From time to time, I take spells of experimenting with any stem that looks like it will work to make fire. There are numerous such stems that will work; what you want is a hard outer shell and a soft inner pith. It must be good and dry, but still have a solid center. What I use in the video clip is one of my favorites for a lot of reasons. I’ll add a note later if I can figure out the exact scientific name of this one, but don’t hold your breath. However, the technique is the same for all of these kinds of stems.
Because of things taught to me by my family when I was a kid, I can usually put some name to wild plants. I don’t always know why I know or where and when I learned them–but they usually prove correct to one extent or another–likely traceable to Mom. But I had no idea until I started trying to properly name this one that so many varieties exist. I call it Verge, which may be the common French name, or Soldago, which may be part of the scientific name, but more commonly, it is called Goldenrod. What I call Goldenrod looks similar, but has a much skinnier stem.
This plant is indeed one of the more than 163 varieties of Goldenrod, which is of the broader group of Asters. I know it when I see it, and it is not that hard to identify once you see it. It is one of the tallest and thickest of these plants. By the time it is useful for starting fire, it is brown and dry with or without wilted dead leaves and it may still have some dried down fluff on the top ends. I just harvested some in the snow and both it and Mullein stood out starkly enough to easily put your hands on.
I chose the Soldago over the Mullein, because . . . . well . . . . okay, because I like it. It has never let me down. It smells like pumpkin pie. And it sounds a little like Hildago. What’s there to not like? Also, even in sub-freezing temps and in the snow, I had fire in less than fifteen minutes start to finish–even with numb hands. The actual ember took about forty-five seconds once I got set. I got bits and pieces of the process on my phone camera and I’ll try to get a usable clip edited of it some posts later.
To be useful, it must still have a solid or nearly solid center. As these stems decompose, most of them become hollow and fragile, but if you look at enough of them, you can usually find a solid one no matter what time of the year. When it is available it is among my favorite because it works quickly when used against Cottonwood or Box Elder. And it smells good when it burns–unlike Mullein, which stinks to high heaven.
You can find full details and a video clip about how to start fire using the hand drill method at the following link. Fire from Almost Nothing.