Bark on a tree

Peeling Bark Made Easy

When I was a boy in the Arkansas Ozarks, my father made a business of supplying telephone poles and pilings to commercial customers. And every one of those 50-to-100-foot-long timbers had to be peeled right in the woods. And let me tell you that if we’d used drawknives to handle that job, all those long poles would still be standing. (Not even Bell Telephone could have afforded them!)

Log Peeling Tools

Even back in those days, though, we had a far better way of handling that task. What we did was straighten out a heavy-duty garden hoe until it resembled a Yankee sidewalk scraper, and then use a file to keep a razor-sharp beveled edge on the business end of our new tool. (And the heavier the blade one of these strippers has, the easier it is to keep a beveled edge on it.)

Boy, would that thing take off the bark! It’d just strip away a 3-0r-4-inch-wide slice that was 4-to-5 feet long with each stroke, as long as you remembered two little tricks: you had to keep the beveled face of the blade’s edge down so it wouldn’t dig into the wood, and you always had to limit your strokes to a length that was just a little shorter than the hoe’s handle…otherwise the strips of bark would slide right up and cut into your gloves.

(There is, of course, another kinda minor little wrinkle to making this stripping job as snag-free as possible: Trim all branches off flush with the trunk before you start to peel away a downed tree’s bark.)

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The use of these strippers or peeling spuds allowed our workers to stand upright with very little stooping, keep a rhythm going (just the way a sailor does when he’s swabbing down a ship’s deck with a mop), and strip a pole bare in minutes.

Still, I believe that even this tool could be improved. If, for instance, a simple deflector made of sturdy sheet metal or strap iron were bolted to the spud’s handle about a foot back and slightly offset to one side of the cutting blade…I think it could be made to turn each strip of bark away from and to one side of the workman using the tool. This would allow you to make a much longer stroke on each cut without getting a long strip of bark stuck through your hand or between your eyes. It might even permit you to make super-long “walking” strokes from one end of a log to the other…all in one swipe.

(EDITOR’S NOTE:Peeling spuds can be so valuable to folks who’ve never had one. And as you’ve just seen. Bob Mitchell’s refinements of the basic tool should make one of these strippers even more valuable and enjoyable to use.)

Why Remove Bark From a Log?

When you picture a log cabin or a rustic piece of furniture made with wood that someone milled with a sawmill, you might imagine some bark somewhere on that wood.

But if you’re interested in using the trees you’ve felled to create furniture, fencing, or housing, removing the bark from the wood is one of the most practical steps you can take.

Debarking your logs takes time, but it can help your logs look neater and last longer. Luckily for you, you can find plenty of tools and tips to make the job easier.

Why Is Debarking Important?

While a tree is growing, its bark provides a layer of protection against harsh weather conditions and pests like fungi and insects that can wound or destroy the wood underneath.

Once a branch has been cut or a tree has been felled, however, instead of providing protection, the bark can sustain conditions that might cause damage:

  • The bark can retain moisture.
    A tree needs water and moisture to live, but a log that’s been cut is no longer alive. As a result, any moisture trapped beneath the bark can cause the wood to rot.
  • The bark can provide a hiding place for insects.
    After a log has been cut or a branch has been severed, insects have new openings that allow them to slip beneath the bark more easily. There, they can multiply and thrive, and they don’t need much space. Emerald ash borer larvae can burrow and start to develop less than an inch beneath a tree’s outer bark.
  • The bark can trap dirt and debris.
    This is a concern for anyone who plans to use a chainsaw to cut large logs down into smaller pieces. Dirt is one of a chainsaw’s biggest enemies; it contains particles like silica that can wear down a chain. The amount of dirt that bark can trap can dull your chain quickly.

Debarking your logs isn’t just good for your wood. It’s also good for the tools you use to work with it.

What Debarking Tools Are Available?

You can use all sorts of tools to peel bark. Different tools are better suited for logs of different sizes:

  • Knives and axes
  • Draw knives
  • Bark spuds
  • Chainsaw-powered bark peelers

Knives and Axes

If the log or branch you’re stripping is less than 2″ in diameter, a chainsaw is likely to prove unwieldy. Instead, hold the branch vertically, and slide a knife or a small hand axe beneath the bark lengthwise to remove the bark in peels. This technique works well with saplings.

Draw Knives

A draw knife is a bow-shaped, two-handled knife that’s recommended for debarking medium-sized logs 3″ to 8″ in diameter as well as for planing logs to square their surfaces.

To use a draw knife, lay your log in a steady place where it won’t roll. Stand, sit, or crouch at one end of the log, wedge the edge of the knife just beneath the bark at a point far across from you, and carefully pull the knife toward you, taking care to stop the knife several inches away from your body.

Bark Spuds

If you’re peeling bark from a log larger than 8″ in diameter, chances are that you’ll keep your log lying on the ground while you work. This might make turning the log to peel every side more difficult, which makes a tool as wide as a draw knife less effective.

To debark the largest logs, turn instead to a bark spud.

Imagine scraping the bottom of a pan with a spatula after you’ve cooked dinner, and you have an idea of how to use a bark spud. Simply slip the beveled edge of the bark spud beneath the bark and push against the handle so that the bark peels away from the wood.

Chainsaw-Powered Bark Peelers

Tools like axes, draw knives, and bark spuds are effective and inexpensive, but they can be exhausting to use. To keep yourself from getting fatigued, consider using a chainsaw-powered bark peeler instead.

Bark peelers like the Log Wizard attach to almost any chainsaw and use the saw’s power to strip bark from the wood. They also can be used for several other chores:

  • Planing wood
  • Notching wood
  • Sharpening wood to a point

Your chainsaw bark peeler might require a longer chain than you typically use with your chainsaw. Read the bark peeler’s manual to determine how much longer your chain should be, and make sure you choose a chain with the right pitch and gauge for your saw and bar.

Tips for Debarking Logs

The best time to debark your logs with any kind of tool is springtime. During the spring, trees are actively growing, which makes the layer just below the bark slippery, wet, and much easier to peel than it would be in autumn, after the wood has had time to dry.

If you’re stripping bark from drier, more difficult wood, you might find that a draw knife provides the most stability and is the easiest tool to use.

To strip the last tricky pieces of bark from a log, some people have found a powerful pressure washer to be a helpful tool. This has the advantage of also removing some of the slippery residue that might be left after the bark has been peeled.

Whether you’re a forestry professional, a furniture maker, a woodworker, or even a farmer or rancher, you can get the most out of trees you fell and branches you cut by repurposing them – and you can keep them in the best condition for reuse by debarking them.

NEXT: How to Maintain Your Chainsaw

Tree Bark Eating for Beginners

As the economy sputters, everyone’s looking for new ways to save on food. That’s why, we asked David Clark to collect a whole bunch of no-budget meal ideas for the new issue. Here are his tips for chowing down on tree bark.

A Nice Slice of Tree Bark

A classic meal of human desperation, tree bark has become a must-have during periods of scarcity. But you don’t have to eat it al dente the way termites and beavers do. Inhabitants of the Lapland in Finland, for example, are known to make bread with ground tree bark during cruel winter months, and several Native American groups use tree bark as a dietary supplement. In fact, the Adirondack Mountains derive their name from a derisive term for the Algonquin Indians that means “tree eaters.” Not all bark is equally edible, so you’ll have to experiment with your neighborhood flora. Some popular favorites include aspen, birch, willow, maple, and pine—trees common in cities and forests alike. So sharpen your teeth and dig in!

How to Prepare It

For the choicest strips of bark, be sure to go for the nutritious, tender inner layer known as the cambium. (Eating the outer bark would be no more pleasant than chomping into your bookshelf.) If some resin or gum oozes out as you pry off the main course, be sure to lap it up for quick energy. Here are a few fun ways to serve tree bark:

  • Raw. Shred finely and chew thoroughly.
  • Slice it into strips and boil it to make a rustic pasta. Top with sap, dandelion greens, or insect parts (see entry #2). Alternatively, you can add the noodles to a stew.
  • Dry and grind into flour. The ground bark is pretty versatile and can be mixed with water into a breakfast gruel, baked into bread, added to soup for extra body, or even guzzled straight like a Pixy Stick.

Of course, that just scratches the surface. The piece covers everything from how to cook leather, to eating and preparing insects, to a beginner’s guide to scarfing down dirt! Make our editors happy and subscribe here.

(PS: The frying pan photo above comes from this great page on bark eating.)

Eating Bark: How to Harvest and Prepare Edible Bark Without Harming the Tree

This is the layer that contains the transport tissues through which much of the water and minerals comes up from the roots, and where the sugars produced by photosynthesis travel down from the leaves to the rest of the plant. The cambium layer is a region of active growth that produces xylem and phloem, as well as cork. This combination of water, nutrients, and sugar transport plus a meristematic (active growth) region makes the inner bark layer moist and flavorful.

How NOT to Kill a Tree When You Harvest Its Bark

Once you understand that the inner bark is the transport zone for water, nutrients, and carbohydrates in a tree, it becomes obvious why “girdling” the tree can kill it. Girdling is cutting off a strip of bark around the entire circumference of the trunk.

Think about it: Let’s say you’ve removed a strip of bark all around the trunk of the tree. Some of the water coming up from the roots hits that cut and can’t make it up to the branches and leaves.The leaves are busy photosynthesizing, but the when the sugar they are creating tries to travel down to the roots, it hits your girdling slash in the bark and can’t go any further. The gap in the transport zone kills the tree. What we need to do as foragers, if we want to harvest inner bark without killing the tree, is ensure that there is plenty of intact cambium, phloem, and sapwood around the trunk to enable that transport up from the roots and down from the leaves.

Another issue to be aware of is the risk of disease and infestation. A big, gaping hole in the bark can be an invitation to fungal infections and bug problems. There are three solutions to both the girdling and the disease/infestation issues:

Windfall

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The most surefire way not to hurt the tree is to keep an eye out for freshly fallen branches after a storm. Once separated from the tree, the inner bark dries out quickly and is no longer good to eat. But if you find some freshly fallen branches within 2 to 3 weeks after a storm, go for it.

Come in at an angle with a pocket knife and work down the branch in strips. You’ll be able to feel the harder wood layer below the inner bark. Strip off the layer just outside that. You’ll be getting the dry outer bark as well, but you can peel or rub that off later.

Prune a Branch

Another option is to prune a branch from the tree or shrub and then strip the inner bark from the branch. Correct pruning methods should be used to minimize disease potential, most importantly cutting just past the branch collar. The branch collar is the slightly wider area where the branch attaches to the tree. It contains special tissues that rapidly heal the cut, but they can’t do their job if you cut off the branch flush with the trunk.

The Narrow Vertical Cut

The last method is a narrow, vertical cut on the main trunk. There are numerous examples of indigenous peoples on more than one continent having used this method. And although many arborists would advise against it, in my experience there is a way to do this without causing any permanent damage to the tree.

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Use a knife to score a vertical rectangle in the bark. The rectangle should be no wider than an inch. This is important, because the wider the wound, the longer it will take the tree to heal, so keep it small. Making the strip vertical rather than horizontal minimizes interruption of the tree’s food and water transport zones.

Keep scratching across the four sides of the rectangle in a tic-tac-toe-like pattern until you hit the harder wood beneath the bark. Slip the edge of your knife under between the soft inner bark layer and the wood, and pull the inner bark off in strips.

It is much easier to use this method on young trees with relatively thin outer bark. Not only is working with young trees easier on your foraging knife, but such trees recover more quickly, in my experience.

You should not, however use this method if you know you are in a region where Dutch elm disease, butternut canker, mountain pine beetle, or emerald ash borers, or other tree diseases or infestations are a problem (thanks to fellow forager Doug Mueller for the reminder about the ash borers). If you’re not sure if these problems apply to your area, contact your County Extension office and ask.

Trees with the Tastiest Edible Bark

Of the edible barks I’ve sampled so far, these are my favorites. Where I haven’t given a species name, it means that all the species within that genus have bark that is edible and safe to eat.

Birch (Betula species)

Linden (TIlia species)

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

Pine (Pinus species)

I have no doubt there are numerous other safe and tasty edible barks out there. Let me know if you have experience with any not on my short, personal “tastiest” list.

Note that not all woody plants have edible bark. Some may have other edible parts, but inedible bark. For example, some may have edible flowers (e.g. Wisteria), or edible flowers and fruit (e.g. elderberry, Sambucus), but all other parts of the plant are poisonous. Remember the first rule of foraging: if in doubt, leave it out.

Rule Breaker: Shagbark Hickory

It is almost always the inner bark of trees that is used for food, but an exception is shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). Its craggy outer bark, which peels off the tree easily, is popular among foragers as a syrup flavoring. Roasted and then simmered in sugar, maple, or other syrup it gives a wonderful nutty, caramel flavor…but that’s a future post.

Pine Bark “Bacon” Recipe

Use only thin strips of fresh, moist pine inner bark for this recipe.

Remove the outer bark and any green, resinous parts. Heat a lipid of your choice – oil, butter, or animal fat – in a skillet over medium high heat. Use just enough oil or fat to coat the pan.

Fry the pine bark strips on each side until they turn reddish brown, about 1 – 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with salt while still hot. You can play with the seasonings: I like a little ground chipotle for smoky flavor. Or cook them in a pan over a campfire and get a naturally smoky taste that way.

Hot from the pan, the texture will be slightly crunchy and slightly chewy, with a hint of sweetness…very much like bacon. Once cooled and stored for a few hours, you’ll have more crunch than chew, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Other Uses for Edible Bark

Birch bark makes a lovely infusion (black and yellow birches especially, because of their wintergreen flavor, but I’ve enjoyed other birch species as well). Ground into a flour, it can be used in baked goods such as the Birch Bark Shortbread recipe in my book The Forager’s Feast.

Other inner barks can also be ground into flour. Slippery elm bark has a mucilaginous texture when cooked in water. This means you can boil it up into a thick porridge that has a reputation for being good for recovering from extended illnesses. It has a lovely maple-like flavor. And it soothes sore throats, coughs, and tummy troubles.

Another inner bark with medicinal properties is willow. It contains salicin, which the body converts into salicylic acid, an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving precursor for aspirin.

There is one use for edible inner bark that I’ve seen mentioned on the internet, and that I advise you against: bark as pasta. The idea is that you take skinny strips of cambium and boil them and then add a sauce. I’ve tried this several times, and have yet to arrive at a texture I found palatable. If you manage to pull it off, let me know what the secret is.

Leda Meredith teaches foraging internationally and is the author of several books including The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles and Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can find more of her recipes and food adventures on her blog and videos, and in the new, updated edition of her memoir Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Many of us have heard that tree bark is a life savior when people are starving and have nothing to eat in the wild.

However, eating tree bark is not as easy as eating chips. Actually many facts were never taught to us in life before.

If you are interested in knowing more about eating the bark of trees and how to do it right, that’s what we will be discussing today.

Okay, first thing first, the question is:

1. Is Tree Bark Edible?

Yes, tree bark is edible.

Eating tree bark is not surprising for people who have experienced outdoor adventure, it’s more like a famine food though.

Tree bark can supply us with a certain amount of sustenance. Starches and sugars in the tree bark will provide energy for the human body.

Usually, the most edible part of tree bark is the cambium, which is the tender layer between xylem and phloem.

It’s a bit confusing because most people can not recognize the layers of trees.

So let’s put it this way: You should eat the soft inner tree bark instead of the outer tree bark that is hard as a rock.

Although tree bark has starches, sugars, calories, and fibers that sounds super nutritious, it’s still not recommended to eat tree bark if it is not your last choice.

The wooden fiber of tree bark itself is very hard to digest for human bowels. People will die from overeating of wooden fiber.

Is wood edible? NO, wood is not digestible and edible for us. That’s also why we don’t eat the tree itself.

It may sound scary, but don’t worry, we will show you how to eat tree bark correctly later.

2. What Trees Have Edible Tree Bark?

Choosing the right species of tree is important because nobody wants to die because of toxins.

Not every tree has an edible bark. Those toxic trees have chemicals like tannins can only make things worse, such as wild cherry or oak.

We need always to remember to identify which tree has the bark that we are looking for, even in a desperate situation.

Below is a list of some commonly seen trees whose bark is edible.

Pines

Most of the pine’s tree bark is edible.

The texture of Pines’s cambium is like chewing gum.

One thing is that be careful with the pine tree needles because some of them are toxic and dangerous.

Spruce

Spruce is also a kind of tree whose bark is edible.

Besides bark, the spruce tips are even better food for human desperation.

Spruce tips are rich in Vitamin and minerals. After harvesting, you can just eat them raw.

Birch

In the northern part of North America, birch can be found easily.

Birch is a kind hardwood which is known as a quick growing tree.

The bark of Black birch or yellow birch is also abundant and safe to eat.

Besides these tree species, there are plenty of trees that have edible bark:

Such as willow, aspen, maple, and so on.

3. How to Eat Tree Bark Right

Before eating the tree bark, you have some ways to make it soften and digestible.

Let’s see how we should eat tree bark if there is really nothing for us to eat, but I hope you will never these tips in wild :).

1. Eat Bark Raw

That’s the most direct way and probably the most painful way to eat the bark.

You need to peel off the hard outer bark and go for the cambium inside.

Make sure you chew thoroughly so that you will not get hurt by swallowing small sharp wooden pieces, and chewing also help you to digest better.

2. Tree Bark Noodles

Making tree bark noodles, you need to be able to get boiling water.

Slicing tree barks into thin strips and put them into the water.

Boil the bark strips till it is soft and chewable.

This method will make the bark more comfortable to chew and warmer.

3. Tree Bark Flour

Grinding tree bark into flour can be considered the best way to eat tree bark.

But first, you need to have some food left like bread or gruel.

You can add the bark flour into your food, and mix them well.

This can help people with the problem of lack of food to some extent.

This post will teach you how to treat tree branches for indoor use. Learning how to clean, strip, and finish branches for decor and crafts will ensure they look wonderful and last.

How to Treat Tree Branches for Indoor Use

I’m back from vacation 🙁 But I am really excited to get back to my projects list. Consider this post an appetizer for a post I have coming up later this week on how to make a cat tree out of a real tree!

I was starting to put together the cat tree post when I realized that it was going to be really long. So I decided to break out the part about how to treat tree branches for indoor use, specifically how to clean, strip, and finish the branches, and make it its own post.

Besides, stripping and finishing branches is something that I think a lot of people might be interested in. Not just those of you who want to build a real kitty tree.

Using tree parts for home decor is beautiful, cost effective, and not too hard. Check out my post about my DIY tree stump side table and this post on a lovely stained stump with wheels!

I also absolutely love these tree branch drawer pulls by Kelly over at Design Asylum. The possibilities are endless, and if you’re lucky, you can get the materials you need to create these awesome projects for free.

When I started researching how to treat tree branches for indoor use, I was overwhelmed with the many different approaches. I had just pulled some branches from off the ground in the woods. We weren’t even sure what kind of tree they were from, although we had some guesses.

We also weren’t sure how long we had to let them sit out because we didn’t know how long it’d been since they’d fallen off the tree and what kind of conditions they’d been in since then. So consider the steps I followed below to be only one approach. I’ll provide some additional tidbits on other approaches I read about but didn’t use along the way. 🙂

HERE’S WHAT I USED:

(This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about that here. Thank you!)

  • Branches and a dry space
  • A paint scraper—like this one here.
  • Small hand-held saw—see one here—and a miter saw (not completely necessary, but we needed to trim some thick branches down).
  • Assorted sandpaper—I used 100 and 150 grit depending on the spot.
  • Minwax Stain in Natural and Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin.

Here are the steps to clean branches for decoration.

(Remember to wear a mask and eye protection while sanding and working with wood, and wear an appropriate mask while working with paints, stains, and finishes. Follow the directions and warnings from your particular brand. Do not use any tools without proper training, precautions, and supervision from a professional. Read my full terms of use here.)

Step 1: Find a suitable branch

We foraged the woods behind my parents’ house and found two great branches that were already on the ground. I’d read that you had to let the branches dry out for a while—upwards of a year, even. So I thought it would be best to find something that had already been drying out on the ground.

We also didn’t want to hack up any trees that were still growing when there are plenty of fallen sticks and branches to choose from. Not knowing how long it had been detached from the tree was a risk we were willing to take. 🙂

After cutting the branches, we brought them into my dad’s workshop, which has baseboard heating, to dry out for 2 more months. We guessed the pieces we had were pretty dry since they did have some cracking, but we wanted to be sure. If we’d thought they were newer branches, we would have let them dry for longer.

Step 2: Remove bark from branches

After about 2 months, I started scraping the bark off. This is a very important step that a lot of people skip when bringing tree parts indoors. You need to scrap the bark off because there could be bugs living under it!

In fact, I found guide a few little guys while I was scraping. Bugs have a purpose, but I don’t want them living in my home 🙂 The bark will eventually fall off anyway, so it’s best to take it off at the start of your project.

There are lots of ways to de-bark trees. The ease with which you can remove bark depends on many factors, including what type of tree it is, how dry the wood is, and even what time of year it is. Unfortunately for me, my bark was not easy to remove—and it looks like that’s the case for many people if my Googling is any indication. But don’t worry, the results are totally worth the time and frustration!

While I read that a lot of people use a draw knife and even a pressure washer to remove bark, I used a paint scraper. It was my dad’s idea, and it worked really well! It just took time and elbow grease, and it was extremely messy.

Step 3: Sand and polish

After I’d scraped all of the bark off, I cried of happiness that the miserable process was over and grabbed some sandpaper. I used 100-grit sandpaper on some of the rougher spots.

Then I gave the entire piece a good, thorough sand with 150-grit sandpaper. I was truly amazed at how well sanding polished the piece. I did all sanding by hand since the branch was a bit curvy and bumpy—just seemed easier.

Step 4: Stain

After cleaning off my work space and wiping down the branch with a dry paper towel, I used a chip brush to apply a generous coat of stain. Minwax Stain in Natural really helped to bring out the wood’s character.

I didn’t even wipe off the excess stain—I just left it to soak into the wood for about 24 hours. Like I said, my pieces were pretty dry, so the stain soaked right in. (I also have a whole post about how to stain and finish wood if you’re new to the process!)

Step 5: Finish to protect

At this point I was giddy with excitement about how good the branches looked. I finished them off with two coats of Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin because I wanted to bring in a bit of sheen while providing further protection for the branches.

This is a water-based polyurethane that dries much faster than an oil-based one. I also really love Varathane water-based polyurethane in matte. I used it on my daughter’s dollhouse bookshelf, our cat house side table build, and our DIY plywood planter because I didn’t want much shine on any of these pieces. You can see it’s a beautiful, understated finish.

Left: Stain dried; Right Top: First coat of poly on; Right Bottom: Drying poly

And here they are finished…

You can see that the pieces have just the right amount of sheen for what I wanted. I wanted them to look polished but not super shiny and fake, and I think the water-based poly in satin really achieved that look.

They do look a but shinier in person—this was hard to capture in photos. If you want them to look like these pictures, I’d err on the side of caution and go with a matte water-based formula. You can always add a layer of satin on top of the matte if you don’t love it.

You can see the cat tree made out of a real tree build that these branches were finished for as well! And I also did a post about how the tree held up years later because I get a lot of questions about it. This is probably my favorite project of all time.

Also, while making the cat tree, we have to level off the branches. After all this work staining and finishing the branches, I couldn’t bear throwing out scraps we had to cut off. So I made a tiny faux succulent planter out of one of the branch pieces. It’s a cute and easy DIY!

**2019 Update**

Hey guys! Popping in with a September 2019 update. I have had a lot of traction on this post (and questions about it!). I’m working on a video showing the branch finishing process. I’ve also made a few other projects using some smaller branches, so here’s a peek at those in the meantime!

Share my tips about how to clean branches for decoration and crafts on Pinterest!

Materials

  • Branches and a dry space
  • Minwax Stain in Natural
  • Rust-Oleum Ultimate Polyurethane in Satin.

Instructions

  1. Find a suitable branch. Ones that are already laying on the ground are best because they have already started to dry out. Note that is best to let them continue drying out for at least 2 months if you are wanting to use them indoors.
  2. Remove all the bark from the branch using a paint scraper.
  3. Sand the branch to remove any rough spots using 100 grit sandpaper. Then, using 150 grit sandpaper, sand the entire branch.
  4. Wipe down the entire branch with a dry paper towel to remove all the dust and debris.
  5. Use a chip brush to apply a generous coat of stain. No need to wipe off the excess stain, leave it to soak into the wood for 24 hours.
  6. Finish the branch with 2 coats of polyurethane in satin to protect it and you’re done!

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Eating the inner bark of certain trees is something that is often referred to as a “good” source of food in survival situations, especially in the winter when not much else is available. I wanted to investigate this claim so I made a list of 5 of the most common trees in the northeastern US that have edible inner bark. I sampled each of these trees as well as putting together a video to go along with this article.

White Pine(Pinus strobus) inner bark

Sampling the bark was a little difficult because I had to only do this on trees or large branches that were going to die anyway. The reason for this is because the most substantial source of inner bark is lower on the trunk and cutting this part of the tree can damage all portions of the tree above it. There were 2 main characteristics I was looking for. The first is the taste of the inner bark, I wanted to see if it was reasonable for someone to consume a large amount of it. The second thing I considered was the amount of inner bark and ease of harvesting. I wanted to be able to get more information on the sugar and starch content, this is what would contain needed calories in a survival situation. It is casually mentioned in a few places online that inner tree bark contains 500-1000 calories per pound but I did not find verified sources with this information for each tree. Although while I was eating the inner bark I did try to notice weather the inner bark seemed to be mostly fiberous or if I tasted sugars and starches while I was eating it. The inner bark layer of a tree overlaps with the phloem on the tree, the phloem carries nutrients up and down the trunk from roots to leaves in the spring and from leaves to roots in the summer and fall so it makes sense that some of these sugars and starches would remain in this part of the tree over the winter. In this article I have arranged these trees in order from worst to best in my opinion based on the feasibility of eating a substantial amount of the inner bark.

This is the related video showing much of the things that are talked about in this article.

5. Eastern Hemlock(Tsuga canadensis)
I wanted to test out eastern hemlock because it is a common native forest tree in my area. The needles make a great tea so I assumed the inner bark would be tolerable. Based on my experience the inner bark is not tolerable. It tasted awful, and it was very bitter. This is a tree that I would recommend for tea but I found almost no use for the edible inner bark. I couldn’t consume enough inner bark to be able to judge weather it seemed to have starch or sugar. That being said it is possible that processing the inner bark more could make it palatable. For example drying, grinding and mixing with flour or boiling it in changes of water might work.

4. Spruce(Genus:Picea)
This tree has many edible uses, such as the resin, the immature cones, and the new growth in the spring. The inner bark layer on spruce trees is thick and soft which makes it relatively easy to harvest. The taste is strong but It’s something you could eventually get used to. I would consider this a good option for edible inner bark, but not the best mainly based on the strong flavor. After chewing the inner bark it seems that this tree does have a substantial amount of sugars and starches. It doesn’t taste sweet, but it’s a lot less fiberous than I expected, the material does eventually break down in your mouth and become easy to consume.

3. Black Birch(Betula lenta)
The good part about the edible inner bark on this tree is that the flavor is pleasant. Black birch is known for it’s “wintergreen” fragrance and flavor that is used in birch beer. The downside of using this tree for it’s edible inner bark is that unlike the other trees on this list birch inner bark is not soft, its rather dry and grainy, kinda like eating sawdust and it’s difficult to separate from the outerbark. I ate it raw by itself but I have heard that it makes a very good option when adding to other things such as dried grains or soup. Birch inner bark is known to contain a substantial amount of calories but probably not as much as spruce, pine, and elm. I don’t know definitively but I assume similar properties for other trees in this genus.

2. Pine(Genus: Pinus)

White Pine(Pinus strobus) inner bark

The pine tree is well known as a tree with edible inner bark. The biggest downside is the strong flavor but it’s easier to get used to then spruce in my opinion. The inner bark is thick and easy to harvest. The species that I sampled and featured in the video is white pine(Pinus strobus) but I assume similar properties for other members of the genus. Some pines may contain minor toxins so check with a website like www.pfaf.org or another trusted site before consuming any specific species. White pine is extremely common in New England and many other parts of the country so it’s very useful to know the edibility of this species. I could definitely feel that I was eating something other than wood fibers, the chewyness and resin content of the inner bark leads me to believe that there is a substantial amount of calories in white pine inner bark.

1. Elm Tree(Genus: Ulmus)

Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) inner bark

I’m really excited to share this information about the elm tree. This was a completely pleasant surprise for me. I had known that elm trees have been used as a mucilaginous soothing agent but I hadn’t previously realized that the inner bark was edible. I sampled the siberian elm(Ulmus pumila) but I have read similar properties for other elms as well. The taste of the inner bark was very pleasant, it was even a little sweet with no bitterness or bad aftertaste. This plant is known to contain mucilage in the inner bark, this is a thickening agent that creates a gelatinous substance when added to water. So eating the inner bark of the elm does create a gelatinous substance which could be weird or offputting for some people. Its hard to say what the calorie content is but I did taste some sweetness which might indicate a significant level of sugars.

Conclusion
Based on my experiences with these tree species It does seem that the edible inner bark of certain trees can give some needed calories in a survival situation. If you completely debark a tree as high as you can reach you would be able to obtain a lot of edible material with some calories. This would probably not be a good long term survival plan but the inner bark could definitely be added to other wild edibles to give a more balanced diet. If You’re relying solely on inner bark You would still probably want to get some meat or get out of your situation as soon as possible. Another thing that makes edible inner bark a good survival food for the short term is that you can carry it easily without worrying about spoilage even in hot or cold weather. Something else that I also took away from this is that eating certain inner barks like white pine and elm is actually a good food for all situations, not just survival situations. I’ve learned to add fallen logs and trees to my list of things to look for when foraging. I feel there is still much more for the wider foraging community to learn about how to find substantial calorie sources in the winter. If you have any experience with edible inner bark please leave a comment and share any info you have.

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When people think of edible plants, trees and bark are probably not very high on the list of what comes to mind. Sure, using bark as a major food source is only something you’d do in the most desperate imaginable survival situations. However, regardless of whether you’re in a survival situation or not, bark and other parts of certain trees contain chemicals with powerful medicinal properties.

For a great reason to start incorporating medicine made from bark and trees into your home apothecary, look no further than this year’s unusually savage flu season. Incorporating natural remedies and preventatives into your lifestyle helps ward off sickness like this year’s particularly dangerous strains.

In addition, trees provide powerful, natural, and free healing tools from Mother Earth to help prevent and treat all kinds of other health issues.

Cutting down a tree to build your log cabin and start your dream homestead? If it’s a medicinal tree, you might have just readied a massive bounty of medicine for harvest in addition to wood for building. Learn a few common species, and a whole new world of potential opportunities opens up for you to live more purposefully and in closer harmony with nature than ever before, using more of what you take (and taking more of what’s available!).

Below I’ve listed some of very common and extremely powerful types of trees that you can start using for medicine immediately, but first, a couple of notes on using trees for healing:

First off, like all powerful remedies and conventional medicines, there is always a risk of side effects and allergies, so use caution. Each of the trees listed can be used to make tea, salve, tincture, or oil. Oftentimes the “inner bark,” rather than the rough outer layer, is where the bulk of the oils and active chemicals are, but for most uses you can just shred fresh entire twigs to make your final product, or just steep them for tea. Remember to not boil bark or leaves. Allow water to boil and then add your ingredients. Don’t add them before.

Be careful with dosage — for example, tinctures are more concentrated and are effective at different doses than teas or oil infusions, and too much of any chemical can harm you.

To harvest bark, cut a square into your positively-identified tree. Make sure you cut deeply enough that you penetrate the outer and inner bark layers. Then gently dig into the square from the sides, lifting and prying methodically as you go deeper around the edges, until the square comes off in just one or two whole pieces. Breaking off twigs at the ends of branches is another good way to obtain bark without harming the tree.

If you never harvest from the same tree more than once per year, healthy trees should be able to heal completely without having been damaged. However, harvesting too much at once will damage trees, so harvest only enough from each to fit in the palm of one of your hands.

Now, onto some common varieties of powerful medicinal trees!

Willows

Willow encompasses a wide family of trees and shrubs, all with bark containing a chemical that works similarly on the body as aspirin.

This makes willow bark a fantastic natural remedy for many of the same afflictions: headaches, muscle ache, gout, inflammation, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, and menstrual symptoms, to name a few. It is also known to help with symptoms, prevention, and recovery for flu, fevers, and colds.

Identification:

There are many different willow species, which can be hard to tell apart. They can look very different from one another, but thankfully, they are all medicinal. Generally, they love to grow near water. As trees they like to appear in clumps, and shrubs often appear in clusters.

Most people will immediately recognize any variety of weeping willows, which were cultivated by humans for ornamental purposes, but identifying non-weeping types is a bit more complex. Non-weeping willows look similar to weeping varieties, but without as exaggerated long-hanging branches and drooping leaves. Willows are excellent shade trees.

Willow leaves are typically long and lance-shaped, with a prominent ridge running down the middle, though certain varieties have oval leaves. Leaves are alternate, with veins reaching up each leaf from the central ridge. Veins aren’t always prominent, and on most species are alternating or offset.

Notes on Usage:

Ideal harvest time for willow bark is late winter and early spring, but other times of year are viable also. The flavor will be very bitter with a bit of minty coolness. When making a tea, don’t let it boil, and don’t steep for longer than 20 minutes or you risk cooking out the medicine.

Some feel that teas that contain willow bark are too bitter for any but the most adventuresome palates, while others find the taste pleasant. This is partially also due to the large range of bitterness and mintiness levels within different types of willows, but mixing with other medicinal herbs like ground ivy can help if your tea is bitter.

You can also take cooled tea as a shot, or pack dry powdered bark into a capsule to take internally. Otherwise, willow makes a fine oil, salve, or tincture.

The inner bark is edible and rich in Vitamin C, but probably requires lots of cooking to remove toughness and may be quite bitter. Making tea is a great way to get the benefits of willow’s Vitamin C without having to figure out how to make the bark palatable.

Main Complication Risk:

The active ingredient in willow bark is an aspirin-like chemical called salicin. Extreme amounts of it could cause kidney problems such as bleeding, which is vastly more likely in people with existing kidney issues. This is true of store-bought aspirin as well!

Cottonwoods

Related to the willow, cottonwood is rich with a medicinal resin that is excellent for muscle pain, and is a powerful antimicrobial. It also contains many antioxidants, and is an effective expectorant.

Cottonwood tea is great for coughs and colds, and salves make great replacements for Neosporin and other wound ointments. As an ingredient in cosmetic creams and masks, cottonwood stimulates cell regeneration and reduces inflammation for clearer, younger-looking skin.

Also good for skin issues like boils, warts, and sores, and for aches and pains, cottonwood is an incredibly versatile medicine. It doubly functions as a preservative, meaning anything you make from it will have a longer shelf life than otherwise.

For example, infused oil made from cottonwood and coconut oil will last much longer than the coconut oil would have lasted by itself. In addition to using the bark, members of the Menominee tribe reportedly soaked young cottonwood buds in fat and then stuck them into their nostrils to treat head colds and sinus infections.

Cottonwoods enjoy wet areas, so they’re a common sight on American riverbanks. Branches tend to be very thick and long, and leaves are triangular with flat stems and toothed edges. Some leaves are more ovoid or teardrop-shaped.

During warm seasons, cottonwood produces a cottony, fluffy white seed that disconnects from trees and flies around as little puffballs of “summer snow.” Cottonwoods grow fast and can reach 75-100 feet tall. The bark of young trees tends to be thin and light gray, often with vertical lines. Older trees darken and develop deep ridges and furrows in their bark.

While cottonwood bark is great, the true prizes are the sticky little buds. Buds ideal for harvesting are still closed and firm, but covered in sticky resin. As with willow trees, cottonwood leaves can be harvested as well, but probably have a lower density of active chemicals than other parts.

Infuse the buds in oil and use it as an ingredient in creams, salves, ointments, and more. An alcohol extraction will yield tincture that can be diluted and swished in the mouth to treat oral sores and irritations, turned into a homemade all-natural cough syrup, or taken internally to ward off infections and parasites.

Inner bark and buds are even edible, though I’m not sure what the ideal method is of cooking them. Chew on the bark to help with toothaches and oral sores. Some native tribes used the resinous, balsam-scented buds as a kind of chewing gum and preventative.

As is the case with willow trees, cottonwoods contain salicin. For that reason, people with kidney issues or those who are allergic to aspirin should avoid it.

Birches

Birch trees have a tasty, minty wintergreen flavor that makes for a wonderful medicinal tea.

Their bark has many uses in survival, from paper to tanning leather, but the medicinal applications of the bark and leaves add a whole other dimension to the birch tree’s already-formidable range of uses for thriving day-to-day, in addition to being a great tree for life-or-death survival situations.

Birches are usually easily identified by their papery, white to gray or yellowish bark. The bark surface usually has small horizontal ridges, and often peels back in stiff curls.

Some varieties don’t have peeling bark, but the vast majority do. Leaves are alternate and toothed, with shape ranging from ovoid to triangular with pointed tips.

Known for its purifying effects, the birch tree is a powerhouse. Birch leaves, buds, and bark have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Birch is said to be good for cramps, skin conditions and gout, and as a diuretic, is good for cleansing the kidneys and treat urinary tract infections.

Topically, birch is said to help eczema, muscle aches, and arthritis. Young shoots and leaves are known to have a laxative effect, and can be used to make a wound poultice or salve. In folk medicine, birch is also among several trees said to help with hair loss.

As an added bonus, birches are also common hosts for incredibly versatile medicinal mushrooms like the birch bracket polypore. This mushroom can be used as a bandage, immune-boosting tea, or as a powerful salve ingredient.

Main Complication Risk:

While generally safe, birch may increase sodium retention, so use caution if you have high blood pressure. As with all new substances, there is always some risk of allergy or other unknown sensitivity—which is as true for coriander or clams as it is for birch.

Pines

One big advantage to pine trees as a source of medicine is that their precious healing sap and needles can be harvested year-round, even in winter. Pine needle tea is rich in Vitamin C. Needles can also be chewed passively while you go about gathering, hunting, building shelter, weaving baskets, or doing any other type of survival activity.

Pine sap, often seeping out of the tree readily but also easily collected by causing very minor wounds to the tree, can be used in a variety of medicinal salves, syrups, oils, and tinctures. Pines are also very easy to identify.

Pine trees are conifers that always have two, three, or five groups of needles emerging in bundles from each twig. Any other number of needle bundles on each twig, and it might not be a pine. Cones are woody as opposed to papery, with overlapping scales.

Other conifers have cones with overlapping scales, but pinecone scales tend to be thicker and harder than firs and other types. Limbs tend to be stout. Pine tree bark can be mostly smooth, scaled, or rough and furrowed.

Pine needles and twigs are easy to gather. But the strong antibacterial and antifungal sap is ideal for making powerful cough syrups, salves, tinctures, and even refreshing medicinal sprays. To collect it, scrape it directly off a tree wherever it drips, and use a knife reserved only for this purpose (it will become hopelessly sticky).

Deposit what you collect in an old jar. Use alcohol to get the sap off your hands, and wear a shirt that you are okay with ruining! The stuff is extremely pesky to clean off of skin, and close to impossible to remove entirely from fabrics.

In addition to the needles and sap, you can also harvest nuts from pinecones to eat.

Edible Pine Bark

In addition to using it for oil infusions and potent tinctures, the surprisingly-moist innermost layer of bark can also be eaten. Fry or bake it into a “bark chip” for a unique snack and survival food.

“Too much of a good thing” is always possible, but complication risks are extremely low with pines—probably even lower than with other trees.

(Note: Natural remedies, and articles about them, are not replacements for consultation with a professional physician, and should not be construed as such. Any new substance you haven’t consumed before carries risk of unknown allergies and other complications).

Slippery Elm

Slippery Elm is native to eastern North America. You can find it as far west as North Dakota and as far South as some parts of Florida. While it likes moist areas it can do quite well under dry conditions.

Slippery Elm is a deciduous tree that typicall reaches a height range of 40-60 ft. The leaves are oblong and while velvet like underneath, they are rough on top. Leaves can be 4-8 inches in length.

Notes on Usage:

Slippery Elm is known for reducing the severity of a sore throat. Since it increases mucous secretion, it is sometimes used for stomach issues and other gastrointestinal distress such as colic. Some claim it can help prevent cancer and soothes irritable bowel syndrome.

Many people take Slippery Elm in the form of an over the counter capsule that is made from the ground up inner bark. The leaves can be dried and made into a tea.

A few people experience some irritation if their skin comes into contact with Slippery Elm. Most people can take Slippery Elm internally with no ill effects. If you are pregnant or nursing you should avoid it.

Final Thoughts

These are only a few types of trees with powerful medicinal properties. But they provide a testament to the sheer number of seemingly-endless varieties of powerful healing plants that coexist with humanity in abundance. Even in urban parks, these trees and plants are plentiful. From medicinal purposes to delicious nuts and berries, it seems us people are always eating trees.

We are truly surrounded by food and medicine at all times—if only we knew how to identify which ones stand waiting for us, ready to be enlisted as life-saving and life-extending allies.

Author Bio:

Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!

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