Thursday, October 23, 2008

Botanical Gardens, Pt. II

Yeah so here's the continuation of some of the pictures I took at the Botanical Gardens this weekend.
It was a really cool experience to check out different plants and see which ones were used as food or for other purposes by the native Americans. One thing I'd like to stress though is that this is in California, I can't guarantee that a plant that looks like one of these is the same thing in other climates or parts of the country, so always do the research and find out about the plants native to your area before taking it for granted that something is safe to eat!

This is the California Bay tree. The trunk looked to me like a sort of grayish color, rough, but not cracked deep at all, I'd actually almost call it smooth but that would be confusing after I said it was kind of rough, there's a little picture down there within the pic. Anyway, Native Americans used to burn the leaves in their sweat lodges in order to mask their scent when hunting. People who aren't hunters probably don't think about how unbelievably easy a deer (or many other animals) can smell a human, so this could be very important in the wild if you needed to hunt discretely.

This one is the Sword Fern. It's differentiated by the tubers, stolons, and rhizomes it produces, the last of which are edible. A Rhizome is a root-like stem that creeps along underground. Stolons are stems that creep above or barely right below the surface of the ground, popping new plants out of their nodes. Tubers, which are roundish-to-oblong food-stores for the plant. A potato is an example of a tuber. As far as I've found, only the rhizomes of the Sword Fern are edible.

This guy is the Black Hawthorne. It's characterized by being a very bushy vertically growing shrub (sometimes even a very small tree) with thin thorny branches and leaves that are serrated (not smooth). The serration can vary from large to small serrations. It also grows little white flowers with green-tinged centers.
The cool thing about this one is that it grows berries that are edible. The berries are reddish when growing and eventually become a deep purple or black when ripe.
The Dwarf Oregon-grape (the darker green plant in the picture below) as you can see attracts animals with it's dark blue grape-like fruits. They're not real grapes, though they resemble them, and while they are edible to humans, they're very bitter. The importance of knowing what plants attract animals is that animals can be food. Considering that most animals have a huge advantage over us as far as self defense mechanisms and the ability to detect and evade us with their heightened sense, it can be a big help to be able to locate a food or water source where you know animals will eventually come around. Anyway, these can also be distinguised by the fact that they bloom yellow flowers in the spring.
Didn't see much wildlife, just really really tiny lizards and a mob of crows...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Botanical Gardens

Last night I went to a concert and got drunk... but today I shook it off and headed out to my local botanical gardens. I went there with the intention of starting to learn about the plant life native to my state (California) and what the native people used to use these plants for. I did learn a few very interesting things and I picked up a couple books on the subject as well.

I took some pictures so you can check stuff out now, but as I read these books I'll be sure to mention anything particularly cool that I find.

Here's the pics: (if I start doing this often I'll have to get myself a flickr account

This is Oregon Iris. According to the little placard it's fibers can be used for cordage. I guess you'd have to strip off the many leaf-stems on one of the main branches first and somehow strip that into fibers. I'm very interested in learning how this is done!

This is the California Buckeye. It blooms fruits in the summer and has snowy-white pink flowers. ATTENTION! This thing is TOXIC==POISONOUS!!! Good thing I saw it here first. If you were lost in the wilderness wouldn't you test out a fruit as harmless looking as this? According to the placard this was used by the natives as fish poison. I don't understand exactly what that means though. Used to poison a fish to kill it? Wouldnt that make it inedible? I'm very interested in finding out the specifics about this.

Ahhh the California Juniper. I'm used to seeing Juniper bushes used as hedges in front of many houses and in other public places. What I didn't know is that the branches and especially large dried-out trunks were prized for bow-wood, and the leaves were used as medicine, which is definitely something I'd like to learn more about.
More California Juniper. Up there is the leaves, down here is the bark.

Yucca Whipplei, aka "Our Lord's Candle." This is a very awesome plant. According to the sign: "Indian uses: food, stalk for tinder, leaf fibers for cordage & sandals." Again a plant I'm very interested in learning more about, specifically how to make it's prepared as food, and how to make sandals out of it's leaves! You know us Californians with our beaches and our sandal-rocking in February, haha...

That's all I've got time for right now but I'll try to post more tomorrow or the next day. Lots of studying to do though so we'll see...

One interesting thing to note: No palm trees anywhere. I remember hearing from a friend at some point that Palm Trees are not native to our area so I'd like to find out if this is true. It's just kind of interesting considering that the rest of the country probably associates Palm trees with California and Florida... I wonder if they're native to Florida for that matter...

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Okay, so survivalism isn't just about knowing wilderness survival and stuff. It's also about surviving tough economic times like this. What would you do if the price of food rose astronomically? Wouldn't it be wise to make your own food if it was cheaper that way? Do you know what kinds of food preserve well and will last you for months if need be?

One of the things I heard about on Jack Spirko's "The Surival Podcast" is being self sufficient. Growing and making your own food to save money. One of those things is making your own bread and a fun little thing to try might be trying to make beer-bread, so as suggested, I gave it a shot.

THE INGREDIENTS: there are many different variations and you can really make the recipie your own by experimenting but here's what I used:

  1. 3 cups Flour (sifted)
  2. 1/4 cup Sugar
  3. 1 tablespoon fresh Baking Powder
  4. 1 teaspoon Salt
  5. 1 (12oz) bottle of Beer
  6. You'll also need a breadpan, wooden spoon, measuring tools(tbsp, tsp, cup) and butter to grease the breadpan.
**I added a little extra sugar, baking powder and beer.

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. It'll be hard to do after the beer is added.

  3. Add in the beer. As you stir, the beer with react with the dry ingredients to make the mixture very sticky and very hard to mix. Just put some muscle into it and use a good strong wooden spoon. You can add another couple ounces of beer if you want, I did and found it loosened everything up just a little and made it easier to stir.
  4. Put it all in a greased breadpan and bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes.
  5. Let it cool for a while in the pan, then a little more out of the pan, then dig in!


Store in a nice dry place like any other bread. Got a breadbox? Cool. I don't :(

Whether it's a plus or a minus for you, don't worry about the alchohol, it dissolves once you bake it.

Make sure you sift the flour to make the bread lighter and fluffier, not like a brick.

Also note the crust is often hard. There are ways to change this (i think the melted-butter on top thing will, haven't tried it myself yet) but this is generally to be expected.

As mentioned before you can really tweak things and add things to make this recipie your own. The recipie I used suggested sprinkling extra sugar on top to make a nice sweet crust so I did.
I've also heard it recommended to pour melted butter and garlic-salt on top, or add garlic and/or herbs to the dry mixture. Either try your own experiments for look stuff up online for ideas.

It's remarkably quick and easy to make but it can be screwed up if you do things wrong, like don't sift the flour, or don't store it right. Mine was delicious the night I made it, but quickly wen't nasty because I don't have a good place to store it. It's worth mastering though b/c it's quick to make and it ends up being a good snack or dinner-side that's cheaper than buying something.

Ah! One last note!I don't think it matters what kind of beer you use, but it might be interesting to experiment with different kinds. I first heard that light beer works best so I used Miller, but while baking I read online that for folks who want to try heavier beer, you should add things like garlic and herbs and butter if you use heavier beers like Guiness. Anyway, have fun!

***Also: I took more pics, but my memory card was loose so most of them didn't save properly, hence no pics of the sticky beer-included mixture, nor the baking.

Monday, October 6, 2008


0. the story
Today I made my own charcloth.

Charcloth is charcoal-like fabric that catches an ember or spark very well and retains that heat, burning slowly to make it useful for igniting kindling to start a fire.

It is made by burning the fabric used to make it in the absence of oxygen so that it gets all of the oxygen and moisture sucked out of it and gets charred without being consumed by actual flame. What's left over is a black brittle thin charred cloth.

I made my own today and will share the steps and specifics of how to make it with pretty pictures.

1. the materials
a. The right cloth. Use only 100% pure cotton cloth. T-Shirts work well, but make sure it's not too thin. Color doesn't really matter, but White is preferable because it makes it easiest to see the change that happens to the cloth.
b. Scissors
c. An tin container with an air-tight lid. Just think ALTOIDS. You can use one of those containers. Personally, I used a tin container that my Ren & Stimpy Uno cards came in.
d. A knife, or other sharp pointed metal object. I guess you could even use a good hard-tipped ballpoint, but don't blame me if you eff up your favorite pen. I said knife first. ;)
e. Matches or maybe a lighter. Something to start the fire.
f-g. A fire... which progresses to a burned down fire, or even a little tiny camp stove thingy. Anything that will burn very hot, Such as the extremely hot coals of dying fire.
The thing you don't want is a lot of huge crazy flames

2. the steps
a. Cut the cloth into pieces using your scissors, that will fit in your container.
b. Poke a teensy hole in the lid of the tin container with the sharp object. It should be very small. Not pinhead small, but small.
c. stick cloth in the container and close the lid.
d-e. Start the fire, at let it burn down
f. Place the container filled with cloth on the hot coals. Lots of white smoke will start billowing out of the hole
g. When it's all cool take it off and open 'er up! You haz charcloth!

3. the f.y.i.'s
a. You don't need a raging fire to heat the tin up. It won't hurt if the coals are flaming a bit, but it doesn't need to be like roaring fireplace.
b. The hole in the lid is very important! When you put the tin on the hot coals, it's going to heat up the inside of the tin, causing any oxygen and moisture inside to expand and spew out the of the hole in a white colored smoke. If you don't have the hole on the top, the expanding gasses will have nowhere to go, causing the lid to explode off, and the last thing you want is a hot tin object flying off into your face or anyone else's.
c. Since hot coals are obviously going to start cooling, you can put some more wood/coals around the tin to be lit up and keep everything nice and blazing hot inside that container. It needs to be hot enough to char the crap out of the cloth inside but again, not raging-fireplace-hot.
d. you're going to want to do this outside, not on your stove. Whatever ink or print on the container is probably going to melt off onto your stove or burn up into a rather bad-smelling toxicky smoke which you don't want that floating in your air.
e. When the white smoke stops billowing out from the whole in your lid, it should be good, but just leave it there until your container and coals have cooled enough to make it safe to touch and remove.
f. When all's cool you should have some nice charcloth inside! gratz!

g. The lid may be hard to take off, just so you know, because the metal might expand a bit, or any print on the tin might melt over the lid and container. Just put some muscle into it.
Appendix: Afterthoughts
I made the mistake of doing mine over a very violently burning fire because I had trouble controlling the flame. I think this made the process happen too fast because it burned through the coals and wood fuel very very quickly so it got very nice and hot, but it burned out too fast to make sure the process was thoroughly completed. Try doing it nice and slow if you can. It takes practice to get the kind of fire and heat you need to do this.
It might also take more than one try to find the right cloth. I used a very old undershirt t-shirt which was too thin so my cloth came out overly brittle.
Mine didn't hold an ember very well unless I assisted it by blowing to keep oxygen flowing to it.
I also found lots of shiny material inside my container with the cloth. I'm guessing it was the ink from the print on top of the can leaking inside through the hole and causing this chemical residue to be left behind.
Hopefully the next time I try this I will be more successful because I'll more evenly and effectively create a bed and nest of hot coals to evenly and thoroughly heat my container and use a thicker T-shirt.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Survival Websites

The Survival Podcast
Yo, people. Just wanted to spread the word about a podcast I've been listening to.

This man in Texas runs a website at
His shows consist of a huge range of topics having to do with the various concepts of survivalism. Everything from keeping your head above the water if our economy fails, to self-sufficiency in food growing and hunting, to more hands-on skills for survival that you ought to know and even the mindset one should have.

A couple shows I liked:

Survival Topics
Another very cool website is which offers almost strictly practical hands-on wilderness survival instructions, ideas and the like.
That's where I bought my firesteel and paracord, and where I've learned about quite a few of the things I really want to try which I will be posting about.

If anybody has any other cool websites on anything from plants and animals to camping and survival advice please let me know.