Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Swamp Cucumber

Make no mistake - I am neither a naturalist or a herbalist.  I am a student of survival.  So you will not see me wandering through the tall grass with basket in hand, whistling and collecting items to ground into flour or pickle to store in my cold cellar.

However, there are endless lessons to be learned from those who do.  In any survival situation your knowledge, your skills and your mindset will determine whether you live or die.  So, it should be no surprise that your ability to locate, identify and harvest wild edibles can play a major factor in your ability to survive and thrive in a survival emergency that may become a long term ordeal.

I am a big believer in keeping things simple.  When it comes to wild edibles this becomes very important.  There are many toxic and poisonous plants and trees out there that can be wrongfully identified very easily in a wilderness survival emergency.  That is why I like to teach the most commonly known, easily identified and most useful of the edible plants and trees found locally.

The swamp cucumber, bush zucchini or celery of the wild.  No matter what you call it, it is another one of mother natures true gifts for those who know of its seemingly endless uses.

Easily identified in the fall and winter seasons as the thin, tall stalk topped with the brownish white fluffy wool like material located in the ditches, swamps and other areas with shallow standing water.  In the summer and into the fall it is easily identified as being the "Hot dog on a stick" or brown cigar topped plant.

Whatever you call it and in whatever season you find it, the Cattail (Typha species) has many uses.

In the spring you will locate the new Cattail lush and green,  growing amongst the last seasons wool topped stalks.  The lush new plants will not yet be showing the hot dog top as the yet to be fertilized flower will be protected in a green sheath of leaves.  At this time of year and into the summer months the Cattail is a highly nutritious and edible plant.

Harvested Cattail Shoots
Ready to Eat
To harvest this wild edible you peel back the outer leaves and slide your fingers underneath the leaves and down the stalk toward the bottom of the plant just above water level.  Get a good grip of the stalk and pull straight up.  The plant will come free from the muddy water and display a root.  Peel the outer leaves off of the plant and it will reveal and a slimy, palish bottom portion just above the root.  Usually about 6-10 inches from the bottom.  Cut the plant where the pale portions meets the darker portion further up the stalk and then cut it from the root.  Peel away one more layer from the slimy portion and you have revealed the tasty and nutritious wild edible.

Whether you cook the plant or rinse it and eat it raw the Cattail shoot provides you with beta carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C.  Making it a very important and potentially life saving plant to locate in a survival emergency.

In the summer and fall the female flowers are fertilized and transform into the familiar brown cigars or Hot dog looking plant.  These fertilized flowers can be opened to reveal seeds and white stringy material that be be dried and used for tinder and insulation.  The brown cigars can be utilized to transport fire and the smoke used as a bug repellent.

The stalks were utilized by the First Nations people to make arrows and other tools because the Cattail is known as being the only plant that grows naturally straight. 

The same stalk was also dried and utilized in primitive fire making for the hand drill spindle.

The slimy jelly like substance that can be collected from beneath the green leaves can be utilized as a topical first aid for use on cuts, boils, sores and as pain relief.

The dried leaves from the Cattail can be collected and weaved into mats, bedding, thatching for your shelters roof and baskets and as a natural fire tinder.

So whether it's for the edible swamp cucumber in the spring and early summer or for its tinder and tool making materials in the fall and winter.  Or whether it's for the herbal and medicinal uses year round.  The common Cattail is a plant to research, locate and utilize when out on your next nature walk or hunting excursion.

That swamp plant has the ability and materials to support and sustain you during a wilderness survival experience.  That statement alone makes it seem like an important plant to know.

Knowledge, skills and mindset. 

Arm yourself with the knowledge. 

Practise the skills. 

Prepare your mind.

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