Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Survival Value of Washing Clothes by hand

Caption: shirt drying in a window in second story apartment in Merida, Mexico.

[Excerpted from Christopher’s book, “Squatter in Los Angeles: Life on the Edge,” available from Kindle, or as a pdf from the Store at]

Washing machines are another of those devices that modern man seems to believe that life could not go on without.  Yet for the vast stretch of human life, there were no washing machines. People just washed with hot water and soap and worked the garments by hand.  Sometimes smooth rocks were used, sometimes not. In fact, sometimes it was just cold running water in the stream and no soap at all. 

When I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, I had to walk through a canyon on the west edge of town to get to the school I attended. The poor people lived in little square adobe houses in this section, where the window and doors were merely openings in the structure.  A stream flowed through this canyon and everyday I’d see how all the people who lived there washed their clothes in the stream, usually with rocks. Then they  laid the clothes out on the stones to dry in the sun.  So, clearly, a washing machine is not vital to life.  But it was obviously invented because people wanted and needed more time to do all the other things in life that they deemed far more important than washing clothes by hand, whatever those other things may be.

During the time that I was a squatter in an out-of-the-way place in the hills of Northeast Los Angeles, I learned to wash my clothes by hand, and even began to enjoy that process.  Soon, I never took trips on my motorcycle anymore with a full load of laundry to a laundromat.  I learned how to efficiently wash my clothes by hand, and hang them out on the “solar clothes drier” to get refreshed.   An electric drier seemed to be a luxury that was wholly unnecessary.  On rainy days, I hung my clothes indoors or in a covered area where they’d dry by the wind.

I found that I had a more intimate connection to my clothes after doing this awhile, and somehow this reminded me of some of Thoreau’s commentary, that we should learn to live better with less.  I learned what it takes to clean difficult stains, and the different textures of fabrics. I began to buy for sensibility, always buying for wearability and practicality, rarely because something was in style.  I would often think before I set out in the morning: what if some disaster befalls me today, and I am forced to wear these same clothes for days or longer?  Would my clothes be comfortable?  Could I move around easily in them?  Could I run? Will they be easy to clean?  These and more questions I asked myself, and gradually I eliminated all my clothing that no longer served me.

I frequently took a load of clothes that I no longer wanted to Goodwill and Salvation Army.  Once I began to think to myself, well, if they are no good for me, why should I foist these garments upon the lower income people who must get their clothes at Goodwill?  I realized that was stupid thinking, because there is no predicting the tastes that people have in clothing, whether they are rich or poor.  My part polyester shirts and pants would serve someone well, especially if the alternative was no clothes at all!

After I was no longer a squatter, I  continued to wash some of my clothes by hand. In fact, I have continued this practice life-long, and have rarely used the laundromats around town.  I consider hand-washing a very normal thing to do. Wash some of your own clothes, hang it up to dry, let the sun refresh it.  And it takes no more or extra water to wash those garments than it took for me to bathe. It’s a perfect formula, one small part of what it takes to live ecologically in the city, and to feel that you are not accruing more karmaic debt.

In 2010, I met Yee Fun from Singapore when we shared a room in Merida, Mexico during an educational tour of the Maya lands. Yee Fun was a man who traveled light, carrying only an average size carry-on  travel bag for his week of travel.  He traveled light because he expected to wash some of his clothes, somehow, somewhere.

He would wash in the sink or shower, and then find creative ways to dry his clothes in the window, or balcony when there was one.  We would trade ideas on how and where to dry clothes the most efficiently, and because of this interaction, I earned the title of  “Yee Fun’s Clothes Drying Instructor.” 

These days, I have several of the solar showers, which are heavy-duty plastic bags you fill with water and lay in the sun to get hot.  You then hang it from a tree, and open a spout to let the hot water out. These are awesome and every home should have at least one to enjoy solar-heated water, and just in case, for emergencies.

Practical survival skills are not just for the homeless, or squatters, or destitute low-income people, nor are they only for surviving “the end of the world.”  Survival skills are imminently practical, all the time, everywhere. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Practical Survival Recycling

From “Squatter in Los Angeles,” a book by Christopher Nyerges, available from Kindle.

During the time that I was a squatter, David Ashley organized and conducted the first of a series of recycling seminars that were held on top of the hill in the meeting area at the non-profit, WTI.   Before I met David Ashley, he was described to us as someone involved with urban planning, and who knew how to use the computer.  This was before everyone had a laptop and the personal computer ubiquitousness.  (In fact, this was way before cell phones!).

We’d heard lots of stories about David – he was an all-around skillful guy who was going to be the savior of the non-profit. 

When he finally arrived and moved into the neighborhood, he didn’t exactly become a savior, but he did significantly enhance the operations of the non-profit and made a lot of us laugh more while he shared some of his learning.

One of the events that he organized were the Recycling Seminars, which were somewhat instrumental in further opening my eyes at this crucial time in my life. Lots of people were invited and about 10 people attended the first seminar.  Once everyone gathered, someone brought out a trash bag of things that had been recently discarded.  Everything was dumped on a large tarp so we could see what was there.

Now, first off, there were no vegetable scraps of any sort. All of that sort of stuff went into a composting bin or a worm farm.  So the stuff scattered on the tarp was not full of grease or ants or other moldy old foods. It was actually all very clean.

David would talk, but a lot of this was discussion where he tried to draw out the information from everyone present.

David divided the trash into general categories: glass, cans, paper, cardboard, plastic bags and plastic containers, metal, other.  David shared a phrase that he borrowed from the founder of the non-profit: “Why do we call this refuse?” he asked us with his big grin.  “Because we’ve refused to find a use for these things.”

Then we proceeded to pick through the pile and talk about how it might be used.  This was also before the days when every city had recycling bins on the curb, so if you were determined to recycle items, you had to bag it all up and drive it to a recycling center.  It was economical to do this with large volumes of newspapers and aluminum cans back then, but not much else.

Since the non-profit was located on a large one-acre property, a lot of gardening was done, both with ornamental plants and with food plants.  There were a few little nurseries on the property, and so everyone realized that a lot of discards could be used for potting plants for resale, and for various aspects of gardening and food production.

David would hold up an item – an old ice cream container – and ask everyone what it could be used for.  Of course, the ice cream container would make a good planter. Lots of things made good planters –  empty milk containers (both the plastic type and waxed paper type), coffee cans, soup cans, cans of all sizes, cottage cheese containers, even some old packing boxes (you could just plant the whole thing in the ground and the cardboard would decompose).

There was a wood stove on the property too and there were fires outside in the winter whenever it was cold. So anything paper or cardboard that had no better use could be burned. That was easy.

A lot of the paper was actually junk mail, and so David started a discussion about all the ways to deal with junk mail.  The first solution was to find a way to get off the company’s mailing list, assuming  you didn’t want their mailings in the first place.  It usually does no good to write “Return to Sender” and drop it back in the mail box because the post office just discards such mail, and doesn’t return to the sender unless there was an agreement for the sender to pay for the return mail. So, in some cases, you could open the envelope, and using the envelope they provided, write them a letter telling them to take you off a mailing list. Sometimes you’d have to pay the postage but you might get off a mailing list.

One of the unique ideas from the seminar was to place any “tin cans” or any rustable metal into a container of water to let it rust.  The water would become rusty within a few weeks, and  you’d then pour that water on your plants as a fertilizer – it was called “iron water.”  This was something that I did at my home where I was a squatter, and have done ever since.  It seemed to serve two purposes at least: fertilizing the plants and reusing something rather than discarding it.

Then we went to glass jars with lids. These had all been cleaned after use, but were still the type of jars that are normally discarded in any modern city by the thousands every day.  What can you do with a glass jar, asked David.

Everyone began talking at once, and the ideas ranged from storing leftovers (obvious), to storing grains and rice in your larder, to storing nails and screws.  Timothy shared how he’d taken a dozen similar sized glass jars with lids – at the time, it was the jar that Trader Joe’s sold their salsa in – and how he screwed the lids to the bottom of a shelf in his workshop. Each jar was then used for various sized nails, screws, washers, eyelets, bolts,  nuts, and then that jar could just be screwed onto its lid under the shelf.  Some months later Timothy showed me that shelf in his garage and it really seemed like an ideal and ingenious way to keep a work area neat and organized.

A pair of Michael’s old shoes were picked out of the pile. What could they possibly be used for?  Someone went around to the side of the house where there was a small nursery, and brought back an old shoe that had been filled with soil and used as a creative pot.   A little succulent was growing in it.  Everyone laughed, including me.  After that,  I tried using all my shoes that way for many years, much to the consternation of occasional visitors.  And once in an expensive catalog, I saw what was called a “hobo pot” for $20 or so, which was a planting pot made to look like a stereotypical hobo’s shoe.  Hillarious!  Why would anyone actually buy such a thing when an old shoe would do fine?

This went on like this for a few hours.  With some of the items, it was not easy to identify practical, realistic uses.  After all, there are only so many uses for crafts and art items, and so unless you had some sort of a craft store, there was a limited amount of craft items that the average person would actually make.

There were a few more seminars like this into the 1980s, and they always seemed to waken everyone up to the fact that we throw away too much, and don’t make use of what’s right in front of our noses, all the while screaming “poverty.”  

And during my time of squatting, I put many of these ideas into daily practice, never really quite realizing that a visitor would probably think that a trash collector or hobo lived in my house. Fortunately, I had few visitors during that time.

Want to read this entire chapter, or the entire book?  Get a copy of “Squatter in Los Angeles” from Kindle, or from the Store at

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Roots of Hallowe'en

Is it possible to celebrate a pre-commercialized version?

[Nyerges is the author of several books including “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and “Foraging California.”  Information about his books and classes is available at]

Recently, I was part of a  conversation where our small group wondered, How was this Holy Day commemorated before it was all commercialized into a scary night?  Is it possible to observe this Holy Day in a similar fashion today?

We determined that we’d need to dig up whatever historical facts we could find that show how this day was commemorated before 1700, more or less.  Though we couldn’t be 100% certain, we at least assumed that “commercialization” didn’t really exist in 1700, and all the European and some American commemorations before that year probably retained some semblance of what the day was all about, originally.

So, first, let’s begin with the day.

It is believed that the ancient Celts observed something called a “Samhain festival” towards the end of October.  Says the World Book Encyclopedia. “The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living at this time. During Samhain, the living could visit with the dead. Elements of the customs can be traced to a Druid ceremony in pre-Christian times. The Celts had festivals for two major gods—a sun god and a god of the dead (called Samhain), whose festival was held on November 1, the beginning of the Celtic New Year.

This day, or period, was to mark the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. 
Samhain (pronounced “sow-in,” which means “summer’s end,” or the name of a god, or both) is seen by some Wiccans as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have died, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets and other loved ones who have died. In some rituals the spirits of the dead are invited to attend the festivities.

Various sorts of activities done on Samhain have been described over the centuries. In Ireland,  Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Cattle were brought  to the winter pastures after six months in the higher summer pastures. Then, the people chose which animals to slaughter before the winter. After the slaughter of the animals, there would be feasting. And obviously, if you aren’t an animal-raising farmer, how would you celebrate this aspect, except for the feasting?

The Catholic Church was aware of all the so-called “pagan” observances, and had their own day to commemorate the dead, May 13. This began in  609 or 610 C.E., when Pope Boniface the 4th dedicated the Pantheon— the Roman temple of all the gods—to Mary and all the martyrs.  Later that date was changed by Pope Gregory III (731-741 C.E.), who dedicated a chapel in Rome to all the saints and ordered that they be honored on November 1.  This was done, in part, to overshadow the pre-existing Samhain commemorations.

In the 11th century,   November 2nd was assigned as "All Souls’ Day" in commemoration of the dead.   So this began the use of the term Hallow’s Eve, or Hallowe’en for October 31.

Hallowe’en customs are similar to the observance of Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, commonly practiced in Mexico and which can be traced to early Aztec times.  Apparently,  this “day of the dead” was originally commemorated in Mexico in May, and was changed to November 2 sometime after Spanish contact to correspond with the Christian tradition.


Trick or treating in modern times goes back to leaving food and wine for roaming dead spirits and ghosts. The custom was referred to as "going a-souling" and was eventually practiced only by the children who would visit the houses in their neighborhoods and be given gifts of ale, food and money. It was believed the spirits of the dead returned to visit their old homes during this time, so in ancient times, people left food out for them and arranged chairs so that the dead would be able to rest.    

Treats called “soul cakes” were given out in memory of the departed.  The Middle Age practice of souling — going door to door begging for food in return for prayers — became popular and is even referenced by William Shakespeare in 1593.  This is obviously the root of the modern “trick or treating” for mini Snickers bars, a practice no doubt loved by every dentist.

Seasonal foods such as apples and nuts were often used in the Samhain rituals. Apples were peeled, the peel tossed over the shoulder, and its shape examined to see if it formed the first letter of the future spouse's name.  Nuts were roasted on the hearth and then interpreted – if the nuts stayed together, so would the couple. Egg whites were dropped in water, and the shapes foretold the number of future children. Children would also chase crows and divine some of these things from the number of birds or the direction they flew.  


Celts would wear masks when they left their homes during the night hours during Samhain days, because they hoped they would avoid being recognized by the ghosts and be mistaken merely for fellow ghosts.
“Mumming” and “Guising” were a part of Samhain from at least the 16th century and was recorded in parts of Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales. It involved people going from house to house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting songs or verses in exchange for food.  It is suggested that it evolved from a tradition whereby people impersonated the aos sí, or the souls of the dead, and received offerings on their behalf.  Impersonating these spirits or souls was also believed to protect oneself from them.   One researcher suggests that the ancient festival included people in masks or costumes representing these spirits, and that the modern custom came from this.


Pagan Celtic priestesses and their followers would roam the countryside, chanting songs in order to frighten away the evil spirits thought to be out on Halloween night.  I wonder how that could be practiced in your neighborhood?


Bonfires  were a big part of the festival in many areas of western Europe.  Bonfires were typically lit on 
hilltops at Samhain where everyone could see them, and there were rituals involving them.

Bonfires comes from the root, “bone-fires” because the priests sacrificed animals and supposedly even people in an attempt to appease the sun god, while also looking for future omens. The fire was said to be a type of sympathetic magic, where the fire mimicked the sun, which has the power to hold back the darkness of winter.  Burning the fires was also believed to be a way of banishing evil, at least symbolically.


Divination has likely been a part of the festival since ancient times, and it has survived in some rural areas.  In part, this meant that the spirits,  the aos sí., could enter your world.  Many of the food offerings and fires were directed to the aos sí.   Or perhaps, some of the  crops might also be left in the ground for them the aos sí.    The aos sí.were addressed in various ways, with food offerings, with walks into the ocean, with the idea to hold off any mischief, and perhaps to learn the future.

The belief that the souls of the dead return home on one night of the year seems to have ancient origins and is found in many cultures throughout the world.


So what do you conclude from all this?  Is there an ideal way to commemorate this ancient day, and still avoid the trappings of commercialization?  Is it even possible?

I like the way that the Day of the Dead is commemorated. There are altars with pictures of the dearly departed, and plates of good food.  Candles are lit, rather than a big bonfire which the local fire department would frown upon.  Families gather, and talk in respectful tones about their departed relatives.  Yes, of course, even the Day of the Dead has turned into wild partying in some quarters, but if you seek a return to roots of the ancient commemoration of the dead, perhaps begin here.  Begin with family or neighborhood gatherings. Prepare a good meal, and keep in the mind the foods that your beloved departeds enjoyed. This is not necessarily because you think their spirits will come to eat (last I checked, ghosts don’t need to eat), but because having, for example, your mother’s favorite dish will give you another reason to talk about your mother, and to remember all the good things she did. 

This is at least a start, and it elevates our day of ghoulish and pointless fear-mongering into one that reconnects us with our roots.  

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How I Earned an Income, and Learned to Spend Less

[Nyerges is the author of various books including “Extreme Simplicity” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”  For information about his classes and books, go to www.Schoolof, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock CA 90041]

From 1977 until 1979,  Nyerges was a squatter in an abandoned house in Los Angeles. The following is adapted from a book he wrote about that period called “Squatter in Los Angeles,” available as a Kindle book.

I had no regular job during this period, though I earned $5 each week by writing an outdoor column for a local paper. It wasn’t much money, but it seemed to add up when I got a check at the end of each month. It also got my name out there, and I began to get requests to give talks to local groups and to lead walks for schools.

Even though I paid no rent, I did have a utility and phone bill to pay, so I needed a bit  more than $5 a week.  I sought out part time work here and there which would still allow me to attend the various small classes offered by the non-profit during the week.   I found work doing such tasks as roofing, framing, writing magazine articles.

I landed a part-time job doing typesetting, which also led to my writing for that little newspaper, the Altadena Chronicle, owned by Sue and Rich Redman.  I thought I was on top of the world with that income and my $5 a week income from the local paper. I also ended up doing some framing and painting at the newspaper office when they remodeled. 

In reality, I was on the edge of poverty financially, and yet I felt good, at peace most of the time, and loved to try new things and experiment.  My primary source of mental stimulation was through my classes and involvement with the non-profit next door, and I believed this was the most important work I could do.  In fact, there was no reason why I could not have gotten some full-time job like all my friends, or enrolled back into college full-time and gotten a degree that would enable me to earn a reasonable income. But somehow I convinced myself that  -- for better or worse – my  lifestyle was more important for the solace of my soul, and for the salvation of the planet.  Still, my soul wasn’t always solaced by my “lifestyle” because I always had a nagging fear anytime anyone came up the driveway. Furthermore, I constantly wavered between confidence and doubt that my way of life had any effect whatsoever on the direction the planet was taking.

My time was divided between my work, my studies and research with the non-profit organization that brought me to Highland Park in the first place.  I drove a Honda 90 motorcycle at the time that got 100 miles to the gallon so my transportation costs were very low. 

I derived great pleasure from experimenting and learning all the ways I could provide for my daily needs, and even my wants, using things that I made, grew, found on the property, or obtained from discards.  Had I been married with children, I believe this would have been an impossible pursuit, for obvious reasons. But I was essentially alone.

I read Thoreau’s Walden Pond for the first time during this period, and found  my state of mind frequently resonating with the basic themes in the book.  Remember, Thoreau wasn’t a bum, or a drop-out, or an alcoholic.  Actually, for that matter, he was no squatter either, for the land where he was given permission to do his “experiment” was owned by fellow writer and friend William Emerson. He built for himself a little house (a “shack” by most accounts), and did a lot of his writing there.   It would be accurate to say that Thoreau – like me – was profoundly interested in the very meaning of life and wanted to discover the point of all the rushing about to get somewhere.  Unable to discover these answers in his town, Thoreau built and moved into his little shack in the woods and learned how to grow the food that he ate, and found it nourishing and satisfying.  Indians and trappers would visit and talk, and somehow through this unprejudiced intercourse, he found that all people were more alike then different, and a life lived for purely material reasons is a life wasted.

Now I found myself in a similar setting, though it wasn’t in the woods but a ruralish part of Los Angeles.   I  had no pond nearby, but I did manage to get over the Arroyo Seco which was as close to my personal Walden Pond as I felt I would get.

At night, thinking over the day’s classes and studies, typing up my notes and insights, I often ruminated over how life should be lived, and wondered why we take up so much time and waste so much of life on trivial pursuits. 

I did learn some years later when Thoreau was mentioned by the academics he was regarded as a brilliant intellectual who discovered the simple reality that was right in front of  everyone. Be here now. Imagine. The kingdom is within. Which is why I naturally assumed that his own peers would have regarded him as a saint and savior.  Wrong!  I have actually spoken to descendents of Thoreau’s peers and they said that in the day, Thoreau was by no means universally respected. Rather, many regarded him as a bum, an outsider, someone who had rejected society to hang out with the Indians in the woods.  I was starting to see that there were more parallels with me and Thoreau than were originally apparent.

So I did my best – though usually unsuccessfully – to not be seen as a freeloading bum who chose not to work and who just sat around listening to the birds and who saw secret messages in the clouds.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Free Garden Fertilizers from Items you Normally Throw Away

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. You can learn about his classes and books at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041].

We always gardened because we can produce better quality food and a low cost, without participating in using any of the destructive chemicals which ruin the fertility of the soil.  And there are at least two very common household discards which are ideal for many of your garden plants.

You’ve heard of liming the garden and lawn, right?  Many gardeners buy a bag of lime (calcium carbonate) every few years and sprinkle it throughout the garden.   Were you aware that eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate?

Calcium is an essential plant nutrient that plays a fundamental part in cell manufacture and growth.  Most roots must have some calcium at the growing tips.  Plant growth removes large quantities of calcium from the soil, and so calcium must be replenished.  In addition to calcium, eggshells contain about 1 percent nitrogen, about 0.5 percent phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that make them a practical fertilizer.

We saved all our eggshells in a pan in our oven, including shells from the eggs from the farmers market, as well as the shells from our own chicken eggs. The pilot light temperature of the oven was sufficient to dry out the shells. Then, when the pan was full, we either crushed them by hand, or reduced them to a fine powder in the blender. Then we placed the crushed eggshells around fruit trees, roses, and potted plants, and also just broadcast them throughout the garden.

We learned that snail problems could be reduced with the helped of recycled eggshells. Using the hand-crushed shells, with plenty of their rough edges, we’d scatter these around those plants that the snails were eating.  Snails did not usually cross the barriers made with these rough eggshells, presumably because they cause discomfort to the snails.

Another common kitchen discard is coffee grounds. Used coffee grounds contain about 2 percent nitrogen, about a third of a percent of phosphoric acid, and varying amounts of potash, generally less than one percent.  Analysis of coffee grounds shows that they contain many minerals, including trace minerals, carbohydrates, sugars, some vitamins, and some caffeine.  They are particularly useful on those plants for which you would apply “acid food,” such as blueberries, avocados, roses, camellias, and certain fruit trees.

Sometimes we use scatter the used coffee grounds in the garden, and sometimes we dry them first. We scatter them as a light mulch around those plants that we feel would benefit the most. We don’t scatter them too thickly, however, especially in wet weather, because the coffee grounds will have a tendency to get moldy.

Because most plants need calcium for root growth, most can be beneficially stimulated by adding both ground up eggshells (lime) and dried coffee grounds.

Smile the next time you drink your morning cup of coffee, and eat those breakfast eggs, because the by-products of that meal are ideal for your urban garden and no longer need to be thought of as “waste.”

I sought to include many of these low-tech, low-cost ideas in my “Extreme Simplicity” book, which recorded all the methods that my wife and I actually practiced.  We always figured that if we could do all that we did with low-income, anyone anywhere could practice these same methods to become self-reliant.  You can get “Extreme Simplicity” from, or from the Store at

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Free Fertilizers for the Urban Backyard

[Nyerges is the author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Foraging California,” and other books. You can learn about his classes and books at, or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041].

In my “Extreme Simplicity” book, my wife Dolores and I outlined our efforts to live lightly and self-reliantly in the city,  a path that many more are pursuing these days.

We shared all our experiences with gardening and producing our own food.  Some friends told u that they do not garden because it is “an expensive hobby.”  That always made us laugh. There was a time not that long ago when nearly everyone gardened because homegrown produce was not only better from the produce you purchase at a supermarket, but also cheaper.

Before WWII, before agricultural chemical came into widespread use, everyone knew that to produce healthy plants, you had to improve the soil.  Weak soil means that the plants grown there will be weak, and subject to insect infestation, and more susceptible to both drought and freezing.  Insects tend to eat the weakest plants, and insecticides would rarely be necessarily if the soil provided all the nutrients needed by the plants.

We taught ourselves about the whole spectrum of fertilizers that were once common-knowledge.

For example, we learned a lot about the beneficial properties of seaweed from professional gardener Ernest Hogeboom.  He would collect several large trash bags of kelp from areas along the Pacific Coast.  He’d empty the kelp into a 55-gallon drum, fill it with water and cover it.  As the seaweed began to decompose, the water turned brown.  Within about two months, the seaweed was full decomposed into the water.  Hogeboom used the liquid as a concentrate, which he would dilute with water before spraying it on, or pouring it around, his clients’ plants.

Dolores used this for our own landscaping and gardening clients, with the addition of fish emulsion.  Approximately a quarter cup of fish emulsion was used for each gallon of seaweed elixir.  Plants sprayed with this mixture also seemed to repel insects, and generally showed renewed growth..The only pitfall is the fishy, oceanic odor that is detectable for a day or two after the application. 

Seaweed is rich in potassium, up to 12 percent by volume.  Though seaweed contains many beneficial trace elements, it is relatively poor in nitrogen and phosphate, which is why the addition of fish emulsion creates a nearly perfect fertilizer.

We didn’t use the bulky metal 55 gallon drum that Hogeboom used, but rather we purchased a 30 gallon plastic trashcan at a building supply store for about $10. 

If you live in a coastal area where seaweed rotting on the beach is readily availably, you’ve got a great potential fertilizer available only for your labor of hauling it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

MUGWORT -- A versatile herb

MUGWORT:   A versatile and common herb with many survival uses

[Nyerges is the author of Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, How to Survive Anywhere,  and other books. His schedule of outings is available from School of Self-Reliance, P.O. Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 and can be viewed on-line at]

Mugwort is an aromatic plant with species found all over the world.  It is perhaps one of the few herbs widely steeped in lore and mythology. Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana and other closely-related species) is a multiple use plant, having been used for  food, medicine, fire-starting, dreaming, and more.

I have known people who ate the raw mugwort leaves in salad and added to sandwiches, in much the same way as you’d add a pickle or a piece of lettuce to a sandwich. However, I have always found it too bitter for my taste to eat raw. But once simmered in water and cooked like spinach, its appeal is greatly increased.  If you’re really hungry and there’s nothing else, this will be acceptable.
Southern California Indians gathered the mugwort seeds and ground them into meal to make bread products.   And in Japan, the dried and powdered mugwort is often used to flavor and color rice cakes.  Still, the food value of mugwort is not its greatest asset.

As an infused tea, mugwort is used by herbalists to improve the appetite and digestion, and to relieve stomach pains and fevers. The dried herb is commonly sold in Mexican herb shops under the name “estafiate.”  

An infusion from the dried leaves is applied externally for inflammatory swellings. Bruises are reputed to heal quicker if bathed with a mugwort infusion. As a bath additive, it's used for tired legs and feet. Plus, in the bath water, mugwort gives the bathroom a pleasant aroma!
In areas where poison oak grows, it’s a very old custom to mush up the fresh leaves of mugwort and rub the wet poultice over exposed portions of the body before entering poison oak areas in order to prevent the rash.  Some western Indians used the fresh leaves externally as a cure for poison oak and wounds.
Before I immunized myself from poison oak, I have used the freshly crushed leaves of mugwort rubbed over newly-developing poison oak rash with good results. Aloe vera is the best treatment for poison oak that I have found, but you don’t usually find aloe in the wild.

Mugwort gets its name from the English practice of putting a leaf of it in their mugs of beer to improve the flavor. ("Wort" is an Old English word meaning "herb.") This is still practiced in London pubs.
Mugwort is also used by home beer-brewers, such as Pascal Baudar in Southern California. The results depend on the recipe, ranging from a mead-like beer, to a very crisp, light beer.

One of the most effective wilderness "punks" is made by gathering the mugwort leaves that have dried and browned on the stalk. Slide your hand along the lower stalk to gather the dried leaves and then roll them into a cigar. By lighting the end of this "cigar" and then wrapping the entire cigar in larger fresh mugwort leaves, you can effectively carry fire over long distances. This was the technique practiced by Southwestern Indian tribes for transporting fire from camp to camp. It can still come to the aid of today's campers where matches are scarce or unavailable. In fact, I have tested dozens of tinders using both natural and man-made materials, and mugwort has consistently proven to be one of the best natural tinders.  [Note: Survival Seeds (Box 41-834, L.A., CA 90041) sells bags of mugwort for tinder, for $7 a bag. ]

When we teach and practice the art of fire-making with the hand drill, or the bow-and-drill, we nearly always have a good supply of the mugwort leaves on hand. It is the ideal tinder to shape into a birdnest, and to drop your ember into it.  By gently blowing on this ember, it slowly gets larger and larger.  Dried grass or pine needles are then added around the mugwort, and one continues to blow until it bursts into flame.

Sleeping on "pillows" of dried mugwort leaves is said to induce wild, vivid dreams and visions of the future. To test this, I placed several of the fresh leaves around my pillow. Those nights, I had very colorful dreams, though they were not what I would describe as “lucid” nor did I ever receive visions of the future. Nevertheless, some enterprising folks have begun to sell “dream pillows” which are small pillows stuffed with mugwort leaves.

Folklore from various parts of the world states that a leaf of mugwort in the shoe will enable you to walk all day without leg fatigue.
Nathaniel Schleimer of Pasadena, California, a student of acupressure, pointed out to me that there may be some factual basis for this "folklore." Schleimer told me that there is an acupuncture point on the bottom of the foot which is said to "regulate fatigue." The mugwort leaves which have naturally dried on the plant are collected and used in a therapeutic technique called acupressure. These dried leaves, when rolled into small balls or into a cigar-shaped cylinder, are called "moxa." A Chinese species is said to be the best, but all species can be used in the following fashion, described by J.C. Cerney in his book Acupressure -- Acupuncture Without Needles:   "On the outside of the lower leg, below the level of the knee, is the head of the fibula. Just below and slightly in front of the head of the fibula is what the Japanese refer to as sanri or S-36. This is an important vitality-stimulating zone. It's a point where weary Oriental foot travelers applied a burning ball of moxa and with energy restored, traveled on."