1. Some trees produce sap that can be drunk by humans. These are the exception to the rule, as most trees make chemicals that render their saps incompatible for human consumption. Maple, most hickories, birch, walnut, and sycamore can be tapped for their sap. (If a taste of hickory sap has a strong medicinal flavor, don’t use it.) The results of tapping vary with the seasons – the ideal time being very early spring. From summer on the process will likely be disappointing. Slash a large V-shaped cut (3” along each slope of the V) deep enough into the trunk to cut through both bark layers into the sapwood. At the point of the V, bore an upward-angled, 1/2”-wide hole into the sapwood (2” in all). Insert a smoothly carved, top-grooved, downward-sloped drip-stick (a crude spile) and collect the drip in a container.
2. In spring and early summer wild grapevine can be severed at ground level, then notched from one side high up on the vine. (Cutting the notch performs the same principle as lifting your finger from the top of a liquid-filled drinking straw.) A steady drip of sweet water can be collected at the ground-level cut.
3. Distillation occurs naturally on those clear nights when the earth cools off enough to condense the humidity in the air. Gather dew drops by mopping wet surfaces with a cloth (a piece of clothing) and wringing it out into a container.
4. A controlled distillation can be performed by a solar still. For this you’ll need to be fortunate enough to find a sheet of plastic. Dig a cubed pit about 2’X 2’X 2’ into low ground that gets a lot of sun. An open meadow on bottomland makes an excellent site. To increase the quantity of water in the moist pit, tear up green plants and toss them in and pour creek water around the lip of the pit. Set a container in the bottom center of the pit, lay a slack sheet of plastic over the hole and weight down the edges with stones. Now weight down the center of the plastic with a stone so that the sheet assumes the shape of a shallow inverted cone with its point directly over the container. As water evaporates inside the pit, it condenses on the cool plastic. By the cohesive nature of water, molecules form droplets. Gravity leads each droplet to the point of the cone, while the adhesive property of water keeps it clinging to the plastic. When enough droplets coalesce at the low point, their combined weight breaks the bond of the adhesion to the plastic and the container fills. A convenient accessory for this set-up is a length of dried hollow plant stem – like Joe Pye weed or bear paw (“kidney-leaf”) rosinweed – to be used as a straw from the container to ground level. On overcast days this is a slow process at best.
5. A filtering system for creek water can be set up using three tiers of cloth (or “hammocks” hand-crafted from dead bark fibers). First and highest in the filter-ladder is a layer of shredded/kneaded grass. Sand fills the middle layer and crushed charcoal the lowest. Affix the three cloth hammocks to a tripod of sticks impaled into the ground. A container placed under the three-tiered tower receives the filtered water. Replace the filtering materials after each use. Your source for charcoal is the crispy black char scraped off incompletely burned wood – not the gray ash from a campfire, which is alkaline lye! I have used this filtration method, but I cannot vouch for its efficacy in eliminating pathogens. (I have not had the filtered water tested.) I rely exclusively on the next technique – boiling.
6. Boiling disinfects. Opinions differ as to how long water should be boiled. The latest research has shown that simply bringing water to a boil suffices in destroying pathogens.
More from Secrets of the Forest: Volume 1
Reprinted with permission from Secrets of the Forest: Volume 1 by Mark Warren and published by Waldenhouse Publishers, Inc., 2015