Practical Self Reliance: 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow

An earlier post on elderflower mentioned its use in combination with yarrow and mint to fight fevers. Yarrow grows prolifically in our garden, filling in the edges and between rows. In damp conditions, it makes for a pretty soft ground cover — enough so that the kids want a yarrow yard. In this post from Practical Self Reliance, Ashley Adamant discusses many more uses for yarrow – 50+ Ways to Use Yarrow.

Yarrow is a common wild herb that’s useful in both the kitchen and medicine cabinet.  This list of yarrow uses covers everything from biscuits and beer to salves, soaps, and tinctures.

Yarrow uses

Yarrow’s always seemed magical to me, and I remember lounging in my room as a teenager, reading through 16th-century herbals and dreaming of the day I’d spot it in real life.  (Yes really, that’s actually how I spent my free time as a teenager.  I know, I’m such a nerd.)

The problem is, while yarrow grows ALMOST everywhere, I happened to grow up in one of the very few places outside of yarrow’s range…the Mojave Desert.  Now on my homestead in Vermont, it grows in every untended nook and cranny.  We’ll see our first yarrow blooms in early summer, and it’ll keep right on producing through fall, meaning I have a virtually unlimited supply of yarrow (even leaving plenty for the bees).

Yarrow Identification

Though yarrow is incredibly common, so are its look-alikes.  Once you’ve actually spotted yarrow, you’ll agree that the look-alikes aren’t really all that close.  There are lots of low growing herbs with white flower clusters, but yarrow really stands out in a crowd.

Start with the flowers.  They’re white, but not really.  If you were looking at paint samples, they’d have the name “Victorian white” or some other fancy title, because in reality, they’re a muted off white color.

Yarrow leaves are also distinctive, and there’s a reason its species name is “millefolium” or thousands of leaves.  The leaves are feathery, as opposed to the more distinct leaves of Queen Anne’s Lace and other white flowering herbs.

Identifying Yarrow by the feathery leaves and distinct white flower clusters

Make sure you’re 100% certain on your identification, as there are white-flowering plants within its range that are deadly toxic (namely, Water Hemlock).  To my eye, they don’t look anything alike, but as an optimistic teenager desperate to find yarrow in some stray ditch…I may well have made that mistake.

Read this guide to Yarrow Identification for more information.

Benefits of Yarrow

So why is yarrow so magical?  Many reasons!

A wide geographic distribution means yarrow made it into the traditional pharmacopeias in Asia, Europe and the new world.  Yarrow is used in everything from food and drink, to salves and tinctures, to ritual divination and ceremony.

This quick list will give you some ideas, but is by no means comprehensive:

  • Stops Bleeding
  • Skin Toner & Astringent
  • Bitter Tonic
  • Treats Cold and Flu
  • Lowers Blood Pressure
  • Improves Circulation
  • Induces Sweating
  • Reduces Fever

Be aware that while it’s generally considered safe, individual reactions are always possible.  It’s also contraindicated for pregnant women, as it can induce menstrual flow and possibly increase the risk of miscarriage.

Recipes for Cooking with Yarrow

While yarrow is perhaps best known for its uses as a medicinal, both internally and externally, it’s also a tasty culinary herb.  It’s not the only one of course, and many culinary herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, and more) are potent medicinals, taken in the right dosage at the right time.

These yarrow recipes incorporate a small amount of yarrow, just enough to flavor the dish without reaching a “medicinal” dosage.

Recipes for Yarrow Beverages

Believe it or not, hops are actually a relatively recent brewing ingredient.  Before hops became common in beer, herbal beers, or gruits, were all the rage.  Yarrow was one of the most common brewing ingredients, and it was known to create an extremely intoxicating brew.

While hops are a sedative, that dulls the senses and slows the sex drive, yarrow based brews do just the opposite.  There’s a reason yarrow beers (and meads) were popular historically because they lifted you up and sent you home ready to put a few buns in the oven (if you catch my drift).

Our own homemade yarrow beer

Our own homemade yarrow beer

If you’re interested in learning to brew with herbs, specifically yarrow, I’d highly recommend the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, which takes you through literally thousands of years of herbal brewing tradition (with recipes for each herb discussed).

The Wildcrafting Brewer likewise includes recipes for yarrow brews and approaches the subject more from a foraging perspective (rather than a historical one).

While the traditions have but been forgotten, a few brewers keep the traditions alive.  Here are a few yarrow beverage recipes to wet your whistle, both alcoholic and non.

Harvesting Flowering Tops for Yarrow Tincture

Harvesting Flowering Tops

Yarrow Uses for First Aid

My most common use of yarrow is as a first-aid treatment for bleeding.  Yarrow tincture in a spray bottle is a powerful astringent, and I’ve watched it pucker closed wounds in seconds.

I always keep a small spray bottle on hand just in case, and it’s worked wonders on all manner of small (but persistent) topical injuries.  It’s also made into styptic powder and DIY quick clot, for similar purposes.

Homemade Yarrow Tincture (Alcohol extract of yarrow)

Over the longer term, something like a yarrow salve is wonderful for treating injuries and promoting healing.  It’s also commonly employed as an itch remedy topically.

Making a yarrow salve is no different than making any herbal healing salve, and it comes together quickly with just a few ingredients.

Yarrow has been used for millenia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it's on hand when needed.

Yarrow has been used for millennia to stop bleeding and treat minor wounds. A healing salve helps preserve the herb, and ensures that it’s on hand when needed.

More yarrow uses for first aid:

Yarrow Herbal Remedies

Beyond yarrows use as a topical first aid remedy, it’s also commonly used in preventative remedies and internal medicine…

 

Continue reading at Practical Self Reliance.

Practical Self Reliance: Potato Yeast Starter for Baking Bread

A few people I know have not been able to find yeast in the store recently. There is no knead to despair if you want to bake bread, but have no yeast. There are other options. Here is Ashley Adamant of Practical Self Reliance, writing Potato Yeast Starter for Baking Bread

No yeast at home?  Try culturing your own wild yeast on potatoes!  All you need is one medium-sized potato, a bit of water and smidge of patience.

Homemade Yeast starter from potatoes, and easy potato bread recipe

Believe it or not, commercial yeast has only been available in well-stocked grocery stores for the past 100 years or so.  Leavened bread, however, has been baked for millennia.

It’s convenient to be sure, but yeast packets are not the only way to leaven bread.

In times past, bakers cultured their own wild yeast for raising bread.  Sourdough is one version, and it’s a community of yeast and lactic acid bacteria (like in yogurt) that give the bread a characteristic sour taste.

But what if you don’t like sourdough (or don’t have the patience to maintain one)?

There are literally dozens of ways to culture a wild yeast starter, using everything from raisins to beer to wild apples.

This simple method cultures wild yeast on boiled potatoes and was originally used by vodka distillers making high-quality potato vodka.  The idea is to just culture yeast, without encouraging the lactic acid bacteria that are part of sourdough.

DIY Potato Yeast Starter for Bread

Potatoes are high in starch, which is ideal for culturing yeast.  They also contain plenty of micro-nutrients, making them a better yeast starter than sugar alone.

There are a number of different potato yeast starter recipes circulating on the internet at the moment, ever since yeast disappeared from store shelves this spring.

Guess what…they all work.

Some add sugar, others add a bit of flour and some are just a mashed potato and the starchy water used to boil it.

Mash it all together, and then leave it open on the counter for 2-3 days.  Yeast floating by in the air will settle on your starchy yeast trap, and quickly go to work reproducing.

The simplest method, and the one originally used for vodka production, was just a single potato.

Peel the potato and place it in a pot of water.  Bring the water to a boil, and then simmer for 35-45 minutes, until the potato is completely soft.  Test it with a fork to ensure that it’s cooked and soft all the way to the center.

Pour the cooking water into a container, and allow it to cool.  Meanwhile, thoroughly mash the potato.

Place the mashed potato into a one-quart mason jar, and then pour the starchy potato cooking water in to fill the jar.  If you’re a bit short on cooking water, just add clean, chlorine-free drinking water.

Set the jar on the counter (open or covered with a towel), and wait.

In about 24 – 36 hours, you should see the first tiny bubble on the surface.  (Look closely at the potato layer below, and you’ll see tiny bubbles forming there too.)

Cap up the jar, give it a vigorous shake to distribute the yeast and then open it up and leave the jar on the counter again.

In another 24 to 36 hours the jar should really be bubbling.  At this point, you can bake your first loaf of bread…

Click here to continue reading at Practical Self Reliance

Practical Self Reliance: 20+ Immune Boosting Herbs

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance has compiled a list of twenty immune-boosting herbs and mushroom to help stave off illness.

Natural immune-boosting herbs work to support a healthy immune system, ideally preventing illness or speeding recovery.  Staying healthy starts well before flu season, and all of these herbs for the immune system can play a helpful role.

Immune Boosting Herbs

Immune-boosting herbs are a big part of my families’ wellness routine, and we need all the help we can get with a doorknob licking toddler and extra snuggly preschooler in the house.

Even before children, natural immune boosters were a regular part of our lives.  I worked in a hospital, and my husband flew cross country regularly for work.  While handwashing and other preventative measures are obviously the first step, sometimes you need a bit of extra help when you’re surrounded by sick people on a day to day basis.

Just recently, I found myself making a batch of our favorite herbal immune booster…elderberry syrup.  I’d harvested fresh elderberries in our garden that we’d grown from cuttings, and I started looking around for other herbs for the immune system to add into the mix.  A short walk around the garden and nearby woods and I’d picked more than 20 different immune-boosting herbs, flowers, roots, mushrooms, and lichen.

Add in a stop at the spice cabinet for immune-boosting spices like ginger, black pepper and garlic and I had quite the spread to choose from…

(Note: I am not a clinical herbalist or healthcare provider.  This is based on my own experience and research, but I encourage you to verify it with other sources.  Please consult a healthcare provider before beginning any health regimen, herbal or otherwise.) 

Herbs for the Immune System

Herbs for the immune system generally fall into three categories:

  • Immune Stimulants ~ Generally used for a short period of time, immune stimulants are best used on a short term basis.  The best time is right as you’re starting to get sick, or anytime you’ve been exposed to an illness.  Those times when someone coughs right on you, or you’re about to go on a long flight where there may be extra pathogens in the recirculated air.  Examples include Echinacea and usnea lichen.
  • Herbal Immunomodulators (or Immune Tonics) ~ Often used over a long period of time, immunomodulators are tonics for the immune system.  They’re not meant to be overtly healing during acute illness, but rather to help balance your system and promote a healthy immune response.  Examples include tulsi (holy basil) and reishi mushrooms.
  • Anti-Microbial Herbs ~ While they may not directly impact the immune system, they’re helpful in treating illness and maintaining health.  While prescription antibiotics have their place, minor illnesses (or injuries) can be treated with anti-microbial herbs instead.  Some are specifically antifungal (for topical issues) while others are more generally antimicrobial.  These disserve an article in their own right, and I’ll cover them briefly at the end.

While these three classes of herbs are somewhat different from each other, the terminology often gets mixed, even in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  Some, in fact, fall in multiple categories.  The main thing to keep in mind is that not all herbs are for long term use and not all herbs for the immune system will have a direct impact if you’re already sick…(continued)

Click here to read the entire article at Practical Self Reliance.

Practical Self Reliance: Homemade Hand Sanitizer Gel

Ashley Adamant at Practical Self Reliance tells us how to make our own hand sanitizer gel.

Homemade hand sanitizer is surprisingly easy to make, and it’s a great way to fight germs when you can’t get to a sink to wash your hands.

Homemade hand sanitizer gel

Hand sanitizer is one of the first things to disappear during an outbreak, second only to face masks.  Just days after the first community transmission of COVID-19, shelves emptied as people suddenly rushed out to buy hand sanitizer.

I’ll admit it, I was one of those people that bought a bottle once the virus reached the US.

Hand sanitizer isn’t generally a part of our lives, and under normal circumstances, I’d rather just wash my hands regularly and rely on my strong immune system.

This flu season though, as I watch people sneeze their way down the aisles of the supermarket, I find myself wishing I had a little bottle in my pocket.

I found a bottle easy enough, but just days later the store shelves were empty and most people weren’t as lucky.

In truth, substitutes for commercial hand sanitizers are actually really easy to make.  The active ingredient is just rubbing alcohol, and so long as your homemade hand sanitizer is at least 60% alcohol, it’s effective when used properly according to the CDC.

Simply putting rubbing alcohol in a small spritz bottle will do the trick, so long as you thoroughly wet your hands, rubbing to get between your fingers and such.

That said, if you’re looking for a more elegant solution, I’ve found a few options for homemade purell substitutes.

What’s In Purell?

So for starters, what’s actually in purell anyway?

The ingredients list is pretty long, but once you decode it, it’s actually just three basic things:

  • Water ~ Still not sure why this is the first ingredient when it’s more than 60% alcohol?
  • Isopropyl Alcohol ~ The active ingredient that’s doing all the hard work.
  • Caprylyl Glycol ~ Skin conditioner
  • Glycerin ~ Antimicrobial properties, and natural skin conditioner
  • Isopropyl Myristate ~ Emmoliant that promotes skin absorption (for skin conditioners)
  • Tocopheryl Acetate ~ Vitamin e for skincare
  • Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer ~ “is a synthetic ingredient used as a thickening agent, texture enhancer, film-forming agent, and emulsifier in cosmetics and personal care products.” (Source)
  • Aminomethyl Propanol ~ Buffer to adjust pH
  • Fragrance ~ With all that rubbing alcohol, this really helps sell it…

So in a nutshell, gel hand sanitizers are denatured alcohol, skin conditioners and some kind of gelling agent.  That’s it.

The skin conditioners are handy if you’re using it multiple times a day, and can help prevent dry hands. In truth they’re optional, and using a separate lotion works just as well to prevent dry skin.

Gelling agents are there to help the sanitizer sit neatly in your hand and prevents dripping, which in turn results in more people using it.  If it drips on your lap or makes a mess, you’re less likely to use it.  That said, they’re not actually sanitizing your hands…so also optional.

So the only thing sanitizing your hands is alcohol (and maybe the glycerine if you want to get technical).  The simplest option for an effective homemade hand sanitizer is simply rubbing alcohol (at least 60%) in a squirt or spray bottle.

That said, if you’d like to actually try to re-create a gel hand sanitizer with skin conditioners and a gel texture, read on….

How to Make Hand Sanitizer Gel

There’s a recipe circulating on the internet for a really simple homemade gel hand sanitizer that simply uses 2 parts 90+% rubbing alcohol and 1 part aloe vera gel.

My first thought was that with 2 parts alcohol it’d never be a “gel,” but I put it to the test…

Homemade hand sanitizer gel ingredients

The alcohol is doing the sanitizing work, and the aloe vera gel adds both skin conditioners and a gel-like texture, at least in theory.

Aloe vera gel, however, is actually mostly alcohol.  Or at least most of the bright green “after sun gel” bottles commonly available.  Their ingredients list stats exactly the same way as purell…water, denatured alcohol, glycerine, followed by a long list of stabilizers and gelling agents, with just a teeny tiny bit of aloe juice.

I doubt aloe gel is anywhere near the required 60% alcohol, but it is full of chemical gelling agents that work in the presence of alcohol (plus a few skin conditioners for good measure).

(It’s actually hard to make a gel from alcohol.  Things like agar, gelatin, and arrowroot won’t work in a high alcohol solution.  I tried, for science, to come up with a more natural version, but polymers are what works…)

One part aloe gel and two parts alcohol went into a bottle…

Making homemade hand sanitizer gel

Two parts alcohol (91%) with 1 part aloe gel in a bottle, not yet mixed.

It took a lot of shaking to get them to combine, and initially, the mixture was pretty thin.  I was unconvinced.

About a half an hour later when I picked up the bottle, it had actually thickened considerably.  Give it a shake and it’d actually hold air bubbles within the gel in the bottle.

Look closely, you can see them in there, held in a totally passable homemade hand sanitizer gel.

Hand sanitizer with aloe gel forms a loose gel that actually holds bubbles and is a good bit thicker than alcohol alone.

There is one more crucial part missing…fragrance.  While it is technically optional, this stuff smells horrible.  Or, more accurately, it smells like very strong rubbing alcohol, which is a little nasty.

I asked my husband to put it on his hands just so I could take a picture for the article and he straight up refused.  Too stinky.

If you’re going to convince anyone to use this, consider adding a few drops of some kind of fragrance.  Something like lavender or tea tree essential oil, which also have anti-microbial properties…

Continue reading about how to make a homemade sanitizer spray as well at Practical Self Reliance.

Practical Self Reliance: Making Herbal Healing Salve

Here’s a nice beginner how-to from Ashley at Practical Self Reliance on how to make healing salves. She includes a general recipe and then several herb-specific recipes toward the end. I like to use a calendula salve for minor skin injuries which is similar to the Gardener’s Healing Salve recipe she links. I’ve only included some of the key parts of the article below, more detail is through the article links.

Herbal healing salves are simple and effective ways to enjoy the benefits of herbal medicine, and they couldn’t be easier to make at home.  Salves are semi-solid at room temperature, making them easy to transport and store.  When they come in contact with skin, the botanicals go to work, released by our own body heat for absorption through the skin.

Herbal Healing Salve<img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-13045″ src=”https://i2.wp.com/practicalselfreliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Herbal-Healing-Salve.001.jpeg?resize=600%2C400&ssl=1″ alt=”Herbal Healing Salve” width=”600″ height=”400″ data-recalc-dims=”1″>

I’ll admit it, as a budding herbalist I was intimidated by making my own salves.  Homemade tinctures and infused oils are easy enough, just place herbs in a medium and wait.

It took me over a decade of herbal practice before I made my first herbal salve.  Start to finish, the whole process only lasted about 10 minutes and I had a whole counter full of homemade herbal medicines.  Why had I waited so long to try this?!?!?!

…Usually, healing salves are made with just a few ingredients.  Often just three ingredients are enough to get the job done, those being herbs, oil, and beeswax…

<img src=”https://i2.wp.com/practicalselfreliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Herbal-Healing-Salve.001.jpeg?fit=600%2C400&ssl=1″ class=”mv-create-image no_pin ggnoads” data-pin-nopin=”true” alt=”How to Make a Herbal Healing Salve” data-pin-media=”https://i2.wp.com/practicalselfreliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Herbal-Healing-Salve.001.jpeg?fit=600%2C400&ssl=1″>

Yield: About 8 Ounces

How to Make a Herbal Healing Salve

Active Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $5 to $6 per batch

Herbal healing salves are incredibly versatile, and this semi-solid topical herbal medicine is an easy way to incorporate natural herbal remedies into your routine.

Materials

Herbal Infused Oil

  • 1 1/2 cups carrier oil (olive, almond, grapeseed, etc)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup dried herbs

Healing Salve

Tools

  • Pint Mason Jar
  • Fine Mesh Strainer
  • Double Boiler
  • (or saucepan & heatproof bowl)
  • Salve Tins
  • (or other containers)

Instructions

Herb Infused Oil

  1. Add dried herbal material to a pint mason jar. Cover completely with about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of oil.
  2. Allow the oil to infuse at room temperature for 3 to 6 weeks before straining through a fine-mesh strainer. (Note: Some of the oil will absorb into the herbal material, so starting with slightly more than 1 cup of oil should yield about 1 cup for making a herbal salve.)

Herbal Healing Salve

  1. Measure about 1 cup of herb infused oil. Place it in a heat proof bowl (or double boiler). Add about 1 inch of water to a small saucepan and then place the bowl over the water. Turn the heat on low and gently heat the oil.
  2. Add in about 1 ounce of beeswax pistils (roughly 1 heaping tablespoon). Stir gently until melted.
  3. Remove the oil/wax mixture from the heat and pour it into containers.
  4. Allow the salve to cool to room temperature and reach a semi-solid state before using it.

Notes

The amount of beeswax used is a matter of personal preference. Feel free to use more for a firmer healing salve, or less for a softer more spreadable herbal salve…

Click here to read the entire article at Practical Self Reliance.

Related:

The Herbal Academy: How to Make Calendula Salve

Practical Self Reliance: Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Ashley of Practical Self Reliance has a nice, detailed article on making immune-boosting elderberry syrup at home. My family has made and used elderberry at home for a few years now. We’ve used elderberry syrup, elderberry rob, and elderflower syrup. If you don’t have elderberries at home, you can purchase commercial Sambucol – an over the counter elderberry syrup. Our young children like taking the syrups, but not the rob which has a more medicinal taste. Nonetheless I’ll include an elderberry rob recipe after the Practical Self Reliance excerpt.

Elderberry syrup is a common immune-boosting home remedy for colds and flus.  It can be expensive to purchase, but homemade elderberry syrup is easier than you think…

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Benefits of Elderberry Syrup

While elderberry has been a folk remedy for centuries, modern science is validating these age-old uses.  Studies have found that elderberry syrup can reduce the duration of flus, as well as boost the immune system in both the healthy and sick.

Elderberry Syrup Cold & Flu Treatments

A placebo-controlled study on flu patients found that with a tablespoon (15 ml) of elderberry syrup taken 4x per day,  “Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with placebo. Elderberry extract seems to offer an efficient, safe and cost-effective treatment for influenza.”

Another influenza study cooked elderberry syrup into slow-release lozenges, but administered a similar dosage 4x a day.  The effects were dramatic…

“The extract-treated group showed significant improvement in most of the symptoms except 24 hours after the onset of the treatment, whereas the placebo group showed no improvement or an increase in severity of the symptoms at the same time point. By 48 hours, 9 patients (28%) in the extract-treated group were void of all symptoms, 19 patients (60%) showed relief from some symptoms… In contrast, complete recovery was not achieved by a single patient in the placebo group [during the 48 hour monitoring period].”

They concluded that elderberry extract is safe and highly effective in treating flu‐like symptoms.”

Elderberry Syrup For the Immune System

After several studies confirmed that elderberry syrup can shorten the duration of the flu, another study tried to determine the effects of elderberry syrup on a healthy immune system.  They found that a commercially available elderberry syrup (Sambucol) substantially increased immune activity, even in healthy people.

“We conclude from this study that, in addition to its antiviral properties, Sambucol Elderberry Extract and its formulations activate the healthy immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokine production. Sambucol might, therefore, be beneficial to the immune system activation and in the inflammatory process in healthy individuals or in patients with various diseases. Sambucol could also have an immunoprotective or immunostimulatory effect when administered to cancer or AIDS patients, in conjunction with chemotherapeutic or other treatments.”

Jar of homemade elderberry syrup with raw honey

Click here to read the entire article with recipe at Practical Self Reliance.

Click here to download a pdf of only Ashley’s Elderberry Syrup recipe.

Elderberry Rob

The following elderberry rob recipe comes from The Joys of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich.

In a saucepan combine equal volumes of elderberry juice and sugar or honey. Heat the contents over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium-high and boil the mixture to a thick syrup.

Pour the rob into sterilized bottles, and cap or cork them tightly. Store the bottles in a cool, dark, dry place, where the rob should keep for at least a year.

To use, mix a tablespoon or two in a cup of hot water and drink.

We water bath can our rob when we make it. If you use honey, the high heat of both boiling and canning probably does lose some of the health benefit of honey, in which case it is mostly just adding sweetness.

Practical Self Reliance: Pine Bark Bread

Ashley at Practical Self Reliance has written a good, long post on making bread from pine tree bark., at least in part. The ratio of wheat flour to pine bark flour is about 3.5 to 1. We live where pine trees are some of the few trees that will grow without irrigation, so I’m always on the lookout for ways that they can be used to supplement food in an emergency. Most people are aware that you can get pine nuts from appropriate species. Fewer may be aware that you can make pine needle tea which is high in vitamin C and A. Ashley documents the harvesting of the bark and bad effects on the trees themselves, grinds the bark into flour, and then makes some bad-tasting crackers and some good-tasting yeast bread.

Having the option to add pine tree bark would help in the less likely scenario where you are faced with a major TEOTWAWKI style disaster that occurs past the time that you can grow or store more wheat for the year, and you need to stretch your food reserves until foods can start growing again in the spring. Ashley also has a post How to Eat a Pine Tree for using other parts of the tree. You may just find that you like the flavor. My first taste for pine-flavored food came from drinking Retsina – an Aleppo Pine resin infused white wine – at Greek restaurants. Some can’t stand the flavor, but it goes well with some strong flavored dishes.

Bark breads are a staple of Nordic indigenous cuisine.  The Sami of northern Sweden harvested pine bark and mixed it with reindeer milk in their traditional breads.  Since the richest sami had the most reindeer, they’re also the ones that harvested the most pine bark.  It wasn’t out of desperation, but out of a quest for flavor.

In the case of birch bark, the historical evidence is clear that the papery outer bark was used to make food storage vessels, while the nutritious inner bark was ground into birch bark flour.  In the case of pine bark, the records are a bit less clear.  There are some sources that say only the inner bark was used, and others that claim only the outer bark was used.  Since I’ve been able to find recipes using both, I’ll share them all with you.

The outer bark of a tree is mostly there to protect the tree from the elements and doesn’t contain much in the way of calories.  Calories aren’t the only reason to eat something, and pine outer bark seems to have other benefits.  Pine outer bark may contain compounds that help keep food from spoiling or important nutrients that were scarce in a northern climate.

According to Nordic Food Lab,  though pine outer bark is not calorie rich, it does “contain condensed tannins called procyanidins that are being researched for potential health benefits. Aromatic hydrocarbons such as terpenes and phenols which give pine its distinctive warm, woody scent also deliver antimicrobial properties, perhaps useful for blending with other flours to preserve their shelf life.”

These days, nutritional supplements are made from pine bark, and you can buy bags of powdered pine bark online which claim that “Pine Bark is used worldwide for its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. When used regularly, pine bark may support healthier cardiovascular and circulatory function.”

The outer bark was harvested from a section of the tree to create a “window pane” of exposed cambium.  Over time, the bark slowly healed over the wound, and since the inner cambium was not harvested the tree continued to grow.  Such trees could be harvested multiple times over the course of their life.  There’s evidence of window panning on 700+-year-old pine trees in northern Sweden.

Obviously, if you’re going to harvest the bark of a tree, know that you are damaging the tree in a way that will impact it for hundreds of years.  This particular pine tree has a partially dead top, and it’s very near our wind turbine.  It’s going to be cut in the spring, so it’s a good candidate for bark harvest.

I started out using a draw knife, but it’s actually pretty difficult to use one just on the surface without really digging into the cambium.  Since I only needed a small amount of pine bark flour, I was able to just use my hand to flake off chunks of shaggy exterior bark from a large pine tree growing on our land.  No need to window pane a tree and cause it damage in any case.

Initially, I tried to grind the pine bark flour in a food processor, but it was in vain.  The exterior bark is quite hard, but not brittle enough to fly apart.  After several minutes the motor was heating up and had almost no pine bark flour to show for it.  The bark, even exterior bark, needs to be dried out thoroughly before grinding.

I put the bark chips in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes.  The house smelled nice and toasty, like the warm scents of the high desert pine forests of my youth.  Once the bark was toasted it ground much more easily.  It would be possible to dry the bark out over a low fire in a similar way, which would make it much easier to grind by hand.  When the pine bark was dried, I put it back into the food processor for grinding…