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Ode to Fir

May 26, 2012, by Ken Jorgustin


Guest post: by Giurza

I do believe that this simple tree has not been given its due beyond what we think of it in terms of X-mas tree. During all three survival courses in Sweden (two summer time and one winter time) I was given excellent opportunity to fully appreciate the fir tree. What follows is a short laudatory article for its numerous gifts for survivalists and layman alike.

First, the fir tree provides excellent C vitamin rich material. Just like pine, its needles are rich with C vitamin. Or at least that was what our survival instructors told us back then 🙂 Pluck green needles and cook them in water for 5 min. Resulting tea is not what Waldorf Astoria would serve, but on the other hand, let them rot with scurvy, while we enjoy healthy life in boondies after SHTF. One should note that boiling reduces vitamin C content by up to 60% so you must pack the needles of the fir quite tightly into the pot. Also, don’t use copper pot for this kind of vitamin tea, because copper enhances reduction of vitamin C. Also, if vitamin C deficiency is acute, chew the fir needles raw instead of boiling them, swallow only when needles are reduced into a pulp.

Second, branches of fir tree provide EXCELLENT thermal and visual camouflage (visual only in appropriate terrain). It is not commonly known fact, but it is nonetheless. The reason is the same why we choose fir for shelter building – thermal isolation. No black helicopter would ever spot you if you were covered by fir branches, or were in a deep fir forest with dense fir branch overhead cover. On the other hand, it alone will not save you, if you won’t employ other evasive actions.

Third, as mentioned above, fir branches are famous for their thermoisolative qualities, thus we use them for outdoor temporary shelters. The one that particularly springs to my mind is one called “wolf’s lair”. Choose a place right under one small fir tree, or ideally between two of the same.

First you start with floor – you stick fir branches (after clearing the ground from nasty bumpers that would otherwise destroy your sleep) at 45 degree angle into the ground. You keep sticking those branches until there is no place to stick. The result should be an area enough to lie in fetus position and the covering created by fir branches should feel firm and springy (boing, boing).

Then do the roof and walls. Fir branches are naturally bent, and you must use that to your advantage in building. Begin where your head will lie and build cone shaped ending (naturally cone ending should point outward). Then proceed with walls and roofing – use bent fir branches to create a tube-like shelter. Place branches perpendicularly to your lying position (so you won’t crash the house when entering or exiting). Rule of thumb (OMG the lesbian from “Boondock saints” would kill me) is to use so many fir branches that there wouldn’t be a single spot of visible sky when you are in the shelter and looking up. It should be just enough to crouch down into and lie in fetus position.

I can attest that even when there was -2C (28.4F) I slept my life’s best sleep in “wolf’s lair” and without sleeping bag that is! Just remember – take almost all of your clothes off, use some for mat and the rest to cover oneself during night! Never sleep with your clothes on, and never, never with your boots on!

Fourth, fir roots, young ones are very good as ropes. Dig out some lean roots and then work them a little by pulling them back and forth with middle part around a stout branch or stem. Just remember, when dried they will lose their flexibility, so this is either temporary rope, or a very good solution for lashing the beams (or anything that would not require flexibility later on).

Fifth, fir bark and cones are very good for bark tanning the furs. Put the bark into the bucket and pour boiling water over it, let it stay there for 2-3 days. After de-fleshing and drying the hide, soak it in the solution for a month, stirring and rearranging the fur every day. After that, continue with stretching and drying process as in any other tanning process.

Sixth, it is said that one can eat fir resin and seeds of fir tree. I can say only this – seeds can be eaten, but they are so small that in order to fill your stomach, you’ll have to exhaust more calories to collect enough seeds. However, they can be a quite good spice in times of harsh need, just as ants are (like small peppers soaked in vinegar, ants that is). I have not tasted resin though, so I can give you no guarantees to its edibility.

Seventh, remembering thermoisolative powers of fir we can use it for storing some foods beneath a large pile of branches during winter. I ate some wild apples in the winter that fell beneath the fir and were covered by needles. When hay is not available you can use fir needles or fir branches to construct ice-room in the winter, to have refrigeration during spring and into summer.

Eighth, you can adorn it on 24th of December and have Christmas in the field 🙂

Finally, the wood of the fir is not your best option for fire, as fir does not contain a lot of energy, use birch and other deciduous hard wood for that. But fir tree has those small dried branches on the lower levels, and they are excellent for STARTING the fire. After you’ve managed to get your spark flaming in the tinder, use those small dried fir branches to get the flame real strong for the bigger logs.


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