How To Build A Solid Wall Yurt

This manual provides step-by-step instructions on how to build a semi-solid wall fully portable yurt in under 40 hours. Assembly time: 3-4 hours. Disassembly time: 2 hrs. Available on or, or from the author's website at

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Alternatives to Coffee & Tea

This summer is a milestone season for us. It is the first time we have attempted to wean ourselves off commercially prepared coffee and teas. For me, coffee has not been an issue. I have, at least twice each year, gone “cold turkey.” Whenever my coffee consumption reaches five or more cups on a daily basis, it is time to give up the addiction. The withdrawal can be a bit troublesome, at first, but it is worth the effort to feel “clean” and invigorated. For my wife, giving up coffee completely has not worked well.
However, she has adapted to tea alternatives eagerly. By far, her favourite has been rose hip & ginger tea.
We dry all our wild harvest plants using screens, wind and sun. The exceptions are late season harvests, like hawthorne berries, blueberries and mountain ash, which we dry using a dehydrator.
Rose hip & ginger is prepared, after drying, by using a small chopper, and mixing one piece of crystallized ginger with a half cup of rose hips. The result is pleasant-tasting, and excellent for blood or kidney issues. Hawthorne tea is prepared the same way.
Some of the other teas that we have harvested and consumed this summer are raspberry/strawberry leaf combinations, goldenrod tea (using the flowers & leaves), wild mint teas, cranberry, saskatoon, seneca, spruce bud (a lemony taste), birch bark (bitter, like tonic water), wild sorrel, tansy (caution: toxic in large quantities), fennel, yarrow and even sagebush flowers.
Coffee substitutes are more challenging. Do not believe people that tell you that dandelion root is just like coffee. It isn’t, and if they had actually prepared it, they wouldn’t claim it was. It has a bitter, almost harsh aftertaste that doesn’t remind anyone of coffee. However, it may very well keep you awake!
Dandelion root can be prepared in such a manner, though, that it tastes acceptably good, if unlike coffee. First, wash and dry the root. Then, cook it in a solar oven or high above campfire heat for a couple of hours, at no more than 300 F. Crush the root well. Steeping it, rather than boiling it, seems to eliminate a lot of the bitterness.
For flavour, use hazelnuts, roasted and crushed, or even acorns. Both impart a slightly darker flavour. To provide a good thickening agent, boil & strain common plantain seeds or cattail root fibers, and mix in with the drink. It doesn’t taste unlike a sharp=tasting cream, but certainly doesn’t have the sweet taste. Cattail root, on its own, is more mellow.
A second coffee alternative is thistle root (young, not old and sinewy) mixed with goldenrod flowers. It has more of the taste of a bitter tonic than coffee, but it is good hot, and good for you!
Don’t expect, regardless of the tea or coffee substitutes that you use, to generate any taste like that of commercial product. The only thing that actually tastes like coffee is coffee, just like the only thing that tastes like meat is meat, contrary to the claims of shitake mushroom growers or tofu lovers. If you need exact flavours, use exact product! Otherwise, enjoy the alternative lifestyle of the coffee or tea imitator.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cattails -- North American Survival Food

Cattails are one of the true survival foods of North America. Found throughout all of North America, Mexico and parts of the Caribbean islands, this versatile plant provides nourishment, shelter, flavouring and heat. Virtually every part of this plant is usable. From its flowery head in late spring & early summer to its roots and stalks in winter, the cat tail can be put to good use.
In all seasons, cat tail root can be harvested.
The fibrous root network, when boiled, yields a great starchy paste, great for “bread”, or in soups. The root bulb itself tastes like a potato, and cooks like a potato, but can also be eaten raw. The young shoots in the spring are wonderful raw or boiled, with a taste like borage or cucumber. The pollen from the flowers in the late spring makes a great thickener for various boiled dishes. Can’t wait for the yellow flower head? Just pick and eat the green buds like corn on the cob.
Cattails store well, also. Dry the roots, save the flower head when dried, and carry with you on long hikes.
But the puffy ripened flower heads are equally valuable to a lost or stranded hiker. In the past, the fluff was used as stuffing for pillows, and even in life vests. If you have the perseverance to gather lots of the exploded heads, you will find that it makes a great insulation. Add it to your evergreen bough bed on winter camping trips to isolate your body from the cold ground. Go from warmth to heat, by lighting the fluffy seed heads. They are quite flammable, and give off lots of heat. They make a phenomenal fire starter, or even an emergency fuel.
Cattail stalks have been used throughout North American history for thatching of roves, or binding for building walls, when mixed with clay. Most recently, experiments on using the long leaves mixed with binding such as glycerine from biodiesel production have been promising. With the abundance of cattails throughout North America, using the ripened leaf fronds in construction will provide double benefit, as the decaying organic material, if left alone, contributes to excess oxygen in the atmosphere.
Cattails serve as an excellent natural filter in lagoons and swamps, where nutrients are scooped out of the water mix by the plants, and larger waste trapped and consumed over time.
By managing, or at least, utilizing cattails, we serve our own food and shelter needs, while stimulating natural environmental remedies.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Morels -- The Other Great Easter Hunt.

Of the many varieties of easily distinguishable, edible mushrooms growing in North America, none are more well-known than the morel. Morels are the hardest to confuse with poisonous or toxic cousins. Their unique Christmas-tree shape, their distinctive ridges and valleys, their common coloring all make the morel a unique target. Morels possess a camouflage ideally suited to their early spring woodland habits, blending into dead leaf ground cover, matching the sandy or gravelly soil on which they grow, or remaining hidden underneath a few loose leaves.
Ideally, morels like a rich organic soil that is found in decaying leaves of such trees as ash and elm (although they will enjoy other deciduous decay). The soil has to be sufficiently loose to allow for the network of tendrils to develop under the leaf trash carpet of a woodland or grassy area, but have the right ph balance, and the ability to hold moisture without becoming waterlogged.
Gentle to moderate slopes of wooded hills and mountains provide that rich soil, the filtered sunlight, and the gentle air movement required. Deciduous forests with modest undergrowth frequently suit morel growth, as do the edges of woodland trails, where grasses are not too tall.
Many morel hunters do well in the year after a “burn” of an area, or in areas where there has been a surface disturbance of the soil, such as a logging event. Probably this is due to two factors: the injection of nutrients that are released into the soil, and the elimination of other plants that may have choked light and moisture or blocked sunlight from the smaller morels. Some people will claim that morels are never located near evergreens. Yet, isolated varieties of morels grow in almost any setting, given the right moisture, light & season combinations.
You will probably have your greatest success if you look in these key areas after a rain, when grasses and dead leaves are compacted by the rain, allowing morels to thrust above this compacted debris. By calculating where optimum conditions may exist for morel growth, and selecting the ideal time and day to hunt, you will increase your success rate dramatically.
Fortunately for morel lovers, morels grow in almost every state of the USA and province of Canada, and in part of Mexico. They officially are found in all but the Arizona, Nevada & New Mexico, Florida & Georgia, Alaska and Hawaii and the provinces of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland-Labrador. Yet, at least three varieties are common in Manitoba, two in Saskatchewan, one found in northern Georgia, and one in the eastern regions of Alaska.
Morel types range, from the common yellow morel and black morel to the half-free and western blond morel. While each is specific to a region, many of the types identified are almost indistinguishable from the common yellow or black morel.
Generally, morels are found where winter temperatures reach near or below freezing on a sustainable basis, where deciduous forests allow filtered light during the late spring season, where daytime temperatures are not above 80F during the fruiting season, and where the spider-like rooting networks are able to penetrate and spread in the soil substrate.
Regardless of where they are found, morels make a delectable side dish, or a key ingredient in any of a variety of meals. For more information on morels, visit

Seneca Root Still Great Cold Remedy

Seneca root, also known as snake root, has a long history in North American native diets. Its use as a remedy for colds is well-known. In fact, until the early 1970s, many prairie First Nations people dug the root along roadways and gravelly waste lands, earning up to $14 per pound, “dry, clean & bright.”
As a child, I recall my First Nations friends and their parents working their way down Highway 6 in Manitoba in early July, digging Seneca root. By the time they had made their way from the Fairford reservation to Woodlands, most of the teenagers and adults had accumulated more than 200 pounds each, which they washed thoroughly, then dried in the sun on screens.
For the two weeks that it took for the root to completely dry, they moved into the Whiteshell Provincial Park region to pick wild rice. Between the two wild crops, many of the Fairford residents earned upwards of $6,000 for two months of extremely back-breaking labour.
Seneca root has been one of several cold remedies used buy the original citizens of North America for hundreds of years. However, as chemical solutions to pharmacy have become the preferred method of illness control, the commercial use of Seneca has almost disappeared. Yet, our family continues to rely on a chewed root at the first sign of congestion, which almost 100% success.
Seneca root is found from New Brunswick to Alberta, from northern Manitoba to Missouri & North Carolina. The plant sends up 5 – 20 shoots from the circular head of the root, just above the ground. By late June, these shoots are crowned with a cone-shaped white cluster of flowers about 3/8 inch long (See accompanying picture).
Although many people in the 1900s harvested the plant in the early summer because of the ease of identification, the best time to dig is in early September, when the essential oils are concentrated in the root and the leaf bunches are tinged a deep red.
Once harvested, Seneca roots should be broken from the leaf clusters, washed thoroughly and dried completely, either in a dehydrator, or on a screen in a well-ventilated area. Roots can be stored as is, then ground in a coffee bean grinder and used as a tea, or eaten whole. Beware, though, as the taste is quite powerful, with an astringent taste stronger than Buckleys cough syrup! Remember, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eating Wild

“Eating Wild” is a new blog that introduces readers to the world of wildcrafting. Wildcrafting is the art of “living off the land,” or locating, harvesting and preparing the hundreds of edible flora and fauna available (for free) across North America.
We will show you the range where each item can be found, the best way to locate that item, how to harvest it, its historical uses, the best methods of preparation & storage and the cautions that accompany use of each edible article. Occasionally, we will feature items that are not edible, but quite useful, in other ways, in your home.
This blog is a logical extrapolation of our “Living Lean and Green” blog, and our “Yurt Living” blog. The blog will include links to invaluable information on wildcrafting. The various items featured will be presented, as much as possible, in season. That is, just before the best “harvest date,” we will provide articles relevant to that wildcraft product.
The first blogs will feature the following plants for harvest:
1. Morels. Although we are into the harvest season in some areas already, morels are so popular that we feel we need to act today, instead of waiting until tomorrow.
2. Dandelion greens. These little gems go from delicious when picked early to disgusting if picked late!
3. White willow bark. A great “headache remedy, they are harvested best when the sap is just running
4. Cattail roots. Although harvestable anytime, now that the ice is off the ponds, it is an ideal time to harvest.
5. Alpine strawberry leaves. Great & nutritious tea.
6. Spruce buds. Yech! But a healthy tea awaits.
7. Tansy. A long-standing folk remedy, which can be harvested from August until May.
As you can see from the sample of articles, our approach to wildcrafting is eclectic, with healthy harvests, folk remedies, nutritious drinks, delicious side dishes, and savoury staples. Each week, we will post seven new items (one per day, ideally!). But if you want to know about a specific item, or want us to “jump the queue” by responding to your unique request, we would be more than pleased to do so. Just let us know in the “Comments” section, or email me at