Reverie Nature Podcast

Evergreen Roots: bushcraft & survival resource

May 25, 2024 Chadwick Howard Clifford Season 2 Episode 6
Evergreen Roots: bushcraft & survival resource
Reverie Nature Podcast
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Reverie Nature Podcast
Evergreen Roots: bushcraft & survival resource
May 25, 2024 Season 2 Episode 6
Chadwick Howard Clifford

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  • From crafting tools and building shelters, evergreen roots are a versatile resource for any survivalist
  • Very fast to collect on the go
  • Whether you're a seasoned bushcraft enthusiast, outdoors oriented, or just starting out, this episode will equip you with valuable knowledge to uncover how to find and identify the right areas to collect, to prepare and utilize in various scenarios

Support the Show.

Thank you for tuning in to the Reverie Nature Podcast! Your support keeps our adventures alive. Be certain to subscribe for more captivating episodes exploring the wonders of the natural world. Join us on this journey to embrace nature's song and preserve the beauty of our planet. Together, we can make a difference.

Chad Clifford

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

  • From crafting tools and building shelters, evergreen roots are a versatile resource for any survivalist
  • Very fast to collect on the go
  • Whether you're a seasoned bushcraft enthusiast, outdoors oriented, or just starting out, this episode will equip you with valuable knowledge to uncover how to find and identify the right areas to collect, to prepare and utilize in various scenarios

Support the Show.

Thank you for tuning in to the Reverie Nature Podcast! Your support keeps our adventures alive. Be certain to subscribe for more captivating episodes exploring the wonders of the natural world. Join us on this journey to embrace nature's song and preserve the beauty of our planet. Together, we can make a difference.

Chad Clifford

Please support the podcast through a donation or subscription at:
Buy me a coffee

Evergreen Roots

Transcribed by 

Welcome to the Reverie Nature Podcast. I'm your host Chad Clifford and today we're exploring the hidden treasure beneath the forest floor, evergreen tree roots. From crafting tools and building shelters, evergreen roots are a versatile resource for any bushcrafter or survivalist.

They're fast to collect and you can get them while you're traveling. So whether you're a seasoned bushcrafter or just getting started, this episode will have some valuable knowledge to help you uncover and identify the right trees, how to prepare the roots and utilize them in various scenarios. In the Reverie Nature Podcast, you can expect to find a wide variety of topics on the nature experience.

From bushcraft, survival skills, nature lore, animal tracks and sign, storytelling, nature soundscapes and much more. These are the lessons and skills I've been teaching for decades. So before we dig in, please take a moment to subscribe and consider offering your support to the podcast.

Evergreen roots. So what can you make with these roots? Well, think of the birchbark canoe. The whole thing is lashed and sewn together with spruce roots.

Besides the birchbark boats, you can make birchbark crafts, making a rim around a little container, lashing the rim onto the container. You can use it as an emergency shoelace. You can lash almost anything you can imagine with roots.

The thing is with roots, once they dry out, it's not a matter of re-soaking them. They turn brittle and that's it. They take that initial shape, dry out and they're done.

So while they last a long time and they're durable, you don't reuse them in the sense of untying it like a rope. So what to look for if you need some lashing? You want a stand of evergreen, ideally spruce trees. So although any evergreen root is not too bad, spruce roots are usually considered the best.

When I'm looking for roots, I'm not quite as picky. If I'm in a forest with some cedar, I'll use those, whatever it is. I don't mind.

The evergreen roots, they tend to have a red skin over them. So when you're in a forest and you're digging four roots, what root are you coming across? If you're surrounded by evergreen trees, okay, you can be assured that it's an evergreen root. But otherwise, there's other roots mixed in if it's more of a mixed forest that you're in.

So you're looking for the roots that have a orange or reddish skin over the roots. You also want to be picky with the soil type too. You don't want to be digging in hard soil, right? It's just too much work.

What you want is ideally a damp or loamy area. So when you start peeling back the moss or digging into the dirt, it's soft. It's easy to pull up the roots.

And remember, you're not there to make a mess. When I'm pulling out a root, I'm taking up some of the soil. I'm not digging very deep, you know, six inches maybe at the most.

And as I'm lifting up the soil, I'm following a root along. I'm lifting the soil as I go. You don't just grab a root and yank on it.

It will break. And it'll break quickly because it's usually intertwined with other roots crossing and weaving. So you really have to untangle it from under the soil.

So gently lift off the soil you need. Put that soil back when you're done. You can have that area pretty much look the way you arrived.

So don't go in there and just make a mess and dig everything up and expose the other roots to the air and therefore dryness. It's not good for the trees. Speaking of how much harm we're doing by taking roots, remember there's a lot of roots underground.

What you see above the ground tree-wise, there's a whole lot of roots supporting that. So there are a lot of roots. If you're just looking for 10 feet of roots, you're not going to hurt a tree.

At the same time, if the tree is only 2 inches in diameter, yeah, yeah, you're gonna kill it. But you know, you want roots from larger trees. So if there's a stand of small younger trees, yeah, probably best to just avoid that area.

Move on. That comes to digging. How do you dig up the soil? Well, I did say you wanted soft soil.

You don't want to dig with your fingers necessarily. I often have done it this way and what happens is as you're digging in the soil or clawing through the soil, that soil gets under your fingernails and it compacts under there and you know, you almost get infections under your fingernails because you need to trim your nails but push the soil. It gets pushed so far down under your nails that it's kind of hard to get out later.

So avoid that. It's very natural. I just want to dig with your fingers because you're in a kind of a messy situation trying to untangle and move soil around.

But get a digging stick. You know, just to stick the diameter of maybe 2 inches or even the diameter of your thumb if it's a strong stick just to help you do some of the digging. It takes longer.

It's a bit of a nuisance but it's worth it. Get yourself a little digging stick and you don't have to be picky about the digging stick but you should avoid getting all the dirt under your nails because that will be a nuisance later. Besides a loamy soil or a soft soil you want an area that potentially is on a slope.

So if you are in an area where there is a slope, don't choose the high side. Choose the low side. The roots are looking for water.

Yes, they're there for support too. There will be roots on the high side but I find the lower side of the tree is where I go digging for roots especially if the soil is soft. I don't even bother trying if the soil is hard because it's just too much work and too hard to get the roots out of there.

So the next question would be when you see a large evergreen tree or your spruce tree, how far away from the tree do you need to be? Well you don't have to be that far but you don't really want to necessarily be that close either. Obviously the larger roots tend to be closer to the tree and they branch off like like an artery with veins in it. So you know you can be 10 feet away.

No problem there. That's generally probably where I'd start looking for a larger tree. I'd look for a soft soil area down slope if there is a slope and I'll go six inches in if the soil is soft.

If I don't find anything right away I move. I you know just another foot over and I just kind of look around a little bit until I get on to one. It's usually pretty quick in the finding and remember you're looking for a root with an orange skin on it.

The size of root you want depends on the craft or what you need the roots for. But generally I never get something as large as the diameter of one of my fingers for instance. I'm looking for at the most pencil diameter roots because even though that's still an awfully big root, even that is a little on the large side perhaps because you're probably going to be splitting these roots.

You're not just going to use them whole. If you do find smaller roots like the size of a diameter of maybe three or four millimeters those are fine too but you don't tend to split those ones. Use those ones whole or round.

As far as the length of the root you want to get, if you need say ten feet of root, each root that you collect you don't want little short eight-inch, ten-inch pieces. You know take your time follow that root along until it just gets too difficult. Sometimes these roots will do a deep dive under a larger root and it just gets a little too hard to follow or to dig for.

At that point yeah just if you have as long enough length go ahead and break it. You can also use your knife to cut it. Just be aware that in the soil with all the grits using your knife to cut it if it hits the soil much will doll your knife a little bit.

I often tend to just pull and break the root because I'm not getting large diameter roots right? So pull it off break it. You want at least a two foot section ideally to be useful. Don't over harvest that's for sure.

You're digging up the soil you're pulling roots. You're not really hurting the tree that much by just pulling these small little roots especially if it's a large tree and you're not taking much but you don't want to over harvest either and take more than you need. So take what you need leave the rest return that area to the way it was.

Put the soil back in place. You haven't probably displaced much soil but you've certainly disturbed it so pack that in give it a little press down. I even go as far as whisking whatever pine needles or whatever it is in the area just to really cover up what I've done and to make it look like I was not even there.

And that's the thing with bushcraft and survival skills isn't it? You are taking things from the woods. You're using things. You're cutting down saplings.

You need to be aware of what you're doing. You don't want to just take any old sapling. You're being choosy.

What are you being choosy about? Well for the craft you're doing as well but you also are concerned with the environment. You don't want to make a mess in other words. You don't want to make things worse.

So if I can use the example of collecting a sapling for I don't know say making a pair of tongs where I need about an inch diameter piece of wood. A live piece of wood like a sapling. I don't just go find the nearest sapling.

I know what species of tree I want. It tends to be like a young maple but I don't just go grab a young maple sapling. I look for a cluster of maples so if there's a little cluster of these trees growing up like 10 or 11 all clustered together.

You know those are going to support each other as they grow but they die off. You know there's only going to be one or two trees in that mix that are going to grow. They're competing for light and water.

So I'll take one of those and lessen my impact on the environment because bushcrafting does have an impact. You just got to watch what you're doing and control that impact so it does not harm the environment and some people argue you're actually improving things. It might be a hard pill to swallow that one but you can see it though.

With the example I just used you know thinning out the maples but they do need each other for support as they grow up. So you never over harvest. Same goes with wild edibles.

If you're picking leaves for a tea whatnot you don't just harvest from one plant. If that plant has 10 leaves on it take one or two. Certainly don't take 30% of them right.

So you got to be mindful of these things and if you're sharing these skills absolutely make sure you share them properly with the right attitude because if you don't model your instruction guess what the next person is going to do. When they pass it on to their friend it's just going to turn into a mess right. So be respectful.

Okay enough preaching so let's get back to digging roots. As you dig the roots you have the red skin on the roots. You need to keep these damp.

If you're going to be using them right away or within half an hour no problem but if you're not going to use them for a few hours you better get these into water. Put them in a stream with a weight on them or have a bucket with you with some water in it. You need to keep these soaking and if they start drying out they lose you know their flexibility and you can keep them for a long time.

You know once they're in water they're fine. It's going to take a very long time for them to rot or anything like that. So with your longer lengths of root you need to coil them up.

Keep them nice and tidy. Put them in a long coil. They won't unravel.

You know they just don't. They're sort of stiff in a way so that'll be fine in the bucket. Different little coils.

If you don't do that you're just going to have a tangled mess. So let's get on to the next step and that's preparing the roots. So you have your bucket of roots.

They're all in little coils. Now you've left the skin on. That helps them keep the moisture in.

So I would just leave that skin on right until you're about to use them. And how do you get that reddish skin off? Well a lot of people use their nails and they peel away and it's you know it comes off and you know pretty easily in long lengths. So it's not too much of a nuisance to get off but it it does take some time.

There is some tricks for that. I've come across people building birch bark canoes and this and stuff doing demonstrations and I've noticed sometimes on a few occasions people would be trying to get that skin off the root. And you can leave that skin on if you're in a rush.

It depends what you're doing. If you want a nice clean looking craft afterwards yeah take off the skin but it doesn't really matter otherwise. But I always tend to take off the skin myself.

So when you take the skin off yeah you can use your nails and just it's a little tedious. Well here's a really good trick. When I was showing how to make a birch bark canoe this is what we did and it worked really really well.

So next thing you have to do to do this is you need to grab a piece of wood or a branch the diameter of about two inches and I'd say about four or five inches long. It can be a little longer doesn't matter as long as it's not shorter. And what you do with this two inch diameter branch is you take your knife if you know how to do splitting with the knife you put the knife on to the center of the branch as the branch is standing on a steady surface and you tap your knife through that to split the wood.

And if you don't know about safe knife use yeah you need to learn safe knife use before you start doing bushcraft that's for sure. Anyway split that branch into two halves. Once it's in two halves you hold the two halves you put them back together hold them in your hand and then what you do is you put the root between.

So what you're going to be doing is where you put the branch back together you drag the root through through it so through where your split was. So in other words you have one half you put a root on it you put the other half back on top the way it initially was and you pull the root through and what this does is it peels or scrapes the root off for you. You just pull the root through and even if it's a five foot length whatever it is you keep pulling it through being mindful of if it's a thinner root it could break if you pull too hard and it just peels all that that exterior bark reddish bark off the root.

It works really well and the stuff it doesn't get off it'll be off in long strands and the parts you missed you can probably just pull those strands and the rest will come off or run it through this again. What I actually do sometimes if I have a lot of roots I'm doing is I will take my branch I'll use a slightly longer one maybe five to eight inches I'll split the branch and then I'll actually lash with roots. I'll lash that branch back together on one end so it's like I'm repairing the branch they just split right so I got it lashed in one end with rope roots whatever instead of just holding it with your hand that way it stays together and then on the other end you just open it enough open it up enough to get a root in the crack there and then you just squeeze as much as need be to offer enough resistance to get that coating of the roots to peel off and you'd be surprised how many people don't know that little trick it just makes all the difference and it works so well and it's easy to easy to do.

So now that you have roots with the bark I guess we'll call the bark or a sheath peeled off definitely get them back in the water if you're not going to use them right away you should be using them pretty soon though because now you've peeled off the skin and although you're no rush if you're leaving them in water yeah they just you know they're aging they're drying out slowly unless they're in water so you need to be mindful of that and now it's time to split the roots and that's there's a knack to that too and what I mean by splitting roots if the diameter is a little on the big side of the root you've collected and you want a different size diameter you're going to you'll probably start with a knife or maybe just your fingernails depending on the root you want to get that root to start splitting down the center so you have this round root and split it down the center and then you just pull the two halves apart it's not as easy as it sounds I'll tell you that because if you just take the the peeling and you start pulling on two ends it will not peel straight down the root and it'll just you'll have one long piece and one short piece yeah and you're kind of making a mess and you'll have uneven lengths uneven diameters in the length even though it's not a diameter now once you split it so here's the trick it's easier to show or demonstrate but I think I can describe this well enough you take your roots you take once you've started the split in the top of your root let's say you squeeze the root and you have it hanging squeeze the root between your knuckles of both hands so if you imagine putting your fingernails together from both hands you know with your fingers kind of pointing towards you at this point the roots in between all that all right you're at the root you're holding the top of the root the rest of it's dangling from your hands and you got your knuckles kind of squeezed together holding the root in place with your opposable thumbs what you do then is you from the top you start splitting that root and you start peeling it by holding it with your thumbs each side and pulling it open with the with the pivoting motion of your wrists I guess and you're pulling them apart as you do this you'll you'll notice that even though you're trying to do this evenly with both thumbs pulling it apart at with equal pressure the root will still not split evenly here's the trick when there's one side of the root that is a little thicker because as it's as you're splitting it it's not splitting down the center what you do at that point is you take the thicker side the side that's being a bully hogging too much of the root you only bend that side so as you're splitting it you're pulling only on the thicker side and that will bring the split back into the center and once it's back into the center go back to evenly splitting the root by pulling on both both the sides of the root equally and that will you'll be able to split it right down the center that way pretty easily you will come to kinks or I wouldn't call them knots but there's kinks in in the roots from the way they've had to grow underground those kinks can be split right through sometimes not sometimes they're just awkward and it hurts a sharp kink and you get a little stuck there you just have to work around that now you'll have root that split in half and what happens with the split root it sits nicely on your craft doesn't it and you have a nice flat surface of that root it helps bind a better one it's split like that you can certainly split it into quarters to just start the process over again in future episodes I'm going to have a bunch of crafts where I do make use of short amounts of roots so stay tuned for that there are alternatives to using roots too you can use cane you know the wicking that you use in chairs those I don't know if you call them wicker chairs those old-fashioned wooden chairs with they got the nice mesh of natural material that you sit on or for the back piece that's typically cane and you can buy that at craft stores in long rolls this cane cane works just great I've even used it on birch bark crafts before what I have noticed though is the cane in weather dries out and it gets brittle and it tends to wear out faster than roots roots are better in my opinion but cane is sure convenient on my birch bark canoe where I ran out of roots at one point so we switched to cane in the building and yeah it was the cane later that actually had to be replaced the roots all held fine it was those areas of cane that actually wore out anyway I don't want to get too long in the tooth here there will be a few crafts that I talk about in future episodes that will make use of using roots so this is our resource for that so remember be respectful on how you collect any natural fiber or whatever it is you're doing in bushcraft do not make a mess be respectful teach the same thank you for joining us on the Reverie nature podcast remember to subscribe for more captivating episodes exploring the wonders of the natural world until next time may you saunter forth embracing nature song and may the whispers of the wilderness linger in your heart

Transcribed by 

Where to look
With care
Preparing roots
Conclusion: next steps