel like hardwood can form a good long-lasting fire that needs little attention in a small can. But to burn junk mail in the same can needs constant screwing up of the paper to a densish lump, adding and raking out of the ash. A gallon can has enough volume to burn paper (or pretty much anything else) without constant attention. The worse quality the fuel, the larger the can needed to create a good burn-core. Barbecue charcoal will burn nicely even in a small tuna tin, but I prefer an Osborne stove for charcoal (see later).

Generally I use a gallon cos it sits in the Landrover and that size will burn anything. Half a gallon is about the smallest I'd want to burn junk mail in. I don't find the size a problem - put the rest of your cooking stuff inside the stove and strap it to the outside of your pack. Even a gallon can doesn't weigh much

The Osborne stove

(Frank Osborne - a motorcycle camper, contributed the source article for this synopsis to an American motorcycle magazine)

This is made from 4 sheets of metal (scrap ally, drink cans flattened,etc) wired together at the corners to form a square or rectangle. About 7&ins across by 5&ins deep is fine, but can be varied ad nauseam. A couple of grills are added as below:

A side cutaway would be:

                -----------------------------------------   Pan grill
                |                                       |
                |                                       |
                |                                       |       
                |                                       |
                | ------------------------------------- |   Fuel grill
                |       0                       0       |   Support wires
                |                                       |
                |                                       |
                |                                       |

The fuel grill is supported about 2-3 ins from the top of the stove on a couple of wires thru holes drilled in two opposite sides of the stove.

Charcoal fired up on here gives a long lasting fire suitable for the camp. Wood and/or paper gives a quick fire suitable for trail brewups. The airflow under the grill gives very efficient combustion.

With charcoal as fuel, burgers etc can just be placed straight on the pan grill and barbecued direct.

The whole thing folds flat for carrying.

Comparison of stoves

I made my Osborne out of scrap aluminium, slightly modified from the standard plan, to form a square of 7&inch base and 5&inch height. Also, I only hinged 3 of the four corners, so the stove wall was not a floppy parallelogram, but a floppy strip. The square construction allows it to pack smaller (longest side only rather than longest+shortest), and the floppy strip idea allows it to be used as a variable geometry portable firepit as well as a classic Osborne (of which more later).

The Osborne, running on half a fill of charcoal (about 10p [10cents]) ran for 2 hours. It took 15&minutes to fire up properly after priming with a capful of meths, and the total E.T. to boil 1pt of water was 20 minutes. The next pint took 8 minutes with the stove already fired up. The idea of only hinging 3 sides gives you a flap with which you can open or close to alter the windflow thru the stove. I expect to be able to reduce the above times considerable when I can play with this effectively.

So the Osborne is a great stove for the camp. You set it going with a charge of charcoal and it'll run all evening. (This is really convenient for purifying all tomorrows water from tonight's spring......) But the fire up time makes it useless running charcoal for a brew up by the trail. This is where the flexible firepit idea comes in. Just bend the strip into a shape you can put your pan on, chuck in anything combustible and you have a 5&minute brewup. However, a hobo stove is better for this

An Osborne less great for brewups. It can do the latter but is less effective than a hobostove. The hobostove, however doesn't burn charcoal as efficiently as the Osborne.

An Osborne packs flat and is very easily carried. A hobo doesn't, so you have to either pack it with stuff inside, or tie it to the outside of your sac.

An Osborne needs construction in advance and needs a couple of items which will need to be looked for (grills, grill supports) and requires basic tools. The hobo can be knocked up out of any reasonably sized scrap tin in a couple of minutes with just a knife.

Both are excellent little things, as effective (at least!) as a commercial stove, and cost next to nothing. They both do similar jobs but with slight differences in effectiveness. I reckon its worth playing with both and deciding which suits you best. I shall carry an Osborne if I am camping out for a few nights, and use a hobo on day trips.

[azw@aber.ac.uk (Andy Woodward)]

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