Home Alternative Knowledge 6 Trees Every Survivalist Should Know & Why

6 Trees Every Survivalist Should Know & Why

Willow Haven Outdoor – by Creek Stewart

Now is a good time to go out and flag the following five trees before the leaves drop (except the pine).  Revisit them in the winter and learn how to ID them by the bark alone.  Then again in the Spring with the buds and new leaves.

White birch (paper birch)


White birch is easy to identify with its distinctive, white, papery bark. The sycamore tree also has white bark, but it does not sluff off in thin, paper-like furls like the white birch. The sycamore also has large hand-shaped leaves versus the white birch’s smaller, oval-shaped leaves with a pointed tip. The birch leaf is also irregularly toothed.  These grow almost exclusively in northern climates.


White birch survival uses:

  • Sweet drinkable sap that does not need purification
  • Containers can be fashioned from the bark (and even canoes – hence the name “canoe birch”)
  • It’s papery bark makes some of the finest fire starting tender on the planet, which will light even when damp because of its resinous quality
  • A fine tea can be made from the small twigs at the end of a branch or by shaving the bark from new growth. Toss a palmful of these elements into boiling water for a fresh, wintergreen-flavored tea
  • The tinder fungus (chaga) grows almost exclusively on the white birch tree. The fungus is one of the only natural materials I know of that will take the spark from flint and steel. A piece of tinder fungus along with flint and pyrite to create sparks were even found on Otzi, the “iceman” who was uncovered in the Austrian Alps several years ago.
  • Pine tar can be extracted from the bark of the white birch by heating it over a fire.  Pine tar makes an excellent natural adhesive which natives used for all kinds of purposes including securing stone points on arrows.

American Basswood


The American basswood (also called American linden) is a very common tree – especially in the Eastern U.S. It prefers moist soil and is often found by creeks, streams and ponds. It likes to grow several shoots from the base so it’s not uncommon to see the basswood growing in what appears to be clumps. Basswood trees have large, heart-shaped, coarsely toothed leaves and dark red young leaf buds. One of the most distinctive features of the basswood is what I call the “tongue.” A tongue-shaped leaf grows at the base of the regular heart-shaped leaves on mature trees. Hard, little, nut-like fruits dangle from the center of this “tongue” leaf throughout the summer.

Basswood survival uses:




White Pine


The leaves of the White Pine grow in batches of 5 needles. Every fall the white pine loses all of its needles except those that grew that year. Pine is an evergreen. Evergreen trees keep some green leaves year-round, unlike deciduous trees, and have needle-like leaves. They also produce cones (pine cones) instead of flowers.


White pine survival uses:

  • Resin can be used a fire extender when mixed with tinder material
  • Resin can be heated and mixed with crushed charcoal to make a natural epoxy
  • Resin-rich joints and stump pieces make incredible fire kindling
  • Make pine-needle tea from the green pine needles – very rich in Vitamin C
  • Inner bark layers are edible
  • Harvest pine nuts from the pine cones
  • Pine needles make excellent fire tinder
  • Pine needles make excellent natural insulation material for debris huts and survival shelters
  • Green pine boughs are perfect for lean-to shelter roofs
  • Green pine boughs are great for making a ‘pine bough bed’ to protect from the cold ground or snow
  • The lower, dry, dead branches of the pine tree (squaw wood) is often some of the driest fire kindling available. It is exposed to the wind and also protected from the elements by the year-round needle canopy above,  I’ve also used these branches for making bow drill fire friction sets.
  • Very effective candles and lamps can be made from pine resin
  • Pine resin can be used to waterproof seams in clothing or crude containers
  • The very pliable surface layer roots make excellent (and strong) natural cordage. Use as a whole or split into smaller pieces.

White Oak (and all oaks in general)


White oaks have rounded leaf lobes instead of pointed ones like red oaks. Contrary to popular belief, acorns are edible. I like white oak acorns better because it seems they are less bitter and it takes less effort to leach out the tannic acid (which causes this bitterness) to become more palatable. An abundance of acorns in mid-summer makes the oak family almost impossible to misidentify. Oaks are some of the largest trees in the forest. I have many white oaks at Willow Haven that are over 100 feet tall and easily 3-4 feet in diameter.

White oak survival uses:

  • Acorns (after leaching out the tannic acid) can be ground and used as flour to make acorn bread
  • Tannic acid (which can be extracted by boiling or leaching acorns and/or inner oak bark and twigs) is anti-bacterial. I’ve used it as an antiseptic wash before and have heard of it being used to quell diarrhea.
  • Acorns can be used a trap bait for squirrel and other small game animals
  • Can tan leather using the tannic acid found in bark, acorns and wood
  • Oak is a very hard wood that is good for ax handles, digging sticks and shelter frameworks
  • When dried, the white oak flowers make suitable tinder bundles and can be found in great abundance certain times of the year


[hat tip: Peak - gr8 stuff - tx!]



  1. Don’t overlook the Amanita Muscaria that grow around the base of spruce trees, the secret of secrets…..period!!

    • right on Rollo…I just finished Food of the Gods (Mckenna) and Astrotheology and Shamanism (Jan Irvin, Andrew Rutajit) both good reads on the Amanita. I haven’t been very disciplined about finishing the sacred mushroom and the cross but I keep picking it up and reading a bit. Now the Earth Moved is a good book…for all those peeps out there with goals of being a worm farmer..WORMS are fascinating..Darwin was on to that

      • Trying to convince people that is as simple as ingesting a dried out mushroom, and it really is!! is so frustrating. These things grow on every continent except the antarctic, nothing else does this. And they are NOT psilocybin and ARE legal.

  2. Wow, fascinating, Zen. Loved this – real indigenous wisdom here. Would be great to find some info like this about the trees of S.America.

  3. Excellent article. Thank you. Keep in mind, after lots of varieties of pine…birch seemed second to go. The die off up north has been excessive. All along the highway, as they would bend over dying, the highway department, would chop them up into mulch, so tourists would only see…..a lovely scenic route rather than a trail of dying trees. They are still doing this. And this year more than ever, when the leaves are gone, nobody is looking for free wood any longer, so the dead trees will be very visible. Wake up time for many, if they stop texting while driving for a bit. And look off into the woods. No more can’t see the forest beyond the trees, because you can see right through even with the leaves. Sad.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I would love to know 5 related common trees of the wet tropics where I live.The knowledge is here, waiting to be revealed, I am sure :)

  5. hi, zen. thanks for the great info. so much yet to learn on so many topics. this is why i think real community will be so important in the days ahead… share the load, each contributing what they can/have/know. kind of like before this parasitical hoax of a financial system, back when there was a real *economy*, remember? ;) hopefully those who wish it will find ourselves in a kind place when it all comes down.

    btw, another useful tree as a building material; per wiki: “Paulownia is extremely fast growing; up to 20 feet in one year when young. Some species of plantation Paulownia can be harvested for saw timber in as little as five years. Once the trees are harvested, they regenerate from their existing root systems, earning them the name of the “Phoenix tree.”"

    all best,


  6. They are not trees but do not over look the value of wild weeds. I read somewhere that there is a plant to cure every illness and of course along the way we have lost this knowledge. I am trying to learn what is right in front of me that I do not know about.

    CATTAILS – Easy to identify and edible. Indians used them for many purposes including medicinal. Where I live they are currently illegal to pick but good to know for the future.

    DANDELION – I am amazed that people try to remove them from their yards with poison no less. All parts are edible. More vitamin C than an orange. The roots can be used as a coffee substitute and are an excelent liver cleanse. Also good is that even if just a little piece of root is left in the ground it will regenerate so no picking them to extinction! I have a brother with liver problems and this past Spring I collected roots and made him a tincture with organic apple cider vinegar. I threw in a few leaves for good measure. I also made dandelion syrup with the flowers. Was supposed to be jam but it did not thicken correctly but is not wasted, goes on pancakes!

    Also, just as an FYI from experience about a year ago I decided to try and make acorn muffins. I have a massive Oak in my yard. Thought it would be good to test this out ahead of time. They get those little worms in the shells so it is good if possible to heat them in the oven for a bit to pop the worms. I used pliers to crack them open for the nut. Ground them in the coffee grinder (not sure how to do that without electricity). I used a mixture of cornmeal and acorn flour for the muffins….. They tasted like shit!…. That is because I did not leach the tannins enough. Very bitter…. The yard critters had a feast…:) It was a learning experience. Point being when it is said to leach the tannins, do a thorough job of it….

    Off the top of my head as well, clovers are edible……. Losts of info on this out there for your learning pleasure and you feel good and get back to nature in the process.

  7. An awesome film Numen: The Nature of Plants can be seen at Mercola.com. “Numen reminds us that the answer to many of today’s problems, magically enough, is growing all around us”. Ain’t that the Truth!

  8. nice find, PEEK. Thanks for posting, Zen. I’m positive I was a tree in my past life and can’t wait to get my branches back during my next one!

    “For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

    Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

    A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

    A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

    When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

    A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

    So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
    ? Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

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