Mountains, Falcons, and Bark For Breakfast
Once when I was a young, I read a book about a boy around my age who survived in the New York wilderness through an entire winter. The book, My side of the mountain, inspired me. At the time, I thought I might go out and live my own adventures in the woods; and perhaps, get a wild falcon (as the hero of the story does) and teach it how to hunt. I never did. But the idea still makes me wonder how I might get along in the woods if I had nothing but my wits and the natural world. But the woods are the key I think. I’d rather survive in the woods with plenty of resources at hand than any desert or arctic plain.
And the boy made use of his woods.
The woods where the boy survived were the Adirondacks, in upstate New York. This is significant for this post, because one thing that I remember from reading this book is that the term Adirondack means bark eaters. But this term, bark eaters, isn’t a reference to the local beavers or porcupines that inhabited these woods. It’s a reference to the people.
Native Bark Eaters
Apparently the Algonquin tribes that originally inhabited the Adirondacks ate a lot of this flesh of trees, so much so that the Iroquois, their sworn enemies, dubbed them the Adirondacks. Some say the bark-eating typically occurred in the winter when the Adirondacks could not find more enticing eats. In other words, bark equaled famine food. Others contend that the Iroquois liked to add bark particularly of the white pine, to all manner of foods, much like we today put fruit on our favorite breakfast cereals.
But bark eating wasn’t solely limited to this one tribe, in this one particular location. Many cultures have dabbled in the way of the porcupine. According to the FAO, Thai and Malasyian people eat tree bark in times of need, and it is common for some African tribes to eat the roots of the baobab. The Sami, the indigenous people of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland would make bread from Scots Pine and Birch Trees. Again, some argue that for the Sami, bark was a famine food, but others contend that bark-eating was a sign of prosperity and wealth in this culture.
There has been a long standing tradition among herbalists to use bark in remedies for healing. Slippery elm bark for example was made into a gruel to help with digestive disorders. Cherry bark was used as a cough expectorant. There is also a specific pine in France, that is sold as an extract that supposedly has a whole slew of health benefits.
In the US, we eat a lot of cinnamon, which is also a bark. This short video shows the Sri Lankan process of harvesting the inner cambium layer of the cinnamon tree to process it into the coveted spice:
Another Nutritious Food
With most trees, the cambium, a thin layer that lies directly below the rough, outer bark is the part to eat. Most sources say that it is full of starches and sugars. In particular, Pine bark is high in vitamins A, E and C, and bio-flavonoids.
As always, when trying a plant for the first time some caution is due. Make sure that you’ve correctly identified the tree before ingesting any part of it. Known edibles in our area are pine, maple, aspen, spicebush and sassafrass.
You Can Bake Your Bread and Build with It Too
We’re particularly excited to try the Scots Pine growing around in our area. Traditionally, the Sami used this species of tree to make their bread. We’ve got a small grove of them in the back of our land, and I was planning cutting some of them down to make way for other trees. Of course, we’ll use the wood for other projects, but baking bread from the bark seemed logical. After all, we wouldn’t want all those nutrients to go to waste.
Soon, we’ll have a bread recipe using the bark we harvested from our trees.
Have you ever tried bark other than cinnamon? Leave a comment below.
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