“ ‘I'm a firestarter, a twisted firestarter’, (sigh) well that’s nothing to be proud of is it” DJ Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) reviews The Prodigy.
Due to our damp northern climate I tend to favor the firesteel as a means of ignition. As well as being waterproof: they are cheap and making handles for them is easy, satisfying, and gives you the kind of ‘bushcrafty’ vibe that makes you seem like you have a life outside of work.
The sparks they produce are way hot, and so bright you could signal with if you didn’t have a torch or signal fire lit yet. In the damp weather, and as good practice, I’ve been carrying kindling to give myself a head start when lighting a brew fire. So I thought I’d do a post about some of the gatherable options. But you know how it is; your pal the bushwacker has always had an inquiring mind (also known as a short attention span). So while I was thinking a about a fire, I started to think about something to cook on it (blogging often gives me an appetite) and something to keep fiddling fingers occupied while sitting by it.
The Sammi people of Finland have carried the dried hollow stalks of Angelica, and I’ve used Hemlock stems gathered from the roadside. Being hollow the stems draw air as they burn giving a very hot flame, handy when you need to dry out the rest of your firewood. There are plenty of alternatives you can easily gather and then carry with you. Here’s one I made earlier.
Birch bark is the classic all year round kindling, it’s cigarette paper thin and lights even more easily. It’s totally sustainable, and convenient as the tree is shedding it all year round!
Cattail fluff makes an ideal ‘spark catcher’ it burns very quickly, a little too quickly for use on it’s own but as a natural catalyst its fantastic.
Mixed with some of the Birch bark and wrapped in some bigger bits of birch bark it’s portable,
While your gathering the dried out Cattails for kindling you can get a lot of other uses from the rest of the plant. The stems could be an ideal thatching material for a longer-term shelter. But lets head to the kitchen!
At their base Cattails have rhizomes (the root-like stem that grows horizontally sending roots down and leaves and stems up) that are ripe for eating at the moment. All you have to do is peel ‘em and cook them like spuds. In some culinary traditions the rhizomes are pounded into flour. I’ll let you know. The first time I ate them was in the spring, we plucked out the soft white core of the young stems, (known as Cossack’s asparagus) and they were pretty good raw as a salad vegetable eaten in situ and for our tea cooked in a stir-fry.
Thanks for reading