Cocoa: The 11th C of Survivability

by Todd Walker

Cocoa: The 11th C of Survivability | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com


With winter over, at least in Georgia, you might be tempted to stash that can of cocoa powder in the cupboard for your spring and summer outdoor adventures. Leaving this viral elixir home, my friend, would be a costly survival mistake!

I’m kidding… or am I?

You see, the ancient Mayan civilization prized the wild cacao tree (Botanical name: Theobroma cacao) which means “Food of the Gods”, also dubbed “Black Gold.” So valuable in fact, early visitors to the New World noted that the cocoa bean was used as currency. Back then, money did grow on trees!

Cacao or Cocoa?


They’re the same thing… only different. Raw cacao seeds are harvested for the beans which are then dried, fermented, roasted, and ground into a powder. This process produces cocoa and heavenly chocolate.

For maximum health benefits, raw, cold-pressed cacao beans retain the living enzymes that are lost in the traditional roasting process. Even with high temperature processing (Dutch), there’s still plenty of goodness remaining in the cocoa powder.

No matter what you call it, simply add water to make an ancient, frothy energy drink sipped by royals, warriors, and elites… without all the crappy additives in a can of Red Bull. Drinking hot cocoa made with dairy inhibits the absorption of all the great enzymes.

All who drink in this manner gain strength, endurance, energy, mood-enhancement, and nourishment from this frothy concoction. Cocoa is more than a kiddy drink on cold nights.

The 11th C of Survivability

As a student of Dave Canterbury, I practice his system of survivability. I’ve written about the importance of carrying the 10 C’s of Survivability here and here. However, I submit to you an additional kit item, the 11th C… cocoa!

Here’s why…

Each item in your 10 Piece Kit must have at least three uses other than its intended purpose. Otherwise it doesn’t meet the standard of Survivability and becomes a luxury item.

While it won’t make Dave’s official 10 C’s list, cocoa is more than a luxurious hot beverage sipped around the campfire. A tin of cocoa shouldn’t be overlooked as important in effecting your most critical survival priority…

Priority #1: Self-Aid

Staying alive in a wilderness survival scenario requires that you maintain common sense and avoid stupid stuff. Experts tell us to stay calm and formulate a plan for self-rescue or wait to be found. Easier said than done when your stress meter is pegged on red. This is the perfect time to STOP (Sit, Think, Observe, and Plan).

If your situation allows, make a cup of hot cocoa. By the time you see the bottom of your cup, hopefully, you’ll not only have figured out your plan, you’ll have the energy to carry out said plan.

Benefits of Cocoa

  • Energy – You’ll need the energy after the adrenaline and panic settles.

“This drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.” – Anonymous conquistador

  • Morale – Cocoa raises serotonin levels in our brains stimulating neurotransmitters to lift our mood, fight depression, and rejuvenate our spirit. Oh, and lowers your stress level and improves focus and alertness.
  • Endorphins – These natural chemicals are released in the human body to relieve stress and pain. Cocoa triggers the release of these feel-good chemicals.
  • Antioxidants – Your body undergoes “biological rusting” or oxidation. Antioxidants slow this process. Raw cacao powder contains more than 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate. [Read more cacao facts at Mercola.com] Granted, this won’t be your biggest concern for short-term survival but certainly boosts your overall health.
  • ♥ Cocoa – Cocoa reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, high blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of cancer. Furthermore, cocoa consumption is associated with reduced cognitive decline in old age. –  Source

 Priority #2: Food 

Cocoa: The 11th C of Survivability | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Rations for each man on Robert Falcon Scott’s race to the South Pole: 450g biscuit, 340g pemmican, 85g sugar, 57g butter, 24g tea, 16g cocoa. ~ Photo courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute

  • Raw Cacao – Rich in nutritional value and solidly beats other antioxidant-rich super foods like green tea, blueberries, and pomegranate. Cacao’s nutrition profile includes protein, fat, certain B-vitamins and minerals such as calcium, sulfur, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and copper.
  • Flavonoids – Cocoa’s high flavonoid content helps to prevent your body from secreting excessive fluids… the cause of diarrhea. No fun in the woods. Unchecked, dehydration is close behind.
  • Dark Chocolate – Cocoa butter, an extraction from the cacao bean, is found in high-cacao chocolate bars. Healthy monounsaturated and saturated fat helps maintain a feeling of being full. The dark chocolate I buy comes wrapped in foil… which can be used to make fire with the batteries from your flashlight.

Priority #3: Container

Of course, this one may be a stretch. But still, if you stow your cocoa powder in a metal tin, the container could be pressed into service for boiling water or charring material.

Cocoa: The 11th C of Survivability | www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I enjoy an occasional cup of hot cocoa over an open fire with a pinch of cayenne pepper. However, after researching this article, I’m considering adding cocoa to my daily diet. The benefits of packing a 6 ounce metal tin of cocoa powder (not the sugary pre-mixed stuff) warrants the label… “The 11th C of Survivability“.

Additional Resources:

  1. http://flyingwoodsman.blogspot.com/2014/12/a-real-manly-drink.html
  2. http://www.medicinehunter.com/brief-history-cocoa
  3. http://www.naturalnews.com/029156_cacao_chocolate.html##ixzz3UM20hOtp
  4. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/why-you-should-eat-and-drink-high-cacao-dark-chocolate/#axzz3TyjmAM7n
  5. http://foodfacts.mercola.com/cacao.html

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: Bushcrafting, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Natural Health, Preparedness, Real Food, Survival | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The Woodsman’s Secret to a Well-Hung Ax

by Todd Walker

There may come a day when axes top the list of must-have tools for harvesting wood. I can see a couple of pending scenarios where owning a well-hung ax is preferred. And no, the Zombie Apocalypse ain’t one of them!


My top reason appeals to manliness – and self-reliance. My “prepping” paradigm continues to shift from consumerism to self-reliance at a startling pace. With the river of shiny survival stuff flooding the banks of the preparedness community, I began to realize my need to go balls to the wall on traditional skills. Forgotten skills. Like how to properly re-handling an ax.

A point of pride for ax aficionados is how well a cutting tool is hung. The way in which an ax is mounted on a wooden handle (haft or helve) is called the hang…. and getting the hang of it takes practice.

Question: Do you want to be known as the woodsman with a well-hung cutting tool?

If so, here’s how to…

Get the Hang of it

I own a fiberglass handled sledge-hammer and splitting maul. Those tools are mere blunt objects that serve a purpose. Box store axes fall into this same “blunt object” category. But a real ax is a work of art, a thing of beauty, and a joy forever. And art work deserves to be hung well.

I refuse to buy or ever consider owning an ax without a wooden handle. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the feel of a hickory handled striking tool. Tradition matters! So does performance.

Before the turn of last century, a good ax head often came without a handle. Woodsmen, lumberjacks, pioneers, and homesteaders had their favorite handle pattern they created from wood staves. The tried and true designs became family heirlooms.


Because a well-hung ax feels right in your hands. Balance, angle, flexibility, length, weight, and diameter combine for the perfect hang.

Choose Good Wood

The traditional wood used for an ax, adze, and hammer is hickory. When selecting a handle, pay close attention to the run of the wood grain and color. You’re big box hardware store may have a decent handle. I lucked up and found one at a local “Ace is the place” store. This handle will be hung on an old ax I bought at a yard sale a few year back. Nothing special – but almost free – and works for my application.


Some stuff needed to hang an ax… the adze and froe were added for no apparent reason.

No matter where you get your new haft, check the run of the wood grain from the side view. Grain running perpendicular to the handle won’t last long. Look for grain running parallel the whole length. A few stray grains won’t hurt.

Now check the butt end of the handle. Grain running vertically on the end is what you’re after. Horizontal grain in striking tools won’t absorb constant shocks.

The Definitive Guide to a Well-Hung Ax

Vertical grain on the left. Image source

Avoid painted or varnished handles. Paint covers a multitude of sins. A clear varnish can be sanded off if it meets good wood standards and an eye-ball test.

Color Counts

Hickory heart wood is reddish in color. You’re likely to find this in low-grade handles. Look for white sap wood handles. My handle has hints of heartwood but is mostly made of the outer white wood.

Size Matters

The size of your handle depends on the weight of your ax. For our purposes here, we aren’t dealing with specialty S-shaped hafts for broad axes. Today we’re talking about axes used for chopping, splitting, and self-reliance tasks.

Haft length depends on the job and personal preference. Longer handles (36″) for felling and chopping large timber, shorter for lighter work. How short? Pictured below is my Wetterlings Ax. Sadly, I didn’t find this one at a yard sale.


Wetterlings Backwoods Ax measures 16″ long

Hanging Procedures

Gather your supplies. You’ll need a handle, wooden wedge, wood glue, hammer or wooden mallet, rasp, sand paper, gloves, saw (hacksaw or reciprocating metal blade), punch, boiled linseed oil, and a vise helps. Don’t have a vise? Improvise with two sections of 4×4 to support the ax-head.


Some stuff need to hang an ax

First, remove the old handle. Saw it off near the bottom of the ax-head. Use a large diameter punch and hammer to drive the remaining wood out of the eye of the ax. I used a section of 5/8 all-thread. If epoxy was used on the head on the last handle, you may have to remove the wood with a drill.


Don’t clamp the ax-head in the vise unless you don’t mind it being scared. Rest it over a gap in the vise to remove the wood.

Turn the ax-head upside down and drive the old wood out through the top of the eye. The eye on axes are tapered from the bottom to the top – small to large. The old rotted handle on this one was easily removed.


First fit with the new handle

Insert the new haft into the eye from the bottom opening. The ax-head will leave marks on the wood showing you how much wood to remove for proper seating. It needs to sit on the shoulder of the new handle. Mine needed to go another two inches to make that point.


Taking off wood with a rasp

Remove the new handle again and grab your rasp. You can use power tools to remove the excess wood. Be careful not to take too much off though. You can’t glue saw dust back on.


Final fit… after removing extra wood three times.

Once you have a good fit on the haft, apply wood glue to both sides of your wooden wedge. Don’t coat the entire wedge. Spread the glue on the bottom half of the wedge to prevent squeezing glue out of the slotted kerf end of the handle.


I leave about a 1/4″ of the handle above the ax-head.

Use a block of wood or a wooden mallet to drive the wedge into the slotted end. This creates even pressure on the wedge to keep it from splitting. Cut the remaining wedge and excess handle off. I leave about 1/8″ to 1/4″ above the head.


Metal wedge across the wooden wedge

Drive a metal wedge small enough to expand the wood without splitting the handle. Hardware stores sell metal wedges in various sizes for your application. Don’t use nails or screws. Ever seen an ax-head with nails bent over the top edge in an attempt to keep it mounted? NOT pretty… or safe!

Counter sink the metal wedge with a punch. Some folks skip the metal wedge for worries of splitting the handle at the top of the eye. A proper sized metal wedge shouldn’t split the kerf portion. I like the added security.


If your haft came from a box store, it’s likely varnished. Sand the varnish off with 180 grit sand paper. Apply 2 or 3 coats of linseed oil to the wood. Generous amounts should be used at the top eye area.


Applied to latex gloves and spread on the haft

Latex gloves come in handy for this task.


Nothing like a woodsman’s well-hung ax!


Not bad for an “almost free” yard sale find!

Keep Doing the Stuff!


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Copyright Information: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcrafting, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Homesteading, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 28 Comments

Resin-Rich Fat Lighter’d: Nature’s Most Prized Fire-starter

by Todd Walker

Uncle Otha would tell us boys to gather some ‘fat lighter’d’ while out hunting squirrels. He was a retired Army cook and our personal camp chef. Squirrel stew at its finest!

What is fat lighter’d?

You may know it by another name – fatwood, lighter wood, fat lighter, pine knot, lighter knot, or something else. Fat lighter’d, as Uncle Otha called it, is a 100% nature-made fire starter. The resin in conifers concentrates in the base of the tree. If a pine is cut down or dies by disease or storm, the pine resin will harden and preserve the wood.

While hunting yesterday, I ran across what you’d look for when searching for fat lighter’d.

This pine tree was snapped in half by a storm

This pine tree was snapped in half by a storm

The base of the tree’s trunk had been damaged. Pitch (resin) had moved to the area to seal the wound. Though it had not been dead for too many years, fatwood had already formed around the existing injury.


Resin-Rich Fat Lighter'd: Nature's Most Prized Firestarter

Resin-rich fatwood!

Resin-Rich Fat Lighter'd: Nature's Most Prized Firestarter

Fat lighter’d has a unique smell and amber color

You can also find fat lighter’d stumps and heart pine core preserved on the ground. Old homestead fence posts turn into fatwood as well.

How to use fat lighter’d

Cut the fatwood into 6 to 8 inch long sections. I like to split these sections into finger size pieces.

My plumber daddy taught me the plumber's vise to cut pipe and kindling in the field.

Cutting a baton in my plumber’s vise

DSCN0159Fat lighter’d splits easily and can be done without a baton. With short pieces, it’s better to be safe than sorry.



With your cutting tool, make a feather stick from one piece of fatwood. The curled strips will catch a flame and ignite the remaining stock of lighter’d. Even if wet, it catches fire quickly.


Resin-Rich Fat Lighter'd: Nature's Most Prized Firestarter

A butane lighter sets the feathered stick on fire

The above photo shows me using a butane lighter. You can also start fatwood with a ferro rod.


Use the back of your knife to scrape fine shavings off. Gather them into a pile and ignite with the sparks from a ferro rod.


Before I could get back to my camera tripod to photo the flaming pile of fine fat shavings, the flame was all but extinguished. The resin is very flammable. Place the shavings in your tinder material before showering sparks!

Fat Lighter’d Facts

  • No chemicals or petroleum added
  • Smoke from fat lighter’d makes a great mosquito repellant
  • The long leaf pine, which was clear-cut to almost extinction, is the best pitch producing pine tree
  • The term ‘fatwood’ came about from the wood in pine stumps being “fat” with resin that was highly flammable
  • There are between 105 and 125 species classified as resinous pine trees around the world. ~ Wikipedia

If your area doesn’t produce fatwood, what natural fire starter do you prefer?

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Bushcrafting, Camping, Self-reliance | Tags: , , | 28 Comments

Lighten Your BOB: Pack The Alpha Tent

I spotted this while visiting Paratus Familia Blog. Here’s Enola Gay’s full post on their experiment with the Alpha Tent.

The Awesome Alpha Tent

When we posted our adventures with the Survival Net, one of our readers sent a link that he thought Sir Knight might enjoy.  The link was for the Alpha tent, fashioned from nothing more than a USGI Military Issue Poncho, tent poles and 4 wire nuts.  Thats it!  The wonderful thing about this tent is that is consists mainly of things you already carry in your gear so you are not adding unnecessary weight and bulk.  And, did I mention this was really cool?  To get the real skinny on this tent, and the gentlemen who came up with the idea, you must go to his site, Alpharubicon.  He has dimensions, specifics on the components and explanations for the uses of the Alpha tent.

Knowing a good thing when he sees it, Sir Knight began compiling the necessary articles to put together his own Alpha tent.  He already had a USGI poncho, so he laid it on the ground and measured it to be sure it was the same size as the one used on the Alpha tent site.  Next, he dug up some tent poles that we had saved from a long-ago defunct tent, measured them and proceeded to cut them down to the correct size for the tent.  Sir Knight cut each pole to the same size, rather than just cutting down the one pole that was too long, so that the tent poles bent in the correct manner when inserted into the poncho.  After cutting the poles, he strung the shock cord through the modified poles, tied it off at the end and fitted RED wire nuts to each end of the poles.  The wire nuts keep the poles from going through the grommets on the corners of the poncho and red wire nuts are the perfect size.  The directions on the Alpha tent website instruct you to drill a hole through the wire nuts and run the shock cord through the holes and tie them off.  Because of technical difficulties with our poles, we glued the wire nuts on instead.  The shock cord through the nuts would have been a better option, however, we made do with the materials that were available to us.

Wire nuts through the grommets

Once the tent poles were inserted into the grommets, we tied them down with cording that was already in the poncho.  It was almost like they were designed with the Alpha tent in mind!  Within a matter of minutes we had put together a lightweight one man tent, camouflaged and with a reduced IR signature, with nothing but a poncho, 4 wire nuts and some cast-off tent poles.  The folks at Alpharubicon really know their stuff!

Poles tied to the cording
The Alpha tent can even float your gear across creeks!
Very roomy

It makes perfect sense to fill your 1st and 2nd line kits with a few articles that have multiple purposes.  Rather than carrying a poncho and survival net and a hammock and a tent, you can carry a poncho, a net and a few odds and ends and still have all your bases covered.

USGI Poncho’s can be challenging to find, but really, you can use any poncho.  The difference is that you will have to measure your poncho and customize your tent poles accordingly.

Thank you for coming along for the ride as Sir Knight and I pare down our kits to the bare essentials and find out what works and what doesn’t.  Try an Alpha tent of your own and let us know what you think.


Categories: Bushcrafting, Camping, DIY Preparedness, DIY Preparedness Projects, Equipment, Frugal Preps, Preparedness, Self-reliance, SHTF, TEOTWAWKI | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy (Including Plain Hot Water?)

Poison ivy

Poison ivy, with its “leaves of three.”

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Lately, several desperate-sounding readers have asked about home remedies for poison ivy. I feel sorry for them. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac—whichever grows in your neck of the woods—can cause some of the worst itching known to mankind. And it can last as long as a couple of weeks.

And all you who brag you can wallow in the stuff without as much as a scratch: Your day may be coming. As with other allergies, you can not be allergic all your life and, wham, one day you feel the itch and see the blisters. After that, you’ve become one of the chosen—allergic for life.

There’s no vaccine and no surefire cure for rashes from poison ivy and the like. But here are some things you can do.


1. Know what the poison plant looks like and avoid it.
If you know you’re allergic, first thing is you better dang-well know what the plant looks like and stay away from it. Leaves of three, let them be.

I know, I know. Not all leaves of three are poison ivy, oak, or sumac. But, if you’re like me and not really an expert in plant identification, I’d advise not taking a chance. Even vines and stems without the leaves can cause the rash, so unless I’m sure, I’m staying away from vines also.

Jewelweed flower

A flowering spotted jewelweed. This plant is a natural home remedy for poison ivy.

2. Look out for jewelweed too.
If you do get into poison ivy, oak or sumac, find some jewelweed. Grab a bunch, crush it up, stems and all, and smear it on your skin. Apparently jewelweed likes growing in some of the same places the three-leaf stuff likes—boggy, wet bottomland. Know what it looks like. No, I mean really know. I’d hate to have you smearing a bunch of poison ivy all over you.

3. If you wash the oil off soon enough, you might not get the rash.
The oil that causes the rash is called urishiol. A brush against a leaf, a vine, whatever, and it’s on you. Sometimes I think it hops on some people who even dare venture nearby. I know it can get in smoke because I’ve see some bad cases of poor souls who inadvertently burned some with other brush.

The sooner you can wash it off the better—hopefully within fifteen minutes. Maximum is probably about four hours. Use soap and water, or rubbing alcohol. Some people swear by Tecnu products for poison ivy/oak/sumac, such as Oak-N-Ivy. Jewelweed soap can be super too.

Don’t forget to wash your clothes, and your dog. But, a word of advice about the latter: Be sure to bathe your furry pal with gloves so you don’t the poison ivy back on you. You’ll probably want to jump back in the shower after you’re done, just in case.

Where to Find the Poison-Ivy Remedies

The links below are for your information. I’m not vouching for the companies, and I don’t make any money if you buy from them.

Here’s where you can get the pharmaceutical products:

  • You can find some Tecnu products at the Tec Labs store.
  • Oak-N-Ivy is available in various places, including REI, or you can order it from your choice of companies.
  • Pharmacies sell hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion and oral antihistamines (Benadryl) over-the-counter.

You can buy or make these poison-ivy remedies:

  • Jewelweed soap: Hard to find. You can order it from the Alternative Nature Herbal Online Store.
  • Witch-hazel astringent: Widely available at pharmacies.
  • Quercetin drops: Hard to find. I’m not positive you can make it, but it does come from onions. You can order the drops from Source Naturals.
  • Oatmeal baths: Widely available, including at Walmart.

Home Remedies to Treat the Rash and Itching

The rash is normally red and raised, with blisters. It usually occurs in the spots where you’ve come in contact with the plant. I say usually because some rashes start that way and seem to spread to other parts of your body. That’s rare, and it’s not the open blisters or soap you use. Blisters don’t spread the rash. Rather, it’s a more severe, systemic allergic reaction you’re having. The treatments are the same.

For the rash and itching, you can try more jewelweed soap and maybe some witch–hazel astringent. Quercetin drops have anti-inflammatory effects and can be taken orally and rubbed on the rash. Cool baths, cool compresses, and oatmeal baths can help the itching.

Here’s one you may not know: If none of the other is working and the itching is driving you crazy, try getting in the shower with the water as hot as you can stand it. (Obviously don’t burn your skin.) Apparently this depletes your body’s supply of itch-causing histamines and can give you relief for a few hours.

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Conventional At-Home Treatments

Hydrocortisone cream may help. The strongest you can get over-the-counter is one percent. Calamine lotion is an option. Don’t get the Caladryl since it can cause its own allergic reaction. Oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) ease the itching but can make you drowsy (sometimes a good thing.)

Doctor Treatments

A shot or course of oral steroids, or both, may help—even shorten the course of the rash. (No matter what, you’re likely in for a few days to a couple of weeks of the misery.) You might also get a stronger steroid cream from the doctor.

If you run fever or there’s pus in some blisters, or you’re having any other signs of infection, get to the doctor. If that’s not possible, start on antibiotics if you have them.

What Home Remedy Works for You?

There are probably about as many home remedies as there are people with poison ivy. Some work for some; nothing works for everyone. Trial and error is the name of this game.

So, please help all our readers and do tell. What’s your favorite home remedy?

And while you’re at it, please share your worst horror stories regarding those pretty green leaves.

Poison ivy photo by Jan Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jewelweed photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Categories: Bushcrafting, DIY Preparedness, Herbal Remedies, Homeopathy, Medical, Self-reliance, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pemmican: The perfect primal stick-to-your-ribs survival food

Here’s my dilemma…

I subscribe to a primal/paleo lifestyle. I don’t have tons of grains stored as most preparedness gurus recommend. Some for extreme emergencies, but not tonnes. I’ve written about my lifestyle choice here, and over on my other blog here. No need to re-hash.

So what’s a preparedness minded, Primal Blueprint groupie like me suppose to store for lean survival times? A must-store, life-sustaining item is pemmican. No refrigeration required, full of hunger stopping fat, long storage life, tasty (with the right seasoning), and easy to make. What’s not to like?

Here’s Mark Sisson’s recipe on how he made pemmican. A simple search (use Startpage – it’s the world’s most private search engine) for pemmican recipes will yield many results. Now, get started rendering that fat!

Source: Mark’s Daily Apple

How to Make Pemmican

rii0lxVihljamur Stefansson, eminent anthropologist and arctic explorer, went on three expeditions into the Alaskan tundra during the first quarter of the 20th century. His discoveries – including the “blond” Inuit and previously uncharted Arctic lands – brought him renown on the world stage. People were fascinated by his approach to travel and exploration, the way he thrust himself fully into the native Inuit cultures he encountered. Stefansson studied their language, adopted their ways, and ate the same food they ate. In fact, it was the diet of the Inuit – fish, marine mammals, and other animals, with almost no vegetables or carbohydrates – that most intrigued him. He noted that, though their diet would be considered nutritionally bereft by most “experts” (hey, nothing’s changed in a hundred years!), the Inuit seemed to be in excellent health, with strong teeth, bones, and muscles. He was particularly interested in a food called pemmican.

Pemmican consists of lean, dried meat (usually beef nowadays, but bison, deer, and elk were common then) which is crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of hot, rendered fat (usually beef tallow). Sometimes crushed, dried berries are added as well. A man could subsist entirely on pemmican, drawing on the fat for energy and the protein for strength (and glucose, when needed). The Inuit, Stefansson noted, spent weeks away from camp with nothing but pemmican to eat and snow to drink to no ill effect. Stefansson, a Canadian of Icelandic origin, often accompanied them on these treks and also lived off of pemmican quite happily, so its sustaining powers weren’t due to some specific genetic adaptation unique to the Inuit. In fact, when Stefansson returned home, he and colleague adopted a meat-only diet for a year, interested in its long-term effects. A controlled examination of their experience confirmed that both men remained healthy throughout.

So, pemmican has a reputation as a sort of superfood. While I’m usually leery of such claims, the fact that the stuff is essentially pure fat and protein (plus Stefansson’s accounts) made me think that maybe there was something to it. I set out to make my own batch.

I got about a pound and a half of lean, grass-fed shoulder roast, let it firm up in the freezer, then sliced it thin. After adding liberal amounts of salt and pepper, I set the oven to the lowest possible temperature (around 150 degrees) and laid out the strips of meat directly onto the rack. I cracked the oven door to prevent moisture buildup. At this point, I also put a handful of frozen wild blueberries on a small oven pan to dry out with the meat.


I let the meat dry out for about fifteen hours, or until it was crispy jerky that broke apart easily. I tossed the jerky in the food processor until it was powder. After the meat, in went the blueberries to process. Again, you want a powder.


Now I was ready to render some fat. I used grass-fed bison kidney fat, which was already diced into tiny pieces. I put about half a pound of that into a cast iron pan and cooked it slowly over super-low heat.


I made sure to stir the fat as it rendered out, and watched closely so that it wouldn’t burn. When the fat stops bubbling, the rendering is done.


Use a strainer to avoid all the crispy bits; you just want the pure, liquid fat.


Mix the meat and berry powder together, then slowly add the hot liquid fat. Pour just enough so that the fat soaks into the powder.


I think I poured too much too quickly, so I added a bit of almond meal to firm it up. Let it firm up, then cut it into squares or roll it into a ball. I went with a ball.


Pemmican will keep almost forever. Pure, dried protein and rendered (mostly saturated) fat are highly stable, so I wouldn’t worry about it going rancid. If it does, you’ll know.

Now, my pemmican wasn’t exactly delicious. In fact, it tasted a bit like bland dog food [SS Note: Try smoking the meat for more flavor]. Maybe I’ll jazz it up next time with some more salt and spices, but I don’t think pemmican is meant to be eaten for pleasure. This is utilitarian food, perfect for long treks through the wilderness. It gets the job done, and I’ll probably make it again. It definitely doesn’t taste bad; in fact, the taste grows on you after awhile.

My dog certainly enjoyed cleaning up the bowl.

Categories: Bushcrafting, DIY Preparedness Projects, Frugal Preps, Primal Skills, Primal/Paleo Lifestyle, Survival | Tags: , , , , , | 17 Comments

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