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Friday 31 July 2015

Charlock - Synapsis arvensis

Of all the plant families I think I can confidently say that the Crucifereae or Brassicaceae are some of the hardest to positively identify, simple because of the variety, subspecies and hybrids that are so common the world over.
This one though is pretty common all over and a reliable wild food though some sources say it should only be eaten in the spring.

It's one of the brassica family that is readily easy to identify as the leaves are relatively distinct. 
It has been used to cure jaundice in the past as a result of having yellow flowers and was also used as a spring tonic.

the plant can be quite variable in size and leaf shape, so it pays to take your time with it's identification

though as the plant matures it should become simpler, the lower leaves rounded and lobed.

It's taste is quite nice, rather sweet to start but quickly giving over to that mustardy wasabi type kick, I prefer it to Hedge mustard which I find too strong for my taste buds. It is similar in taste to lady's smock or sea radish.

It has a lot of common names and this can be problematic as a few of them ( wild mustard, and field mustard) have also been applied to hedge mustard further confusing an already difficult ID.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Wednesday 22 July 2015

St Patricks Cabbage or London Pride ?

A really nice little plant and quite an unusual one in that it is supposedly absent from all of Britain and only found in Ireland, Portugal and Spain! It's a member of the lusitanian flora which number only about 15 species and is a puzzle in that no one knows why it's growth seems to be restricted to only these places..
Also only supposedly found in the western parts of Ireland, this one is a bit special as I've found it in the east of the country though it was on very acid soils as it's suggested it should be.
That is if it's St Patricks Cabbage in the pictures !!! Though I think it's more likely to be London pride which is actually a hybrid between St Patricks cabbage and another saxifraga.

It's also called "none so pretty" and "look up and kiss me".

Friday 17 July 2015

A Slave to the Grind?

It's pretty certain that old school traditionalist bushcrafters tend to use knives with a zero scandi grind simply because that's what Ray Mears advocated, or at least they believe the knife they are using to have a zero grind.
Lets face it though, if you sharpen free hand then unless you're a robot you can be pretty certain that your treasured zero is starting to change. It could end up more obtuse or even head towards a convex and it really takes a good set of decent stones at home or base camp to keep the edge as true as possible, and these stones are too big or numerous to carry with you all the time.
But consider a true survival situation when all you have is your knife, no Japanese stones, no carborundum stones or fallkniven DC521 and no jigs or sharpening help, how are you going to keep your precious zero in tip top condition, chances are you won't!
 It's one of the hardest edges to keep properly maintained without the correct equipment and technique, and it's hard to find truly flat stones out there in nature that could be utilized for this purpose.
Its a brilliant grind for woodwork but is it the perfect all round grind, usable in every situation?, probably not.

So picture the scenario, a genuine survival situation, little hope of rescue in the immediate future and you've only got your knife, you use it heavily to build a shelter and make traps, the edge is starting to dull, does your favourite grind now allow you to resharpen it with only what you can find around you in nature?
 Mine will, as I've started to rely more heavily on a sabre grind of late...

The sabre grind I choose is obviously higher than a scandi but not a full flat grind, but the key is the micro bevel on the edge that allows me to sharpen the knife without having to worry about the primary bevel at all, I can do this with any type of stone I happen to find, sandstone, basalt and even granite have all worked to provide a very serviceable edge and it only takes a few strokes along the edge..

This is my zero scandi bushcraft blade, I've been using it a lot interchangeably over the past few months and I always take extreme care with the bevel when I get home, as you can see the bevel is perfect and the edge like a razor, japanese stones and a loaded leather strop keep it in perfect condition, but in the bush without these items..

the edge starts to go AWOL. The top knife has been sharpened properly the bottom one which was originally a zero scandi has not

and if you look closely you can see the bevel is no longer flat , it's becoming quite convex and very obtuse, as a matter of fact its at the stage now where it's getting unusable, I can't get a decent edge on it and it no longer will do what I require it to do, simply because I did not have the proper sharpening equipment to keep it in shape. So I can foresee a potential survival scenario where if I started off with a knife like this, after a few months of improper sharpening I'd end up with a useless hunk of metal, certainly not what I'd want to be trusting my life on..

Now look very closely at the edge of this knife, it's got a micro bevel, and it's only this bevel I need to sharpen to keep the knife in tip top shape, therefore I don't need fancy sharpening equipment and I can rely on this knife for a lot longer than one with a true scandi grind. It's a more reliable, versatile and trustworthy tool, one I'd much rather have if I needed to trust my life to it..

So the next time you use your favourite blade, check it's grind, think what would happen if you only had that knife and nothing else, could you trust your life to it? If not maybe you need to rethink what sort of edge your knife should have, actually look at most Mora and Hultafors knives and you'll find that they also come with a micro bevel, there's a reason for that..

Think smart, don't be a slave to the grind.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Fat-Hen, Chenopodium album

The Goosefoot family of plants are relatively hard to identify, particularly as there are a huge number of subspecies and some of them can hybridise freely further confusing things and that makes identification a microscope affair rather than just simply a visual affair.
However this one below is Fat- Hen ( I've crossed referenced this a lot and sought secondary identification on this one too!)
It's got that mealy appearance that fat-hen gets as it gets older, the leaves are that sort of grey/blue green and heavily toothed
It's got those rather easily identifiable flowers just before it goes to seed and this is one way I use this to ID it as the spikes of flowers are different that those on orache, a similar and easily misidentified plant with this one.
The leaves are like a gooses foot (hence the name of this genus) and are a different shape than those of Good King Henry which is another plant it can be confused with..
Tollund man was found to have eaten Fat-hen shortly before he died.
It provides a very nutritious food, very cabbagey in taste but pleasant, it does contain high amounts of oxalic acid but this is broken down with prolonged cooking, and it gives a pleasant meal similar to other beets or chards and it can also be eaten raw in salads.
It's also commonly called Lambs Quarters and a host of other local names.
Although supposedly common all over I don't find it very often here in Northern Ireland.

Sunday 5 July 2015

The Myth of 'Best Before' dates.

How many of us are guilty of throwing out food because it's a little past it's 'best before' date?, quite a few I'm sure, but I don't by into that 'use by' mullarky, I believe food is good for a long time after it's 'use by' or 'best before' date has expired. 
I think nothing of eating a can of food a year after it's use by date and I've even eaten  a can of tomato soup that was 12 years out of date with no ill effect whatsoever.

But recently I found something in one of my old bug out bags that would maybe illustrate this a little for you

I found a chocolate bar in one of my old B.O.B's, a fruit and nut bar to be exact and if you look closely at the date you will see how old it is, I've pictured it beside an in-date Kitkat chunky bar I bought recently just so you can compare the dates..

If you look at the Kitkat you'll see it's out of date in June this year (2015) but the fruit and nut bar from my bag is six years past it's 'Best before' date of march 2009 !

But as for the chocolate inside the wrapper..

absolutely perfect, no problems at all and even the coco butter hasn't turned the chocolate whiteish.. and as for the taste it was gorgeous as good as the day it was bought - 6 years ago!!!
Davy even thought it tasted better than it would have originally!

But use common sense with out of date food, if the can has swollen or is heavily rusted it's best to avoid it, but in reality most food is usable for a lot longer than you think, so don't put it in the trash put it in your belly!