In this article, I want to talk about two trees that are found ubiquitously around the world – the Pine or evergreen trees and Bamboo. Well it turns out that you can eat a pine trees and some Bamboo and nearly all of them are very nutritious if you can tolerate the taste (or no taste) and you are willing to think of yourself as a Billy Goat for a minute. When I went through the Special Forces Survival, Evasion, Escape, and Resistance (S.E.R.E.) course at Camp Mackall North Carolina, the home and training center for the Army Green Berets, we were trained to identify and harvest plants that we could eat, use for medicinal purposes, make into weapons, shelters, and trapping materials. The two plants that became a staple for our survival were the Pines and Bamboos.
Let’s start with the Pine tree in this blog and we’ll hammer Bamboo in part 2. and discuss how it can be consumed and used. As hard as it may be to imagine consuming a pine tree it can in fact be done and it will yield a nutritious bounty that will increase your survivability. The Pine needles can be collected and steeped in boiling water for two to three minutes to make a tea that is high in vitamin C. Now don’t get too excited and think that pine needle tea tastes like Lipton lemon tea; rather it has a mild turpentine taste that stems from the tannic acid in the pine needles. But, it is a source of much needed antioxidants that will aid your immune system and bind with free radicals to keep you healthy when your body is slowly deteriorating from stress and poor nutrition.
Then there are pine nuts found in the pine cones. This is a favorite of squirrels and after a week with no food it will most assuredly become your favorite food too. As you walk through pine forests you will see pine cones that have been gnawed down to the core by squirrels that feed off the nuts. Well these same nuts can be consumed by humans and are quite nutritious and filling if you eat enough. They are packed with protein, minerals, and oils, and vitamins. To prepare pine nuts for consumption, remove the nuts from the pine cone and then remove the husk from the seed and eat them raw or roasted. Simple!
I remember my Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol -Team was on a three-day survival exercise in the month of January at Camp Mackall. The days and nights were cold, the forest was barren, and it seemed like my five-man patrol was the only living warm-blooded, cold-skinned, runny nose critters in a fifty-mile radius. We walked to our designated end point that was forty miles away and we had three days to get there. Our only food and water was whatever we managed to find in the forest. We only carried our Load Bearing Equipment and a small back pack with a poncho and nylon liner. This is all we carried to keep us warm and dry in 20-degree weather. With every passing hour after the first day we became weaker. We expended thousands of calories at about 400 calories an hour moving, staying warm, and carrying our tactical load – radios, batteries, weapons, medical equipment and more. Considering that we were not loading our bodies with any calories we were running out of gas faster than rocket boosters on a space shuttle launch. As much as eating a pine tree wasn’t very appealing to any of us, we soon realized that we weren’t going to come across an all you can eat buffet in the woods anytime soon. So, eating a pine tree was now on the menu and all we did is take three steps in any direction to the dinner table.
How to eat a pine tree if you’re not a beaver? Make sure you have a sturdy and sharp field knife. You got to have a knife in a survival situation otherwise your survival chances drop exponentially. Strip the coarse outer bark of the tree – about a 6’ by 12’ strip. Expose the yellow-inner bark. Score the inner bark in a rectangle and then peel it downward stripping it away from the tree. Now I gotta tell you here, when your famished and cold that inner bark looks like chicken breast meat! I was so doggone hungry I just dug in like biting into Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried chicken. Now how did that work out you ask? It was like chewing wood soaked in turpentine and no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that was chicken, the taste defied my sensibilities and said uh uh! Next course of action – boil that bad boy, drain of the tannic acid tainted water, and eat stringy and filling…tree. If you happen to have saved a frying pan, butter, or cooking oil when your airplane crashed in the wilderness you could fry it up and eat crispy strips that will taste better than boiling.
The irony for my team was that on day three and five minutes from our end-point we stumbled across a flock of turkeys and small herd of deer. It was almost as if they were waiting to cheer us across the finish line as we barely walked in on our feet. We spent the last 36-hours walking 200 meters, sitting and resting for five minutes, and then walking another 200 meters. It was a cycle that brought us home on near empty gas tanks but got us there nonetheless. I guess I gotta give Mr. Pine tree some credit here – he kept me dreaming of getting home to KFC.
Dale Comstock - Oppressors Beware