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  Eating Alder Catkins
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 08:57 PM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - Replies (2)

A Note on Eating Alder Catkins

One fine day in mid-March, here on the Olympic Peninsula, found me scouting my new landscape for wild edibles. Old salal berries, huckleberries, rose hips, various leaves and roots, sweet hemlock cambium, licorice fern, earthworms—all fine tidbits for the table. Since there were not many mushrooms this time of year to draw my attention, I actually looked upward once in a while, a direction my forage-vision doesn’t usually go. Leaf-out of deciduous trees and shrubs had just begun, when I noticed that the red alders (Alnus rubra) were sporting thousands of fresh catkins, or hanging spikes of male flowers.

[Image: 51789125.jpg]

“Why not?” I asked myself as I pulled a catkin off its perch and chewed on it. Along with a slightly nutty taste from the yellow, powdery pollen, the catkin structure itself was crunchy and pleasing, if not a little bitter. The questions ran through my mind:

1. Are alder catkins edible?

2. Are they also digestible?

3. Does their nutrition warrant their collection?

Around here, alders seem to limit their distribution to river banks, lake shores and low-lying sedge bogs. They also do well at abandoned homestead sites, presumably due to the removal of competitive species as pioneers cleared their land. In March, the male (5-12cm) and female (2-4cm) catkins emerge just before the leaf buds rupture. My focus here involves the male catkin and its edibility.

[Image: 51789119.jpg]

catkins and pollen

When eating a food for the first time, I like to initially experience it raw—usually any possible gastrointestinal irritation will manifest itself at that time and I can then assess necessary preparation techniques. For ten days I ate ten raw catkins in the morning. Then for 20 days I ate 20 boiled catkins (after drying and collecting the pollen). At no time did I feel any ill effects.

I have found one reference to eating alder catkins. The Plants for a Future Database ([url="http://www.pfaf.org"]www.pfaf.org[/url]), which holds ethnobotanical information on over 7000 plant species, says that the catkins have been eaten raw or cooked and are rich in protein. It also adds that the catkins are astringent and have been chewed to alleviate diarrhea. Here I would add that although I was initially concerned about the digestibility of catkins, there have been no signs of incomplete-breakdown or of unusual intestinal complications during the length of this experiment.

[Image: 51789098.jpg]


Catkin nutrition seems to have been little-studied, so I will divert my focus to the pollen found in and on the male catkins. To walk from my cabin to the nearest alder stand, pick a half-gallon of catkins (which yields about six tablespoons of pollen), and return home takes about 90 minutes. If I may extrapolate from data regarding nutritional composition of hand-collected pollen ([url="http://www.fao.org"]www.fao.org[/url]), six tablespoons—or roughly three ounces—of alder catkins pollen may contain:

- 0.6 oz of crude protein

- 1/3 oz of simple sugars

- 1/6 oz of crude fat

- 1/3 oz of starches

- all amino acids necessary for human health

- over 40 vitamins and minerals

- trace amounts of glucose oxidase, an antibacterial compound

[Image: 51789103.jpg]

boiled alder catkins

I find alder catkins to be a refreshingly seasonal dietary addition, especially when boiled (I liken the taste to corn and potatoes) seasoned with western coltsfoot ash-salt or added raw to boiled worms. I will definitely enjoy them while they last and look forward to experimenting with other catkin-bearing trees and shrubs in the area. If you have any experiences with catkin-eating, please feel free to contact me!

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  Burning Raw Sulfur Primitively
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 08:39 PM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - Replies (4)

i got some natural sulfur crystals from a mineralogist friend and, considering that sulfur is a component of gunpower, and also i'd read that eskimos once rubbed sulfur onto quartz crystals before banging them together flint-and-steel-style to get sparks, i decided to throw some flint-and-steel sparks onto the sulfur to see if anything would happen. Poof! bluish-purple flames appeared! i ground the sulfur up, but noticed that the larger pieces (2-3mm) were the ones that flamed up first.

[Image: 51788148.jpg]

[Image: 51788146.jpg]

anyone out there ever play with sulfur, now or as a kid? what did you do with it? are there any uses for it for an abo? thanks!

in the course of taking the photos, though, i got some heavy whiffs of that burning sulfur. really sharp doses...oh my head...

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  Hand Drill Experiment
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 07:43 PM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - Replies (5)

<brought over from old forum>

my current big secret experiment (not so secret anymore) is to obtain a hand drill spindle and hearthboard (except things like yarrow, that are too small) from every species of tree, shrub, vine and woody flower (like mullein, thistle, etc.) that is native to the US. then i'd test them all, probably in groups based on what floristic province they came from. should be easy, eh? barry keegan once wrote to me about the experiments i've been doing and thought that projects like this would be most valuable if done by a core group of experienced people around the country. i think this group (and i think folks from any experience level could participate in this--more realistic results) should standardize (the best they could) their methods and cross-check certain species that were regional (like redwood) and widespread (like the thistles). i'd be willing to buy such hand drill sets from around the country for $10 a pop. but the materials would have to fit certain criteria:

- spindle and hearthboard has to be cut from dead material (not green-cut). i think weathering and slight fungal deterioration of the cellulose and/or lignin improves friction fire wood.

- spindles should be reasonably straight, around 3/8" at the working end, and at least a foot long

- hearthboards should be at least 1" wide and at least 1/2" thick

as soon as i can rustle up the funds, i'm going to get a 1/2 page advertisement in the Bulletin of Primitive Technology for this. in an effort to reclaim our lost knowledge of such things (and hence our survival heritage), i'd like to see some folks get together and share our friction fire results (from bow drill to fire thong).

if you're interested in any of this, please contact me.

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  Preferred Bow Drill Materials
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 07:37 PM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - No Replies

<brought over from the old forum>

although the bulk of my bow/hand drill experience is in CA and WA, i've found that, generally, species that are in the same genus as woods that you know are good for friction fire tend to be good as well. i've had success with burdock as a spindle. i'd be suprised if someone used cattail for bow drill (too thin/flimsy). a lot of people poo-poo the value of pine in friction fire, but it's been good to me (shore pine, jeffrey's pine, ponderosa pine)--although it's a picky wood. some pieces work, some don't.

regarding combinations, my experimentation leads me to believe that using species of wood on themselves adds only a very slight advantage over using different woods on each other. here's a list of woods i experimented with in california...

for bow drill:


Blue Elderberry

CA Buckeye

Coast Redwood

Douglas Fir


Big-leaf Maple

Hairy Honeysuckle

Western Red Cedar


Monterey Pine

Wild Grape


Wood Rose



Box Elder

Blue Gum Eucalyptus

Wild Cherry


Canyon Gooseberry

English Ivy

Cherry Plum

Willow sp.

Santa Cruz Cypress


CA Bay Laurel

Scotch Broom

CA Sagebrush

Amer. Dogwood

Pacific Rhododendron

Tree Lupine

Burning Bush

Moderately Difficult

White Alder

Coyote Brush

CA Wild Lilac


CA Hazelnut

Tan Oak

Evergreen Huckleberry

Pac. Wax Myrtle

Pretty Difficult

Ocean Spray


Interior Live Oak

Himalayan Blackberry


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  Nature-barter Newsletter Ideas
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 07:25 PM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - No Replies

i've been a proponent for a nation-wide, natural items bartering newsletter for a while and would like to create one if there were enough people to support it.

- i'd put an issue out quarterly--on each solstice and equinox

- it would be free

- folks would have to re-submit their "ad" each issue to prevent deadwood from jamming up the process (i get a lot of dead links and faulty addresses when answering ads from the bulletin of primitive technology, for example)

- i'd post it on my website (http://www.stoneageskills.com--under construction) or mail it if people prefer

- i (or anyone who would want to) would spotlight an item each issue and it's usefulness (herb, mushroom, wood, bone, stone, etc.)

- i would advertise it in wilderness way mag., BPT, forums, etc.

- people could barter or offer cash for the items

this subject has been discussed before in a limited fashion. i've decided to keep it natural items only--there are plenty of The Trader mags out there. anyone got ideas about this? interested in submitting an ad?

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  Hey, Dirttime Dude...
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 05:44 PM - Forum: Questions and Answers - Replies (20)

since you've been doing the survival skills for 50 years, have you ever written any articles or books that one could get a hold of? if not, i think you should before you die and all that info rots into the ground <img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/wink.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Wink' /> . if you can't write, you could find your version of a Brandt Morgan--like TBJ did--and get all that good stuff down on paper...

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  How Do I Check What Previous Posts I Sent?
Posted by: Limey Pete - 04-22-2004, 03:34 PM - Forum: Questions and Answers - Replies (5)

I can never remember where I have been – same in the woods really.

Is it possible to put a picture in among your post, anyone?

And what shoes should a chap wear with his Ku Klux Klan robe?

Or would cowboy boots be more appropriate?

I don’t wear spectacles but if I did, would a chap wear them on the outside of his Ku Klux Klan hood or inside?

<img src='http://www.hoodswoods.net/IVB/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/biggrin.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt='Big Grin' /> Regards L P

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  Stone-age Implements
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 03:31 PM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - Replies (5)

thought i'd share some tools that i and others have made...

banded slate and dogbane necklace (made by jeff gottlieb), bone awl with rawhide and cordage handle (started by jeff gottlieb and finished by me), flint embedded in antler and marcasite for two-stone fire-starting (given to me by ken wee):

[Image: 51763673.jpg]

soaproot brush with soaproot handle, elk antler chisel:

[Image: 51763650.jpg]

obsidian spear point:

[Image: 51763660.jpg]

obsidian cutting tool that jim riggs (i think) made--i consider the craftsmanship of this piece the epitome of functional knapping (bordering on the aesthetic):

[Image: 51763667.jpg]

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  Making A Quartz Burin
Posted by: storm - 04-22-2004, 06:28 AM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - Replies (3)

does anyone know how to make a quartz burin? i want a few to engrave soft stone, to incise antler and bone, and for their utilitarian sharp edges. do you pound it with a rock and hope for the best, or is their any actual knapping involved?

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  Coal-burning A Better Container
Posted by: storm - 04-21-2004, 09:50 PM - Forum: Hoodlum Workshop-Photos Please - Replies (13)

on this nice, sunny day i was fortunate enough to finish coal-burning a second wooden container--this time, no major cracks!

here's the nearly finished product (i still want to polish the surface of the bowl). i think this photo illustrates the effectiveness of my quartz scraper:

[Image: 51712893.jpg]

this is a close-up of that quartz crystal bed scraper:

[Image: 51712889.jpg]

i'll post a photo of the final product (in action) soon. i feel very satisfied to have a container to stone-boil in. it will affect the way i prepare a lot of my food now and give me the opportunity to dig deeper into the primitive lifestyle...

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