Daylily Cordage & Listening to Your Plants

There are certain DIYs and techniques spread all across the internet that, despite being part of the “use what’s around you” ideology, have become inherently attached to specific plants. It isn’t intentional, it’s just what works and is widely used, and there’s nothing wrong with sticking to these kinds of staples. However, without digging a bit deeper into why a certain plant appears with a certain DIY so often, we tend to make a mental note and move on. Maybe I’m projecting my own bad habits onto everyone else in the nature-loving communities I’m a part of, because this was something I recently noticed myself doing.

When I first started looking into cordage and how its made, I noticed that yucca, brambles, willow, and cedar based cordage was super popular and many tutorials seemed to be focused on these plants individually. And those are all awesome plants to make your cordage from due to their fibrous natures. I didn’t have access to any of those things, at least not in my yard or neighborhood, so I temporarily set the idea of making my own cordage aside. But, as with all of my crafty impulses, it came back. And this time, I called to mind the way I tried to weave different grasses when it was all I had to work with. While my attempts were unsuccessful and very poorly researched, I did find that grasses, especially greener (read: wet) blades were easy enough to work into plaits and simple woven blobs.

Bearing this in mind, I took a look at what I did have in my immediate vicinity. Right outside my back door, I had several lush, some may say overgrown, daylilies sprawled over their little mulched homes and onto my patio. I also have an ornamental grass bush thing that offers massive strands in midsummer and early fall, when I remember to pick them before they get chopped down to tiny tufts. Those are still quite small, so I opted to focus on the daylilies for now, and keep the grass in mind for late summer and fall.

Armed with the idea that daylilies had long, thin leaves that looked fair enough like cordage material to me, I took to the interwebs! I was going to try to make them into cordage either way, but I was seeking some validation and reassurance that this was a good idea, haha.

Well, find validation I did! Turns out that there are many people sharing their experiences with daylily cordage online, including a couple youtubers, like Leighanne Saltsman, for example. Seeing them share their experiences with daylily cordage made me feel a lot better about going “astray” from what I viewed as the traditional cordage plant fibers. However, the more I look into cordage, the more I’ve come to realize traditional cordage doesn’t have a set plant list. Traditional cordage is made with whatever you have in your area. Sure, plants like Yucca and willow offer awesome opportunity for cordage that’s strong and resilient, and they’re great options to use if you have access to them. But part of interacting with nature to fuel your life is listening to the plants and elements around you. I intuitively knew daylilies and the weird grass bush out back are fibrous and good for cordage and fiber arts. I wish I would have listened to that intuition sooner and just gotten started on my first cordage project, but I’m happy to get there in my own time anyways.

This idea of listening to your environment when choosing raw materials applies outside of cordage, too. It comes with the caveat that you need to know what you’re picking, and that it’s safe to handle and process. But if you have some fibrous leaves and you want to give cordage ago, don’t worry about finding it on some masterlist of the perfect plants for cordage. Give it a go. Document your personal experiences. Test it out in a variety of ways and let everyone else know how it worked out for you! That’s my plan, anyways, and I’m happy to be doing similar things with my plants that so many people of the past have done with theirs.

Here’s my cordage, which I’ve been creating after drying out the leaves (slowly, since I left them in a wicker basket in my cool basement) for several days, but letting them stay green so they’re pliable enough to twist. There are many tutorials for how to make cordage, but I used the one with daylilies by Saltsman. Here’s how it’s going!

It’s obviously imperfect, and several leaves are a tad greener than I think I need them to be, but I’m pleased overall with my very first bit of cordage. Have you ever made your own cordage, or used plant fibers in another way? Let me know in the comments, and tell me what you used!

Don’t forget to like, follow, and share if you enjoyed this post. I’ll see you all later! Bye!

Advice for Beginner Naturalists

While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert by any means, I’ve had a lot of experience interacting with and observing the natural world. With these experiences come lessons–some learned the hard way. Here is some advice I have with anyone unfamiliar with nature or the safety practices associated with it.

Giant Hogweed | DSt24 on Pixabay

Don’t touch anything you aren’t certain is safe to handle. There are some plants, such as giant hogweed (WARNING: Graphic photos linked), that contain photosensitizing elements in their sap, which leads to severe burns after snapping off the stem and handling it. What’s even scarier is how much it looks like a completely safe plant, wild carrot, and even a desirable herbal medicine, yarrow. It’s much larger than these plants, but a beginner herbalist or naturalist interested in finding such plants could easily misidentify it. The best way to avoid this kind of danger is to never touch or harvest anything you can’t positively ID as safe. Leaf shape, stem shape, flower shape, etc. are all great ways to identify plants. I recently purchased a book by Thomas Elpel, called Botany in a Day. It offers expert explanations of the many parts of a plant and how these distinctions differentiate them from one another. You can also use apps like iNaturalist to get a starting point in your IDs, but AI should never be the only factor in determining a plant, animal, or fungi ID. You can take photos of a plant and its characteristics to ID later, which is how I have learned many plant names! Returning to it at a later time offers another look at it, too, sometimes in a different stage in its cycle. I have personally picked and handled two toxic plants because I saw them, thought they were pretty, and picked them without knowing anything about them. Be on the safe side, I promise it’s the right one!

Female Lone Star Tick | Lisa Zins on Flickr

Don’t wear flowing clothing when in fields or among brush. Ticks carrying diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness, make themselves at home in fields and other grassy areas with a lot of cover. Although small and their brief stay in your skin is relatively painless, the diseases they sometimes leave behind can be debilitating. To reduce your risk of tick borne illnesses, wear tight, fitted clothing and tuck your shirt into your pants and cover the cuffs of your pants with your socks. Ticks and other irritating bugs (such as chiggers) look for easy access to skin, along with somewhere to hide (such as shirt sleeves. Tying these sorts of areas down reduces the chance of being bitten. You can also make use of bug deterrents containing Permethrin, DEET, and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (which is not considered safe for children under 3, but is one of the more natural options on the CDC’s list of recommended deterrents). Make sure to shower as soon as possible after being in tick hotspots, and to check your skin and clothing for ticks. If you develop a rash or fever after being bitten by a tick, you should make an appointment with your doctor immediately. Ticks are predicted to be particularly abundant this year due to the mild winter here in the US, so be vigilant when exploring the beauty of nature!

Herbs | Silviarita on Pixabay

Don’t use anything you find to make food or other products if you aren’t certain it is pesticide, insecticide, and disease free. When I was 15, I used a few knockout rose petals from my front yard to create a tea for myself. I ended up with stomach cramps all night, and only then did I ask myself what else could be on or within those petals. I no longer forage anywhere that could have been sprayed with pesticides or insecticides, or have had prolonged exposure to car exhaust. Don’t learn the hard way what ingesting this type of thing feels like! There is also the potential for diseased plants to misbehave and become downright inedible. Yuck. You can harvest these plants for decor or to make an herbarium, but leave it at that.

Soap and Faucet | suju-foto on pixabay

Wash your hands often, and don’t touch your mouth beforehand. Some parasites, including the mostly benign but very uncomfortable pin worm, can be acquired from fecal material or shared surfaces where someone with pin worms has accidentally deposited eggs (most likely from not washing their hands after using the restroom). Other parasites are found in streams, caves, and even puddles. While being infected with a parasite can be fairly inevitable even with diligent safety precautions, simply washing your hands and nails thoroughly can deter many of them, or at least lower your risk of contracting them.

Forest and Road | David Mark on Pixabay

Don’t get lost in the wilderness. I have lost my way in a small grouping of trees with a path in it because I stepped away and forgot where the path was. It was getting dark, and despite knowing I was in a park and I would be just fine, I admit that I started to panic. Now, I will never leave the path without someone watching me from it. Exploring a little deeper isn’t worth getting lost and having to reorient yourself to find your way back to a trail. Bring a map and a compass and a good deal of knowledge on how to use both if you’ll be somewhere more out of the way than a park. Having a good friend with you is another way to stay on track!

These are my tips, all gleaned from experience or the experiences of others! I hope you don’t have to make these same mistakes I did to learn a good lesson. Have a great day! Bye!

Identifying Wild Plants with iNaturalist

As a child, my Nana would share the plants she knew the names of with me. Some of that stuck, and it definitely gave me a desire to know more about the natural world. Now that I’m grown and have a repertoire larger than my Nana’s casual knowledge, I turn to new sources when I want to identify a particular herb, tree, or berry, using the same skills of observing that she shared with me many years ago.

While I have several books with guidance on identifying herbs, sometimes I want an answer without having to spend too much time deciphering leaf patterns and structures. Just today, I spotted some pretty yellow flowers in the grass outside my cousins school, and I wanted an answer without my books handy.

In times like these, I use an app called iNaturalist to quickly decipher what the plant may be. It isn’t always right, but it offers a starting point to work with. Often, it can help me get right down to the species! All I do is upload a few clear images of the plant in question (although bugs, fungi, animals, etc. are also in the database) and see what it comes up with. It’s an amazing tool for anyone starting out with herbs or naturalism of any kind. I love using it to confirm my identifications. It even offers an easy comparing function so you can feel confident in your identification.

It also has a social aspect where other naturalists can offer insight or agree on your match until it reaches research grade, aka three positive species identification from separate sources. This is added to their research grade database for others to use alongside you!

This is my favourite app so far. I’ve tried a few others, but find this is the one that suits me and my needs best! This post isn’t sponsored, I just wanted to share something I love with you all! It’s a tool I use nearly every time I leave my house, even if it’s just to document where I have seen certain herbs. I love the guides it offers in the explore tab, and often find myself browsing nearby observations and learning more about the plants near me. I also appreciate that it saves your observations and the ones you help identify. It makes it easy to go back and see what you’ve spotted!

Let me know what you’re favourite app is, and how it helps you in your journey. I’ll see you soon! Bye!

Building Your Skills in Self Sufficiency | Part One

I live in the primitive world of HOAs and suburban soccer moms that yell that our fireworks are too loud at 8pm on the Fourth of July. I have all of my veggies struggling along in pots that rabbits continuously crunch on, and I am at the mercy of my parents who just aren’t too sure about my jar hoarding “problem”. That said, I’m doing my best with what I’ve got and the rules I have to follow. A lot of what I want to do just isn’t possible for one reason or another, but I have found several things that I can do to here and now to prep for a more self-sustaining future, and to lessen my wastefulness along the way.

When I started this whole thing, I first did a pseudo-audit of what I would ideally change in the future. For me, it included trying to be more zero waste and also learning to create more of what I needed. Here are some of the skills I have identified that I think any pre-homestead or current waste-reducing person could benefit from learning.

Community Building

A daunting part of homesteading or self-sufficiency is just how much you need to “do” or learn. I’m guilty of forgetting that self-sufficient doesn’t mean you do it all alone. To get things done and spread out work among other nearby homesteaders and yourself, you should learn to trade, barter, and sell within a community of like minded people. For example, I make soap, and I love to do it. I can trade some of my soap for other necessities like mittens or some food from another person. Not only do I get to make all the soap my little heart desires, I get to share and trade it for what I need but may not have the time or ability to create. There are many groups online and in-person that you can join. Some great ones that are found all over the US include Buy Nothing groups, where you give and receive items that aren’t being used, as well as the many facebook groups set up for local zero waste swap meets, clothing swaps, etc. This is one of the most important parts of being more self-reliant (as opposed to grocery store- or fashion chain, etc-reliant). Find communities and swap tips, tricks, and products. There are usually more people nearby that think like you than you’d expect! You can also head out to your local farmers market or artisan market and make friends there. Learn from others and share what you know!

Container Gardening

I have several small plants growing on my patio, despite the rabbits dining in every once in a while. I’m learning how to grow a variety of things now, and how to deal with furry buddies wanting in on the yumminess. By learning this now, I won’t be utterly lost when I decide to grow a large garden to feed myself and anyone living with me. I’m currently working through soil, water, nutrient, and light needs, as well as troubleshooting when things look off. Even if I don’t get much this year, I’m happy to be learning and growing food of my own. There are many great places to gain useful information, including the above recommended communities of fellow homesteaders! I’d also like to add that my veggies finally seem to be doing well, and that feels really good (especially when I stop to consider how many seeds I’ve planted, nurtured, overwatered, and lost).

Upcycling

I’ve always loved upcycling, so this comes naturally for me! Giving old, unusable things new life is a great skill to have. Another part of this is learning to think outside of the box, take a step back, and come up with a creative solution. You can do things like spin yarn out of plastic bags or newspapers, make produce bags from lace valences, and even upcycle old oatmilk containers into soap molds. Practice this sort of thinking when you want to buy something new or you are throwing something out. Can this be melted and used later (HDPE Plastic for example is a great material to add to your stockpile)? Can I replace what I need with something I already have (ex: a flower pot can be substituted with an old yogurt container)? Even if you don’t actively pursue upcycling for your own reasons, it’s good to start thinking critically. Break everything down to its bare bones and the raw material it can provide.

Mending/patching/darning

Mending is something everyone can use, no matter where you’re at. Sure, your family might be confused and ask why you’re darning those socks instead of buying new ones, but the skill is useful and practice makes perfect. Learn this skill before you need it. You can have a lot of fun with this, too, by adding aesthetically pleasing techniques to your work. I say all this assuming you can sew, at least by hand. That’s a skill that will serve you now (seams always split open when you can’t afford to buy a new pair of jeans, trust me) and later. If you can get your hands on a reliable machine, that’s even better! But if this skill does not come easily for you, learn the basics and turn to your community if you need help.

Canning

You don’t need to can enough to get through the entire winter if your fridge and pantry are packed as it is. In my situation, not only would no one eat anything I canned (it’s foreign to them, so I can’t blame them), but I would run out of room very quickly. To combat this, I’ll be trying something simple every few weeks to get the skill going. I’m going to have fun and learn all the tips and tricks along the way, and heed the many rules and safety protocols of canning as I do so. I’ll have a head start for when I go to harvest a bunch of tomatoes and find I have too many to eat! I can’t wait to can up some delicious apple butter in the fall, and ripe strawberry jam any day now. Mmm.

Simple Skincare Knowledge

Speaking as someone heavily invested in and pursuing the skincare industry, trust me when I say there’s a lot to learn. So many bloggers recommend things that make me cringe, and skincare experts like Dr. Dray, Cassandra Bankson, the Golden Rx (link is to a video I definitely recommend if you’re looking in to skincare DIYs) and Lab Muffin Beauty have all added their own informed opinions on this topic. Learn what to avoid by watching these amazing women and others who offer their advice and knowledge to us. They provide so many great scientific viewpoints, and it’s important to consult the realities of science when making your own skincare.

That said, there are ways to make your own great skincare essentials. I’ll be posting my recipes and those I have tried and truly believe in! I’ve recently posted a few in my last post, 7 things to make instead of buying! Until then, be very wary of posts using lemon essential oil in after-sun lotion, or apple cider vinegar as a toner.

Soapmaking

Oh man, I do love making soap. It’s a really fun way to customize your showering routine, not to mention you get to add delicious scents and beautiful colours! Learning how to make your own soap is quite the journey, but a very rewarding one if you find the perfect recipe.

Even if you never make it yourself, knowing how it’s made and how it works is a great benefit to anyone wanting to be more self sufficient. There are three basic ways to create bar soap: cold process, hot process, and melt and pour.

Melt and pour is by far the easiest in terms of finding recipes and starter kits, and involves simply melting a brick, adding things like colour and scent, and pouring it into a mold of your choice. That said, there is little room for customization or additions to melt and pour, as the soap bricks you get are already prepared.

After melt and pour, we have hot process. Hot process requires a lot less attention than cold process, but shares more similarities to it than to melt and pour but is kind of ugly in my humble opinion. I just made a shave soap using the hot process method and am waiting impatiently for it to cure. I didn’t have to give it nearly as much focus or attention as I usually do with my cold process soaps, and it seems much more forgiving if you forget about it for a few extra minutes. It does use lye, whether that be KOH (Potassium Hydroxide) or the more commonly used NaOH (Sodium Hydroxide). Lye can be dangerous to use and handle, so I recommend getting the proper protective gear in advance and learning about all the potential dangers, even if you only soap once or twice a year. And please, I speak from experience when I say this, get a tarp or a thick towel to use on your counters. Any drips of lye water onto a laminate counter top will stain them (sorry Mom) and by stain I mean eat away at. Permanently. Oof.

Cold process is the most nuanced of the bunch, and also uses lye in either of its common forms. It can be a pain due to its finnickiness when you add fragrances, soap at too high or too low of a temperature, or leave it in too cold or warm of an environment. However, this is the best method to use if you want to add aesthetically pleasing aspects to your soap! I have used ethically sourced mica for all of my soaps, but you can also use natural colorants like turmeric or rose clay, which each come with benefits of their own! Here are some of the beautiful bars I’ve come up with, each one made with a very nourishing recipe to soothe and moisturize skin!

It feels great to cut down on one more thing I would have to be buying at the store, and my skin likes this soap better, anyways.

How self-sufficient are you? What skills do you think are the most important to learn in today’s world? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to share this post with your friends! I’ll be back later with more skills to hone. Bye!