The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 155: Primal Grooming

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

If you lived outside all the time, do you think you could keep clean? Primitive peoples did. This week on The WildeBeat; Primal Grooming

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one fifty-five.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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#STEVE: What do you think it was like before anyone could buy toothpaste in a tube or shampoo in a bottle, when humans lived in areas that were like our wilderness areas? Since primitive people didn't have these modern products, does that mean they were always dirty?

SUE LABISTE: No. I really doubt that. I think people, ancient people were very much like ourselves. Just with a different set of technology to work with.

#STEVE: That's Sue Labiste. She a writer and instructor for the prehistoric skills educational group, Primitive Ways.

SUE LABISTE: Probably for about as long as you can imagine people being around, we've always been social beings, so we're pretty concerned about how we appear, and how we smell, and, how we behave around other people, so, keeping clean is probably a pretty important part of our lives right from the very beginning.

#STEVE: I met Sue in a local park where she demonstrated some of these prehistoric skills.

SUE LABISTE: Well, I brought with me a couple of plants that are useful if you're out in the woods and you're looking for a way to keep clean... But, it's also good to remember that when you're out in the woods and you've got some water nearby, sometimes water itself is all you need to get cleaned up with, and you'll conserve resources in the process if you're just using water.

SUE LABISTE: This is a soap plant, and, it's a pretty good size bulb, has a lot of what looks like brown hair coming up around the edges just below the green leaves, where the green leaves come up out of the ground, so that's one way of identifying it.

SUE LABISTE: Once you have your soap root up out of the ground, it's time to peel off some of the, sections that are a little bit like the outside of an onion. So you're going to peel off these leaf-like sections down below; it's nice and white, looks a bit soapy, and it is soapy. I'm going to take this plant here and lay it down on a, hard surface. And I have another smooth rock that I'm going to use to pound it a little bit. The purpose of pounding it is going to be to break up this material enough so that when I scrub it in my hands I'll get a nice lather. So here we go.

SUE LABISTE: [Sound of pounding between rocks.] Pounding it against the rock here. [continued pounding]

SUE LABISTE: Alright, so now I've pretty much mashed it up a little, get my hands wet, [water dripping sounds then hand and soap lathering sound] and I'm going to rub it together. [Harder rubbing] I've got holding the material in my hands, creating a little friction here, and I'm starting to work up a pretty good lather here. [Good continuing sound effects].

SUE LABISTE: The leaves themselves are sort of a little bit like using a washcloth, or a loofa sponge. Create a little friction helps in the cleaning process. Use this as a shampoo, hand wash. And it's pretty mild. It gets the dirt off, and it doesn't seem to create any problems with drying your hands, so I like it quite well. I've used it as a shampoo. It works nicely, too. A few little fibers to pull out of your hair afterwards, otherwise, great [laughs].

SUE LABISTE: Alright so I'm rinsing it off now [rinsing sounds] hands are a lot cleaner.

SUE LABISTE: Alright, now another opportunity, would be to use ceanothus. Now I would like to point out that the materials I'm using are not gathered from a park. These actually come from our yard. Since we do instructions... we want to be sure we're gathering in a sustainable way. So when it's in our yard, we can be pretty sure that, what we're doing isn't going to be harmful.

SUE LABISTE: So here I have the ceanothus, I'm using the blossoms. They're blue in color on this particular species. And I'll use them much the same way. I don't need to break them up... so in this case I can just pull the blossoms off and put them in my hand. And then ...rub them together with a little water, just like you would for soap [water dripping and hand rubbing]. You can probably hear that friction. [continued friction] And we're beginning to work up a really nice lather here.

SUE LABISTE: OK. So now my hands are doubly clean here. This would pass any inspection. Alright. There we go. Clean hands, lots of suds. [Gentle sniffing] Mmm. Smells pretty good, too. Alright. [rinsing sounds]. That's it. Just rinsing it off. Clean.

SUE LABISTE: So if your toothbrush isn't along and you need something for a little oral hygiene, it's not really very hard to make your own toothbrush. All you need is a stick. Not a rotten one, but, uh, one that's fairly fresh, and you can just, take it, put it in your mouth. Set it on your back molars and, chew on it just a little bit so that it spreads out the tip; I'm going to do that right now. Spread out the tip a little bit. It makes a little fan-like brush, and, you can pick off any extra fibers that are on it that you don't want to leave in your mouth. And you can use it to brush your teeth, then just turn this other stick around to the other side of it, and make a little pointed tip, and you have yourself a, toothpick to do any [laughng] extra little flossing that you might have done at home.

SUE LABISTE: So oral hygiene and, generally getting cleaned up is something you can handle in the woods.

SUE LABISTE: If you're out in the woods and you don't have things from home to help with oral hygiene, or for cleanup. Or you're in a situation where you're truly in a ...survival situation, it's nice to have, an awareness of what's out in the woods and, what is available to you.

#STEVE: Sue says that learning to recognize a larger number of plants is your first step toward learning primitive skills.

SUE LABISTE: Two that I brought today were something called amole, or soap plant. It's a bulb that, is in the ground usually as a ...bright green and luxurious early in the season and dries so that by August or September there's nothing but, some brown husks of leaves. It becomes dormant in the summer and, gets going in the, in the fall when the first rains come down. So there's that plant and there's also ceanothus, a shrub that's, usually, on hillsides. And, it's available, up out of the, valleys up on the hillsides and throughout much of California, it comes in, several different species, so the color of the bloom might be different from one place to another, but the bloom itself is available for a short time during the year and it's a good plant to use as a surfactant, as a soap.

STEVE: Other places in the country, if they didn't have these plants, can you think of others that they might have used?

SUE LABISTE: Yucca and agave are both excellent, need a little pounding and a little water and you can make a nice lather with those two plants.

STEVE: [12:19] OK. And so what did the well-groomed paleolithic human do for a manicure?

SUE LABISTE: [12:27] [laughs] I think it would be pretty easy to make what amounts to the orange stick you can buy at your local drugstore. You really just need a stick that still has a little integrity to it. Abrade off one end of it so it's at an angle and you've got yourself a nice little stick that'll work well for cleaning your fingernails. If you want to get your fingernails a little shorter, if you went to the drugstore you'd pick up, a nail file, and it's basically just an abrasive, so why not use some sandstone? A little sandstone. Just, make sure it's a nice smooth one so you don't rip up your fingernails with it, and you can just use it like you would a nail file. It works just as well. And of course, if you go down to that drugstore, you can also pick up some pumice there, which people use for, ...reducing calluses and corns and making their hands or their feet much smoother, and there's no reason why you can't use an abrasive rock like sandstone or pumice that you find out in the hills to do the same thing when you're doing your cleanup.

STEVE: Sue Labiste is a writer and instructor with Primitive Ways. Sue, thank you for appearing on the WildeBeat.

SUE LABISTE: Thank you for inviting me, Steve. This is a pleasure.

#STEVE: If primitive people had it this easy keeping clean, then when we visit the wilderness, we've got it easy with the soaps and tools that we can bring. But, please think of the Leave No Trace principles whenever you wash up with any kind of soap. Make sure you’re at least two hundred feet away from any lake, river, or stream. Even natural and so-called biodegradable soaps need soil microbes to break them down. So use the stuff sparingly, and like Sue said, sometimes plain old water is good enough.

#STEVE: We'd like to hear about your tips for grooming with primitive materials, your questions for the Primitive Ways instructors, and we always want to hear any other comments you have about our show. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can find pictures of Sue in action, links to more information about primitive grooming skills, and download a high-quality stereo version of this show, on our web site.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham and Kate Taylor, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Insitute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one fifty-five. Thank you for listening.

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