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Wednesday 27 April 2011

Wild garlic

My favourite of all wild flowers is wild garlic, unmistakable and such a verdant green that it just screams "Woods" to me, I love it

In irish folklore wild garlic was a metaphore for bitterness with an old Donegal saying " As bitter as wild garlic", however some of the old ones would nail cloves of wild garlic to the lintel post to ward off the dark one and his coven of witches.

It is also mentioned in the legend Sweeny astray as one of the foods the old County Antrim king depended on for survival when he ran off to live in the wild. It has always been an important food for the Irish who also believed in it's curative powers over coughs, colds, infections , toothache and as a blood cleanser. No wonder it's so highly thought of.

Sunday 24 April 2011

Prepping Artists conk for Amadou

We found a few artists conk (ganoderma) that we can use for amadou, and Buzzard have had a couple of emails asking if the method we use is a sure fire way to produce amadou that works everytime and the short answer is no. It works for us and we have had no problems producing quality amadou but that doesn't mean this is the definitive method. Experiment for yourselves but do please get in touch and let us know the results.

Fresh and straight off the tree

The tubes and outer layers cut off just to reveal the trama of which there was a considerable amount on these

Steeping in the Lye soloution we made not that long ago, note we don't boil the fungus we find steeping it in a quality solution for 24 hours to be just as effective, but there's more than one way to skin a cat!

Pound it flat, dry it out and it's ready to go!

 Note this amadou can take a little longer to take a spark than that prepped with salt peter,but that can vary with humidity, the quality of your steel and other conditions too. Play around with this method to see what works best for you. This stuff burns with a slow smoulder and none of the popping you get with potassium nitrate, happy fire making!!

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Early Summer edibles

We've had a few meanderings over the past couple of evenings and found some very worthwhile summer edibles

a garlic flavoured plant although not in the league of Wild garlic which I much prefer.

Pignuts, we've found a serious amount of these this year, more than we've ever seen before even in places where we have never noticed them before

Skinned and ready to nibble

Burdock root, this was only a small one and fed the 3 of us with ease, lots of them about this year too.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Working with the Cubs

Although we normally just work with the Scouts we were asked to spend some time with the cubs on their recent overnighter. They are all very enthusiastic and active , they certainly kept us on our toes. With these young guys it was a case of a very simple introduction to basic techniques such as firecraft, water purification and camp cooking, all great fun.

First we cut a couple of logs! ;)

Dave gives a brief fire safety talk,

The boys find that worms don't make particularly good tinder!

Acommodation was set up while the fire demo was under way.

No ground fires allowed at this venue so we used this set up, got a good bed of embers, lots of heat and little flame and the kids all made their Twist.. ( Bannock on a stick). This turned out to be so popular that we went through 5lbs of flour and 2lbs of milk powder between 20 kids and 4 adults!! Thats some eating!!

(all parental permissions granted)

Tuesday 12 April 2011

The one hour knife

I wondered if I could make a cutting tool in a very short space of time, so using an old industrial hacksaw blade and a dremel multi-tool I set to work. First was to trim off the teeth of the edge, then shape the blade then grind the edge using the small sanding drum. It is very rough and ready and not at all pretty but in total it took 47 minutes to make and holds a wicked edge as the steel was already hardened and tempered..

Sunday 10 April 2011

Traditional Amadou prep (part 1) Lye solution

We can make our amadou very easily with potassium nitrate and it works every time, but out in the field with next to no true tinder fungus in this part of the world how can we get artists conk to take a spark easily? Now I've heard guys say they just fluff it up and it takes a spark straight away but that doesn't work for me and I've noticed a few other people also tell the truth and say it doesn't work for them either, and that they have to prepare it before hand, and that's what works for us. So to prepare amadou in a traditional way we first need to prepare a lye solution, and this is how we do it although you may do it differently and if you do, let me know your recipe!!

Main component is some very well burnt down wood ash, any excuse for a fire!

Next we remove the white wood ash from the charcoal, I know some guys who just boil it in the wood ash but we've found after numerous tries that the ash can block the amadou and prevent a clean long lasting smoulder.

Next we boiled up 2 litres of water with the wood ash to form the lye, you can also just pore the water over the wood ash and collect it in a bucket but we've found we get a more concentrated product this way.

Then strain the solution to prevent any material clogging the amadou, at this stage we are hoping for a urine coloured liquid to show that enough ash has dissolved in the water, depending on the wood used this colour can vary between green/brown/yellow. Once we have the liquid strained we reduce it to about 1/6th of it's original volume and we've found this is about the right strength for the amadou.

The finished product. Now all you have to do is soak the fungus in this solution and pound it flat and once it's dry you're all set to go.
Please note that this finished solution can be very caustic so don't get any on your skin and if you're going to keep it for later use store it very safely!
If we come across any good ganoderma next time we're out I'll put up another post showing how we finish prepping it, but really it's dead easy from here on!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Scouts Education Programme 2

This was the second session of this years SEP, a wild food walk showing some early spring greens and a little basic field work. It's very disconcerting on a course when instructors show off by naming 100 plants and their uses on the day, chances are after a week you won't remember any! So with this in mind we concentrated on just a half dozen plants found commonly all over the UK and at most times of the year, as well as one or two trees that are useful to the bushcrafter, after all we are not professionals and in no way would we claim to be all knowledgeable, far from it actually, as a matter of fact if someone claims to be an expert just run to the hills! We try to expand our knowledge when we can, but we are still beginners and as prone to a mistake as anybody.

Dave discussing nettles and their multiuse properties.

Celandine roots and cleavers

The kids picking and trying some wild garlic

Harvesting birch bark without damage to the tree

The kids are so conscientious they have even bought their own firesteels, here they are practising in field conditions


Walk back in the dark, talking about fairy thorns and bread and cheese..

It's great to see kids who show such enthusiasm and makes working with them so rewarding.

(all parental permissions granted)

Monday 4 April 2011


One of my all time favourite shrubs (though I do have many) especially when it's fruit is ripe and ready to flavour my favourite liqueur, Sloe vodka..still the folklore is even better

There is probably more lore about the blackthorn than any other tree in Celtic mythology. Blackthorn is associated with Witchcraft. In 1670, in Edinburgh, Major Thomas Weir was burned as a Witch along with his most powerful magical tool - a Blackthorn staff, carved with a Satyrs head, which was said to have fantastic powers - it was even able to fly through the air
Blackthorn in bloom is considered an emblem of life and death together as the flowers appear when the tree has no leaves, just black bark and thorns

In Irish folklore it was believed that the "little people" lived in Blackthorn bushes and these were often referred to as Fairy thorns. These Fairy folk are said to guard Blackthorn trees and will not let you cut branches off it - if you do you will be cursed with bad luck, however if you walked past a blackthorn and a branch tapped you on the shoulder it was a sign that the little people had permitted you to cut a shillelagh for your own protection. It was bad luck to wear the flowers in your buttonhole. Another belief was that a Blackthorn wand with thorns fixed to the ends was harmful and actually if you get a black-thorn in the flesh it quite often turns septic incredibly quickly.In other folk tales, heroes were aided by the Blackthorn tree - if they threw a twig of Blackthorn after them, it would take root and form an impenetrable hedge, thwarting the pursuing of the giant known as Finn McCool, also in some versions it is the blackthorn hedge that causes the prince to lose his eyes when seeking his true love, the Sleeping Beauty.
Still, due to it's incredible magical powers a lot of us old Irish still consider it proper attire to carry a Blackthorn stick when walking.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Crazy Critter Competition

It's been great weather today and we thought we'd take the kids to the shore for a competition to see who could find the weirdest critter. We've noticed a few things over the past few trips but today was a day to kick back and just have fun and behave like big kids, as a matter of fact there was more competition between us than the kids!!

First find was a butterfish, very common but a great little find.

Davy found a rockling, less common, so one up for him.

Stephen then found a short spined sea scorpion, so he was in the lead!

How is it the kids always find starfish?, the common starfish on the left and the cushion star on the right.

I then found a sea hare, there were quite a few about and I even managed to get one to squirt it's ink out. Now some people refer to the dye from Sea hares as TYRIAN Purple, the same stuff that's been used for centuries as a natural dye, but true tyrian purple (aka royal or imperial purple) comes from the Murex found in the Mediterranean. I do believe sea hare ink can be used as an ink but not to the best of my knowledge as a dye.

Then Stephen and I spotted at the same time what I personally think was the winner, a boot lace worm, the longest animal on earth! (Lineus longissimus) is in the phylum Nemertea and is considered by some to be the longest animal on the planet with specimens approaching 200 feet!!! Ours was a small one at about 7 feet, still I think this beauty takes the crown.

Magnificent day out, lots of fun and some incredibly interesting finds to boot, you just don't find things as good as these in a wood!!