Tuesday, June 5, 2018

guest article- 1st of 2 articles today

This experiment was prompted by the excellent book...
This is such a powerful book, that if you live in California, or the bordering Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, or The Great Basin in general, you must have it. It's good enough as an instruction manual to rebuild civilization with.

The chapter on seeds has an interesting story of an Indian who lived until the 1940's, hair still black at death in his early 100's, and who had great vigor up until death. He attributed his athleticism and long life to the fact that the majority of his life, he ONLY ate seeds.

The grass in the first photo here (just a random website with the correct photo)is what I harvested. I am uncertain of its scientific name, but it falls under the category of "bunchgrasses." It is so prolific that it is probably 50% or greater of the diet that the cattle on the ranches around here consume, so you could harvest mass quantities without problem, except for your labor of course. It always returns after wildfires. Here's the photo (first one on the website)...
As shown, this is when the grass has died for the season, and probably 99% of the seeds have fallen from the outer husk. When I gathered mine, approximately 1/2 were bright green (outer husk still closed), to fading to tan (outer husk opening and starting to drop the seeds). When bright green, if you squeeze the seed hard, a white milky substance comes out. When tan, they're hard like wheat or rice.

The Indians, depending on the tribe, used three main methods to harvest. With a tightly-woven basket, they beat the seed heads into the basket with a paddle, OR they beat the seed heads into the basket with a stick, OR they stripped the seed heads off by hand. I used a stainless steel crock pot for my "basket." First I tried beating the seed heads into the pot with a stick. The bright green ones didn't want to come off and I was making too much noise and frustrating myself. I stripped them off between my thumb and index finger instead. A note of caution here, you want to use the pads of your thumb and finger, not the crease between the joints. The skin is thinner in that area and the grass stalks will cut into it over time.

I was uncertain when the proper harvest of the seeds was, which is why I picked 50/50 green/tan. I left the seeds in the pot, which was full to the top, in the full sun. Within a couple days, the grain was swelling and spilling over the top of the pot. I figured the green seeds were expanding and hardening up as they dried. This was correct, so green or tan seeds are okay to harvest. I left the seeds in the pot for almost two weeks because I was too busy to get to them. I dumped them out to start processing them and realized the bottom 1/2 of the pot of seeds was molding! I threw those away because moldy seeds can't be salvaged. I guess if I had thought about it longer, I wouldn't have made that mistake. I made two sun drying racks of 3/4" 4x8 plywood with 2x3 perimeter boards to avoid spillage, painted earth brown to blend with the soil. They are up on sawhorses to keep creepy crawlers and earth moisture away. I spread the seeds out on the drying rack in full sun, and that worked great.

I used a cookie sheet with raised sides at first. A basket is definitely a better idea, as the seeds nearest the edge would bounce over the edge and disappear on the ground. I ended up using what I'm calling reverse-winnowing. Picked up a handful of seeds and dropped them on the center of the cookie sheet to let the wind blow the outer hulls off. I should have arranged for a basket, but I'm experimenting here.

The seeds appear very similar to a grain of red wheat, but slightly longer, and slightly smaller in diameter. Imagine if each seed was an ear of corn with a husk. The seeds have to be husked with your fingernails! This is a tedious process, taking anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds per seed. The fastest method I could find was to dig your thumbnail into the middle of the husk and roll it away with the nail from your other hand to break through the husk. It was so slow and mentally fatiguing that I immediately started looking for shortcuts. The Indians prepared their seeds in different ways for variety, and depending on the tribe. One of the things they would do is have the seeds in a shallow basket, place a live coal in it, and constantly swirl it around to parch the grain before grinding it and eating, or before storing. I decided to accelerate the process by building a campfire, and with the seeds in a stainless steel mesh basket, parch them and maybe burn the hulls off. I tried one batch this way and the hulls caught fire. At first this seemed like a good idea, fire burning off the hulls, but what actually happened is the seeds turned into crumbly charcoal (AKA unusable). I tried another batch, without catching the seeds on fire. The seeds began popping like popcorn. The hulls didn't really come off any easier, but I could tell the grain was parched.

I attempted this with sun-dried seeds, about 50/50 hulled/unhulled. It was too slow, the pestle was more prone to flattening the seeds like rolled oats than making flour. The fire-parched seeds worked better with the mortar and pestle.

This method worked for sun-dried seeds. I read somewhere that you could grind the unhulled seeds and the hull fragments would "float" to the top of the flour for easy removal. Not so much, they pretty much were evenly distributed throughout the flour.

Eating the seeds raw was tasty, just like a grain of wheat.

There have been previous comments on this blog about rice being bland. I cook my rice in bone broth, not plain water. It is absolutely delicious this way with nothing else added. I cooked the grass seeds in bone broth 50/50 hulled/unhulled. I was hoping the expanding seeds from the cooking process would make the seeds burst out of the hulls. It did make it easier to get the seeds out, but not worth the hassle. It's better to hull beforehand. It tasted just like the rice I make, delicious.

All the methods I tried were listed Indian methods of eating the flour, but I did not try all the listed methods. The hull fragments were a major pain to eat around, kind of like trying to chew with multiple mustache hairs in your food.

A little chalky, hard to deal with.

Tasted fine, kind of bland.

Interesting, the water gelled up like cooking oatmeal, and tasted like it too.

I didn't try these, but they made small cakes of one to two inches and cooked them. They also used the flour to fortify soups/stews.

I intend to store my remaining sun-dried seeds by two different methods and check to see if there is any mold or storage problems in January. I intend to try some in a five gallon bucket indoors, and some in an outdoor galvanized steel water trough with a weather protected lid that I designed as a granary for acorns. I'll report back around January next year.

I remember from school (true or propaganda?) that when the wagon trains were crossing The Great Basin, some of the Indians didn't seem to take much notice because they were too busy obtaining food to stay alive. There really is no realistic way I could find to get around hulling the seeds individually. These seeds are now on my springtime harvest list for my area to extend the amount of time my food storage lasts.

A couple months ago on YouTube, Canadian Prepper had a video in which he introduced a new "Survival Metric," the "1-100 Rule." Basically he says that what takes you now an hour to obtain (25 pounds of wheat in exchange for one hour work at minimum wage), will take 100 times as much work to obtain after the grid goes down. I fully agree. Looking at a clean and hulled bag of wheat looks like pure luxury compared to the work of doing it yourself. The good part here is you can have an abundant annual harvest with NO cultivation efforts on your part. Another big takeaway here is that once you do your own research, you can see an abundance of food where others see nothing. Remember the Indian from the beginning who attributed his longevity and vigor from eating ONLY seeds the majority of his life. I also intend to try some of the other grass/weed seeds around here that are less common.

I know there are many species of sagebrush, and don't know which grow around Elko. From the book...
White Sage (Salvia apiana) Seeds available from July to September. Parched and ground to meal for mush, they were blended with other seeds because of their flavor.
Thistle Sage (Salvia carduacia) Seeds available from June to November. They were also mixed with other seeds in mush.
Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) Seeds were ground into meal. They were considered highly nutritious with a rich nutty flavor. Spring leaves and stalk were used for flavoring food.
Basin Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) Seeds were gathered from August to October, parched, then ground into pinole for mush.

James, please try the sagebrush seeds in your area and report back.

I hope this was helpful for someone,
Peace out


  1. I lived in Elko for a while and worked with a guy that had picked sagebrush seeds for a rehabilitation program for a while. Apparently white sage is dominate in the area and I tried a few seeds, but they seemed a little too pine flavored for my taste. Push comes to shove, better than nothing, but I would rather run them through a goat or sheep before I eat them again

    1. Wow, I was totally off on my sage knowledge.

  2. I have some rye grass in my unused pasture. I may go harvest some and see what I get.

  3. Thanks for the article.

  4. really excellent article. this is most useful info. would like more posts from this author.

    james, some sites for you to read if you have time.

    irishsavant.blogspot.com feminization of the western male june 4

    brucewilds.blogspot.com [advancing time] economy- past peak oil june 2

    theburningplatform argentine economy is it possible to avoid this type of ruin? interview

  5. just a thought. after grinding would putting the product through a flour sifter help with the hulling?
    then regrind what is left if much of it is seed.
    thought; a wide toothed comb held over a bag could have the seed heads run though the teeth. would the grains come loose and fall into the bag?
    wheat used to be much taller and was probably easier to glean without a backache and more usable straw from the same acreage.

    1. The flour sifter idea never occurred to me. I will try it. I found another grass/weed that I intend to try. The seed is shaped like the head of a sewing needle and is hard, not chewable, when dry on the stalk. The seeds I was gathering were around waist height and a little taller, so no bending over. No chance on the comb helping, it takes work to get the hulls off.
      Thanks for the kind words,
      Peace out

    2. Now you know why our commercial crops were bred as they were, for ease of harvest.

  6. My neighbor is an old retired Norwegian dairy farmer. He once remarked about the Great Depression times, when people were grateful for any kind of sustenance. I asked him about the possibility of harvesting the grain-heads of wild grasses and grinding them for flour. He said that it could provide "sustenance", but the taste is often severely bitter. Wheat is king for a reason.

    1. Partial answer? Grind and roast for fake coffee. Since it is bitter anyway...