Earth Connection is a school of primitive skills and wilderness survival located in Northern Virginia and North Carolina (Raleigh/Durham area) that has been in existence for over a decade. Our hands-on classes are reasonably priced because we don't believe in big price tags for primitive skills. That's just not natural!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Smokey says... Use fire wisely!

This week we are conducting a new class--Fire Materials Identification Class--and later in September is the 2nd Annual Fire Palooza class where friction fire methods are king.

So, what are we doing here on the EC-Blog to prepare you for these classes? Did you know where there is fire, there is smoke? Have you considered the value of the smoke that fire produces? Despite the bad reputation smoke has gotten, it is the source of our first food preservation technique. Who has not tasted and subsequently enjoyed the smoky flavor of smoked meat or fish like salmon--right?

Smoke preservation originated in early societies and is still used today to preserve mainly fish, meats and grains. It works by drying and dehydrating the food, as well as by neutralizing harmful elements with chemicals such as tars and phenols, that attach themselves to the food and are toxic to microbes and insects. These chemicals can also become harmful (carcinogenic) to humans if consumed in too large amounts. (See the Pryolysis Products of Wood below)

There is archaeological evidence that smoking was known as a method of food preservation at an early date. An archaeological site near the River Bann, Ireland that is thought to have been a fishing camp used in the second millennium B.C. The site bears the remains of several hearths over which their fish are thought to have been smoked. Evidence exists that the Romans probably used smoke to preserve food and to enhance its flavor (Wilson 1991, pp. 15-6).In colonial times, many households had smokehouses which were used to smoke beef, ham, and bacon (Earle 1899, p. 150). Smoking is still sometimes used to preserve fish and meat (Forbes 1955, p. 185).

In developing countries today, it is common to find grain bags hanging from the ceiling in a primitive hut near central fire. The heat and smoke from the open fire can then preserve the stored grains in a cheap manner. Smoked food often has a unique and robust flavor, and is still widely produced because in many situations is the fastest way to preserve food without the use of specialized equipment that may also need sources of energy that requires cash payment, such as gas or electricity.

Pyrolysis Products of Wood
Product - Percent in Mixture
  • Acetaldehyde - 2.3%
  • Furan - 1.6%
  • Acetone - 1.5%
  • Propenal - 3.2 %
  • Methanol - 2.1%
  • 2,3-Butanedione - 2.0%
  • 1-Hydroxy-2-propanone - 2.1%
  • Glyoxal - 2.2%
  • Acetic acid - 6.7%
  • 5-Methyl-2-furaldehyde - 0.7%
  • Formic acid - 0.9%
  • 2-Furfuryl alcohol - 0.5%
  • Carbon dioxide - 12.0%
  • Water - 18.0%
  • Char - 15.0%
  • Tar (at 600˚C) - 28.0%

Earle, Alice Morse. Home Life in Colonial Days. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899.
Forbes, R.J. Studies in Ancient Technology. Vol. III. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1955.
Wilson, C. Anne, ed. Waste Not, Want Not: Food Preservation from Early Times to the Present Day. Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

Risk Management Series: Chiggers and the Dreaded Two-Week Itch

Chiggers, also known as "red bugs," are larvae of mites belonging to the Trombiculids family of insects. Trombiculids are predatory mites related to ticks and spiders. The adults are known as harvest or scrub mites. They feed on insect eggs and small invertebrates in soil or decaying wood. Depending upon the species, it takes fifty to seventy days for the mite to develop from egg to larva to nymph to adult.

Trombiculids are found in temperate and tropical areas worldwide--according to some of our students, a large population of these mite larvae live in North Carolina. The Trombiculids larvae are parasites that wait on the ground and/or on low-growing vegetation near where they hatched. When an animal passes by, the larvae leap on it and search around for a feasible feeding spot. Notably, they do not have to search far on you or I for a suitable place. For me it is anywhere and everywhere--I must have sweet fluids just under my skin.

The larva generally prefers a skin pore or hair follicle. It inserts its mouth parts and injects a digestive enzyme into its host. The digestive fluid allows the parasite to feed on a resulting liquid mixture of lymph, dissolved skin tissue and a few stray blood cells--yup, sweet stuff. A chigger normally feeds for two or three days on the protein-rich liquid, then drops off to molt into the nymph stage. A localized rash or swelling called trombidiosis continues to itch for up to two weeks, even if the chigger was only attached for a few hours. The itch is intense and I found the only way to minimize this is a very hot shower which mixes itch, pain and pleasure. Actually, the hot water (just under scalding) triggers anti-histamines that naturally and temporarily diminish the intensity of the itch just long enough for some much needed rest.

Humans are incidental hosts, chiggers are more frequently found on birds, lizards, and rodents. Chiggers prefer to attach on parts of the body where clothing fits tightly or where the flesh is thin, tender, or wrinkled. For this reason, chiggers locate in such areas as the ankles, waistline, knees, or armpits. Some people exhibit an allergic reaction to the fluid which may result in severe swelling, itching, and fever. People mistakenly believe that chiggers embed themselves in the skin or that the welts contain chiggers. Often scratching at the welt results in secondary infection.

Chiggers are easily removed from the skin by taking a hot bath or shower and lathering with soap several times. I have even shaved my legs in severe infestations. The bath will kill attached chiggers and others which are not attached. Since symptoms of contact may not appear for several hours, it is not always possible to completely prevent welts caused by chigger bites. Antiseptic should be applied to all welts which do appear. Temporary relief of itching may be achieved with nonprescription local anesthetics available at most drug stores. Studies have shown that meat tenderizer, rubbed into the welt, will alleviate itching.

If you are going into areas suspected of being infested with chiggers, wear protective clothing and use repellents. Dusting sulfur is often used as a repellent. Repellents should be applied to legs, ankles, cuffs, waist, and sleeves by clothing application or directly to the body or clothing as directed by the label.

The Risk at Earth Connection? Well, we have a few Chiggers in the fielded area, of that I can attest from personal experience. So, yes, we have them, but not as bad as they could be. Prepare yourself for class with repellents.

Source: Chiggers, ENY-212, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), Accessed on 28 July 2007 at

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Jamey's Sorrel Soup --Another Favorite of the Edibles Class

Yellow Wood Sorrel, Oxalis Stricta within the family Oxalidaceae, is a charming and delicate little plant that grows abundantly in woods, disturbed and shady areas. Each leaf is comprised of three heart shaped leaflets, which fold at night, and in adverse weather conditions, including full sun. Yellow flowers, which bloom in the spring and are about a half-inch in diameter.

The plant has a wonderful lemony or acidy taste which accounts for its botanical name Oxalis being derived from the Greek oxys, meaning sour or acid. The leaves, flowers, and immature green seedpods are often eaten as a trail nibble or can be added to salads, sauces, soups or as a seasoning. Wood sorrel is high in ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and binoxalate of potash, a special salt, which produces the acidity.

Medicinally, in moderate dosages, wood sorrel is a refrigerant, febrifuge, diuretic, stomachic, astringent, and catalytic. It's also attributed with blood cleansing properties and is sometimes taken by cancer patients.

Caution: Some literature suggests that kidney damage may occur from the combination of the oxalic acid contained in the wood sorrel with calcium oxalate found in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts.

Jamey’s Sorrel & Potato Soup

  • 7 oz. Wood or sheep sorrel leaves
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large potatoes - peeled and cut into julienne strips (1-1/2 inches long/1/4 inch thick)
  • 7-8 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  1. Remove the stems from the sorrel
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion, stirring, until lightly colored.
  3. Add the potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes or until lightly colored. Stir often.
  4. Add 7 cups of the broth and salt and bring to a boil over high heat.
  5. Add the sorrel and reduce to low heat.
  6. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  7. Puree the mixture and place back on heat.
  8. Whisk the egg yolks and sour cream together in a small bowl.
  9. Pour a spoonful of the hot soup into the egg/sour cream mixture and whisk to combine.
  10. Pour the tempered eggs back into the soup while whisking the soup constantly.
  11. Cook the soup over low heat and stir continuously with wooden spoon to slowly thicken. Do not allow the soup to boil.
  12. Add Salt if necessary. Thin with remaining broth as necessary.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Curried Cattail Soup - a Summer Edible Class Favorite

Tim absolutely loves the exotic flavors of Indian food. If he believed in reincarnation he would want to be reborn in India so he can partake the spicy Indian goodness daily. But for now, he will have to do with Hue cooking up some spicy delights at the wild edibles classes. This last wild edibles class had Hue work up a batch of his now famous Curried Cattail Soup. He says he started with a recipe that he doctored up with some special Indian spices he had brought back from a trip to India, but some say this is just him being modest about his ability to wear an apron in the kitchen.

Curry is an English word that comes from the Tamil word Kari that refers to the spicy pungent southeast Asian side dish that accompanies rice. It actually refers to masala (meaning spice) which comes in quite a variety of mixtures. In so being, there are many differing styles of curry dishes and that means you can be creative.

Wikipedia references that, "most commercial curry powders available in Britain, the U.S. and Canada rely heavily on ground turmeric, in turn producing a very yellow sauce. Lesser ingredients in these Western yellow curry powders are often coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, chili, black pepper and salt. It should be reiterated that curry powders and pastes produced and consumed in India are extremely diverse; some red, some yellow, some brown; some with five spices and some with as many as 20 or more. Besides the previously mentioned spices, other commonly found spices in different curry powders in India are cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon (especially in garam masala), white pepper, ground mustard, ground ginger, etc."

With that said, here is a starter recipe for Curried Cattail Soup

  • 3 tbsp butter (or slightly more vegetable oil if you are vegan)
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (you choose the style of curry here)
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you are vegetarian)
  • 12 cattail shoots or inner tender flesh of summer cattails, minced or sliced (If you don't know what I'm talking about, take our class)
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (to taste)

  1. Melt butter in a sauce pan and cook onion over medium heat until almost soft.
  2. Add curry powder and flour. Cook a few more minutes while stirring in the curry and flour.
  3. Add stock and cattails. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy hot or cold. (Hot is better)

Risk Management Update - Ehrlichiosis Warning

Ehrlichiosis chaffeensis, is an acute disease of humans and animals caused by bacteria called Ehrlichia that attack white blood cells. The bacteria are transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tick--deer tick, the dog tick and the Lone Star tick. Ehrlichiosis is found in almost any area of the United States and in many foreign countries as well. In fact, it is probably on EC's property as evident by Hue and Jamey's dog, Chagi-ya, being diagnosed with the disease.

The first human case in the U.S. was reported in 1986 and since then more are being reported every year. If you have ehrlichiosis you would generally pay a visit to your physician in the first week of the illness--the incubation period is about 5-10 days after the tick bite. Initial symptoms include the sudden onset of moderate to high fever, headache, malaise, and muscle aches. Other signs and symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, joint pains, confusion, and occasionally rash.

Does'nt sound fun does it?

Unlike Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a rash is not very common. However, rash has been described in approximately 60% of pediatric patients infected with E. chaffeensis.

Appropriate antibiotic treatment should be initiated immediately if you have these symptoms. Chagi-ya, Hue and Jamey's dog, is on antibiotics and is doing well in response to the treatment.

After every class as well as every wilderness outing EC recommends you conduct a thorough tick check either individually or, even better, with a significant other--to check those hard to reach spots.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Summer is a Berry Good Season

Blackberry cobbler... hmmmm! Its mid-July and summer berries are in full swing. Time for Earth Connection's Summer Edibles class. The class was small, but that meant more to eat for all that attended.

"What say you?" you cry in disbelief. "More for you to eat?"

"Yes and a cornucopia of wild edibles too." EC instructor's Tim and Hue boldly claimed in unison.

"You had wild edibles to eat?" You sigh in more disbelief and facial anguish. "Say it isn't true?"

"True... oh, so true." Tim taunts. "We had two cold soups, Jamey's sorrel soup and Hue's curried cattail soup. They were accompanied by milkweed pod drenched in butter. We topped it all off with Jen's blackberry cobbler and Hue's wine/black berry pan cookie."

You are salivating profusely while listening intently.

Tim continues, "Not to mention all the tasty edibles we sampled on our study walk. Hue even brought the cherry bim--banned in forty states--for sampling. We really had the time of it."

Sadly, you ask, "Will you have the class again next year?"

"Of course! Better yet, why wait another year? We have another seasonal edibles class--fall wild edibles--coming up this October 13th."

Stay tuned for this year's recipes.