Many of the local schools had a science day field trip into the mountains today. I was fortunate enough to be able to get the OK from my supervisor that I could go teach a portion of the class. The kids were in groups of 5 to 10 kids, all in grades 4-6. Each group had an instructor leading them on their rounds and at least one teacher and one parent. They went on a nature walk and stopped at about 8-10 stations. I was manning one of the stations. I was assigned a perfect topic. Food.
First I talked about how if we want some food all we have to do is go to the grocery store and buy some. Even if we don't have much money we still can buy food. In fact, we have to have food or we would die. Then I asked if any of them had seen the TV show Survivor. About half had. We talked about that show. You are sent to an island or someplace secluded. You have to figure out how to get food and shelter. If you don't then you get sent home and you don't get any money. Here in the woods, if you don't figure out how to get food and shelter YOU WILL DIE!
I talked a little about eating meat. How many eat beef? Chicken? Pork? Then I started with some wild animals. Deer, elk, antelope, bear? How would you kill them if you didn't have a gun? We talked a little about spears, darts, and bow-and-arrow hunting. I had some spear points and arrow heads. I had a very quick demonstration about making them, including sharpening a the point with a deer antler. Then we talked about how to find the right reed for the arrow shaft and how to hook the arrow on to the shaft. It was a quick discussion but it kept their attention.
Then I asked if they only eat meat. No? That's right, we eat fruits and vegetables and bread and tortillas (about half were Mexican). So if we are out in the woods we would need to eat those types of food too. I then gave a quick demonstration of shelling acorns and pine nuts, talking about how you need to leach acorns but the pine nuts you can eat straight. We even found some hazelnuts in the woods. They weren't any good because they are ready at the beginning of summer, but nevertheless, they now can recognize hazelnut bushes.
I showed them some other seeds that I called medicine seeds. They look a lot like acorns. Just because they look similar doesn't mean you can eat them. But I did crack that one open. I used a flat rock for the bottom and a hand held rock to crack it with - mano and metate style. I then ground it up in a mortar, using a pestle. How many of you have mortars and pestles at home? About 3/4 of the Mexican kids did and about 1/4 of the Caucasian kids did. None of the African-American kids did. After grinding up the medicine seed I asked for a volunteer kid that had a cut or scratch on their arm. Each group had someone with a fresh scratch. I then rubbed the ground meal on the scratch. See? Just like a triple antibiotic ointment. Only better because we just made it ourselves.
I held up a cattail and asked them what it was. I've written about cattail before. http://whatifitistoday.blogspot.com/2010/10/cattails.html It's a great plant! I told the kids that they should look for cattails and impress their parents by digging up some roots and bringing them home for dinner.
I had a bag of mustard seed. They each got to eat a few. It's good flavoring for food like acorn or cattail. We also learned about mustard leaves and herb plantain. I told them that you can eat the small leaves right from the plant or you could go to the grocery store and spend lots of money to buy the very same thing. Only at the grocery store it's called fancy salad!
Then at the end of the talk I said I was getting a headache. No problem. Here's a willow branch. I took one of my rock blades and scraped off the bark of the willow. I then put it into my mouth, chewed for a very short time, and spit it out! Yuck, that tastes horrible! Everyone laughed, every time. Then I asked if they ever ate grape or cherry flavored children's aspirin. They all said yes. I then asked if they ever had adult aspirin. That aspirin you are supposed to swallow whole. You don't chew it. If you did it would taste horrible. In fact, just as bad as that willow bark I just chewed on. Do you know why? Because the first aspirin was made out of willow bark. If you really are going to use willow bark for a headache, if possible make the bark into a warm tea and drink the tea. It still doesn't taste good but it's much better than the acidic taste of chewing on bark.
The kids had a great time. So did I.