Practically Seeking

May 2007 (Issue 1)

Hey there,
Welcome to our very first issue of Practically Seeking...
I want this newsletter to be interesting, informative, and maybe even a bit thought-provoking, but most of all I want it to inspire you to get outside and try this stuff! If there's anything you'd like to see covered in future issues, of if you have any questions about what we're covering in this one, e-mail us
We love to hear from you!

Upcoming Events What's New Skill of the Month Eddie's Bookshelf Practically Speaking Final Note

Upcoming Events

Baltimore Bowmen Traditional Classic

May 18–20

Eddie's first archery shoot in... ?!
Come see how he makes out, and hang out with us at the Practical Primitive booth for our own little knapp-in.
More Information on the Traditional Classic...

Calling All Texans

June 10–16

We're taking a road-trip to Texas and will be in the DFW/Waco area around the second week in June. If you're in that area (or somewhere along our route between New Jersey and Texas) and would like to set up a mentoring session or have a group that would like to schedule a workshop, give us a call or send us an e-mail. Eddie would love to sit down with some folks from home!
More Information on the Texas Trip...

New Class Added to Spring Schedule


June 2&3

Construct several different styles of shelter, and learn the principles that will allow you to adapt them to any environment or situation.
Get details on this class...

Skill of the Month

Body Hollow

The Body Hollow

In a pinch, burrowing yourself into a big pile of leaves or other debris can go a long way to keeping you warm, (provided you keep at least 6-8 inches between you and the ground, and about 2.5 feet over and around you.

But if you have a bit more time, this simple style of leaf shelter can be easily improved.
1. Dig a hole into the ground about the depth of your body and at least two hand lengths wider and longer than you are.
2. Berm the excavated dirt up around the edges and fill the hole up to ground level with debris.
3. Lay a framework of wrist-thick branches across the top of the berm, and overlay that with a lattice of smaller diameter branches to support the pile of debris you're about to heap on top. Make sure your debris is at least 2.5 feet thick in the center, both for insulation and for water-resistance.
4. Lay some lattice-type branches on top of the debris to keep it from blowing away.
5. Have an extra pile of debris near your doorway that you can pull in after you to block heat loss at your entry point.

This style of shelter, commonly referred to as a Body Hollow, is quick to construct and will keep you warm and dry, but takes far less time and materials than a full-on debris hut.

For photos and step-by-step instructions on building this shelter check out our website.

(Wondering how well this simple shelter would really hold up? See the post-Nor'easter pics!)

Body Hollow Challenges


Head out into any wooded area and gather together a giant pile of leaves (at least waist high). Burrow down into the middle of it and see how long it takes before you notice it getting warmer.


Build your own Body Hollow shelter and spend the night.


What if you were in an environment with hard, rocky or frozen ground and you couldn't dig down? Build your Body Hollow modified to this type of soil.

Eddie's Bookshelf


1491: New Revelations of the America's Before Columbus

—Charles C. Mann

1491 caused me to re-evaluate much of what I thought I knew about the pre-Columbian Americas. Research is now showing that civilizations in both North and South America were much older, and far more developed, than previously thought, and the peoples here exerted a much greater influence on their surrounding environment. These revelations challenge many of the traditional (mis)conceptions of what life was like in the Americas prior to European contact.

One of the most fascinating things to me in these days of global warming was the information presented on terra preta; a soil created by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon about 2000 years ago and still in use today. This soil is characterized by an amazingly high content of pottery shards and charcoal, and contains far higher levels of microbial biomass than the surrounding forest. The pottery helps to regulate the moisture levels in the soil, allowing the crops to continue to thrive during drier months or periods of drought. It also remains fertile for extremely long periods of time. Some plantations have not used additional fertilizer for over 20 years!

How does any of this apply to our current global situation? The carbon that was once in the soil is now in the atmosphere. That loss of carbon has lead to a decline in both plant health and crop production, leading to increased use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. By creating soil that contains a higher biomass we can begin to return that carbon to the soil and create healthier plants. Healthier plants have better resistance to diseases and insects, meaning less use of pesticides/herbicides and less need for fertilizers, which would also mean less run-off of these chemicals into our drinking water and our oceans. (A company in Georgia, Eprida, is already offering a modern version of this technology that can be implemented in a profitable and sustainable manner.)

This is just one of the fascinating things that I learned about in this book. And it's just another example of how the path to the future can be enlightened by the wisdom of the ones who came before.

For more information on this and other recommended books, see our website.

Practically Speaking

Virginia Creeper

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder what kinda plant that is?

For many of us, studying plants is something that we'd really like to do, but have no idea where to start. It's true that the plant kingdom is very large, and allows little room for making mistakes (mis-identifying a plant can make you ill, or even be deadly). But it's also true that there are many great advantages to knowing your local plants. For instance, wild edibles tend to be far more nutritious than our standard, farm-raised fare, and many of today's common medicines are derived from, or have properties similar to, plants that grow as "weeds" in your yard. As anyone who has studied plants will tell you, there is no short cut; you must put in your dirt-time. But before you get discouraged, there is a fun and simple way to get started.

First, get yourself a copy of the following books: Botany in a Day (Thomas J. Elpel), Newcomb's Wildflower Guide (Lawrence Newcomb), and the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants (Lee Allen Peterson). All three are widely available at local bookstores, on, or in your local library. These resources will give you three different ways in which to identify a plant -- by family, flower type, and flower color, respectively.

With your guide books in hand, head out into your yard or local park, pick a plant you recognize (dandelions are easily recognizable, and pretty much everywhere this time of year!) and look it up in each of the three books using each different method of identification (not the index!) to confirm that it actually is what you think it is. By starting with plants you already recognize you will find it easier to become acquainted with the identification systems. Cattails, violets, plantain and members of the mustard family are other examples of common plants that are easily found. Use all of your senses in the identification and confirmation process. Garlic mustard and ground ivy may look very similar, but smelling a few crushed leaves will quickly end any doubt!

Next, and this is perhaps the most important step, USE IT! Harvest only a small amount the first time -- much less than you think you will eat in a sitting. Wild edibles are far more nutrient dense so you'll feel fuller from a smaller portion, plus our bodies are not used to receiving such nutrient dense food and over consumption can lead to... gastric issues. Also, many wild plants have a more bitter taste, which our modern palettes are no longer used to, and can be an acquired taste. Preparation information is offered in both the Peterson guide and in Botany in a Day.

Many people find it helpful to start a journal in which they can record their observations about each new plant; where it was found, in what season, and how they prepared it. Some even draw pictures or include photos. Personally, I've never been that good at journal-keeping, and tend to focus more on the internalization of a skill. Find the method that works best for you and stick with it! One thing I can assure you, journal or no, once you have found, identified, harvested, prepared and consumed a plant, you will remember it!

By learning only one new plant each week you'll have learned 52 plants in a year, and be well on your way to being comfortable finding edible and medicinal plants year-round. Your identification skills will improve rapidly each time you repeat the process, but ALWAYS be sure to go through the full, multiple-guide identification. Remember, the three "Rights" of plant identification and use; Right part, Right season, and Right preparation.

The abundance around us is amazing. Be thankful. Everything you need is waiting there for you to find. Be aware. The lessons nature will teach you are magnificent. Be humble.

Enjoy and have fun!

If you'd like to learn more about wild edible and/or medicinal plants, check out our upcoming summer schedule or e-mail us to set up a one-on-one mentoring session.

One Final Note

A Big Thank You to everyone for your enthusiasm and support as we are getting this new program started. I always appreciate any comments you have to offer on workshops, on the website, or on topics you'd like to see covered in this newsletter.
And lastly, a great big hug and many, many thanks to Julie Martin Lowe for her tireless assistance in website development and technical support.
Bless you all, and be well.

Eddie Starnater
Practical Primitive

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