Typically when people think of a plant for use in a survival situation, they have things like Dandelion, Plantain, Cattails, or Mullein in mind. Not generally do they think of trees. Heck, sometimes trees are left out of the plant discussion altogether.
But the fact is, there are many trees that have profound survival uses. Maybe more important than all other plants. Trees provide shelter, building material, food, medicine, fuel and utility material.
Fuel is probably pretty obvious, but also taken for granted. Most people realize that wood is the fuel of choice in most survival situations, but there are some things that should be noted. One, not all wood is created equal. Simply put, soft woods are superior for starting fires and hardwoods are superior for sustaining a long burning hot fire. Soft woods in general are your evergreens. Hardwoods are your deciduous. There are some exceptions though and not all deciduous trees are hard woods. Therefore, it would be wise to be able to identify Oaks, Maples and Beeches. If you learn to identify those in all seasons, you will be well served. When it comes to fuel and starting fires there are two trees to keep in mind. Pine (any variety) and Birch.
Not only do dry pine needles, pine cones and twigs make great tinder, but the pitch is very flammable. It does light better with direct flame, but I have been able to spark it and use a magnifying glass to ignite it. Once lit, it burns hot and for quite awhile. If in a survival situation and you can’t find a natural occurring wound, break a live branch off at its base or use your knife to create a wound on the trunk. Don’t do that just for practice. But in a survival situation, do what ever it takes. If you are in a stand of pines, you’ll find some pitch on one of the trees.
The bark of White Birch is very flammable. It will burn very hot and long enough to ignite other tinder. By scraping the white side with your knife, you can accumulate a pile of white bark dust and flakes. That Dust and flake pile takes a spark very well. It will easily catch the bark itself on fire allowing you to add more fuel.
Something a little less obvious than fuel, is food. Of course nuts and fruit are available on a myriad of trees, but don’t assume they are edible. If you don’t know what you have, don’t eat the berries or nuts. Positive Identification is as important on a tree as it is on any plant. Aside from berries, nuts and fruits, there are also other ways to provide nutrients with trees. Birch and Maple water in the Spring is very refreshing and cleansing. They are both great sources of fresh potable water. Teas from leaves and needles, from both Birch and Pine are very nutritious and valuable during a survival situation. Again, don’t assume everything can be used. Cherry leaves for example should not be consumed.
Pine Needle Tea Makes an excellent decongestant. Boil the needles and breath in the vapors. Don’t burn yourself. This works similar to Menthol. Willow and Slippery Elm Teas contain salicylic acid which can be used as a pain reliever.
You will notice how often I mention the White Birch. White Birch may well have been the most important plant available to Native Americans in the North Eastern States and Eastern Canada. The Chippewas of Michigan relied heavily on the tree for everything from Medicine, drink, sugar production, homes, transportation, and utility. The Sap was a very important Spring Tonic used to purify the blood after a long winter eating sub par food. The Bark was used to make everything from baskets to pots and utensils to canoes and hogans. Without the Birch, the people would have had a much tougher life.
The point is, while studying survival plants, take some time to study the trees. There are way more than I mentioned with way more benefits. This barely brushes the surface and does trees no justice. This Spring I will post videos on rope making, basket making and other useful tidbits. keep an eye for them. Meanwhile, study your trees.