Mountains, Falcons, and Bark For Breakfast
Once when I was a young, I read a book about a boy around my age that survived in the New York wilderness through an entire winter. The book was called My side of the mountain, and at the time I was inspired to 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. This idea enthralled me, how I like the protagonist could leave the comforts of modern civilization and return to a simpler, more primitive life in the 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. The bark eaters this term refers to aren’t the local beavers or porcupines that inhabited these woods, but the people.
Native Bark Eaters
Apparently the Algonquin tribes that originally inhabited the Adirondacks ate alot of this flesh of trees, so much so that the Iriquois, their sworn enemies, dubbed them the Adirondacks. Some say the bark-eating typically ocurred in the winter when the Adirondacks could not find more enticing eats. In other words, bark equalled famine food. Others contend that the Iroquois liked to add bark particularily 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 cultures 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 (link).
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 (link).
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 that Gets Missed
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. Pine bark in particular is high in vitamins A, E and C and filled with 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. Varieties that are known as edible 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 that grow here. This is the type of tree the Sami’s used to traditionally make 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.
Or click the following link –> Wild Food <– to see more from our wild food section.