These old wives tales could kill you – know the facts

By Doug Williams
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These old wives tales could kill you – know the facts

Doug Williams
 
 
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All sorts of situations can bring to mind ancient folk remedies and old wives tales that have been passed down through the ages. These sometimes work and have been tried and tested over hundreds of years. Others are just stories and can, in fact, cause more harm than good. Here are some common myths that you should be aware of so you know the correct way to act in such situations.

Frostbite

Frostbite happens when the water in your skin turns into ice crystals, which can puncture cells
Frostbite happens when the water in your skin turns into ice crystals, which can puncture cells

If you are out in very cold conditions and you or one of your group gets frostbite, DO NOT rub it. Frostbite happens when the water in your skin turns into ice crystals, which can puncture cells. It is better to administer painkillers as this condition is very painful and then warm the affected area gradually. It is also not advisable to consume alcohol when suffering frostbite. Alcohol may make you feel warmer, but the action of alcohol on cells will actually cause a body to get colder. Far better to drink a warm beverage such as tea or coffee.

Cotton in cold weather

While cotton is a wonderful material, it is not appropriate to use it in cold, icy conditions. Wet cotton loses its insulating properties, and whether from external moisture or from sweat, will cool a body rapidly by the process of conduction. Cotton can hold many times its own weight in water which is great for hot weather but in cold weather, you will soon become cold with damp fabric close to your skin, potentially leading to hypothermia.

Raw meat

Raw meat can contain bacteria
Raw meat can contain bacteria

When it comes to finding food in the wilderness, you may have been told that eating raw meat is okay. It may be safe sometimes, but it is not worth the experiment. Raw flesh can easily be crawling with pathogens and other bacteria which can cause serious harm. While sushi is good from a restaurant, it is better to cook the food that you catch.

Hypothermia

If someone is experiencing hypothermia, you may have been told not to feed the sufferer. This would depend on how advanced the condition has become and food high in calories given regularly will help warm the body by generating metabolic heat. Do not allow a drowsy victim of this condition to fall asleep. This can lead to death. It is important to keep the patient conscious as you warm their body gradually.

While it is true that the body must be warmed if their body temperature has dropped very low, do not presume that a warm bath will be the answer. The pain and shock this could cause may be enough to bring on a heart attack. It is better to use hot water bottles, placing them on the body. Under the armpits is a good place to begin to warm the body. Never use a very hot item to warm up a person who has developed hypothermia.

Wild food

Berries eaten safely by birds are often highly toxic to humans and other mammals
Berries eaten safely by birds are often highly toxic to humans and other mammals

Eating food which you see other animals eat does not mean that this food is safe for you to eat. Despite the fact that the animal may also be a mammal, their biology and digestion are different. Berries eaten safely by birds are often highly toxic to humans and other mammals. Animals in the wild know what they can eat. Unless you are absolutely certain otherwise, don’t eat it.

Snakebite

If one of your group is bitten by a snake, do not play the hero and emulate a scene from an old western where the bite is cut and the poison sucked out of it. This method will probably introduce infection into the wound, thereby making things so much worse. Medical attention is imperative. Until you get to a doctor, put a pressure dressing on the wound

Moss

The truth is moss grows anywhere the conditions suit
The truth is moss grows anywhere the conditions suit

Another thing you might have learned from an old Hollywood western is that moss grows on the North side of the tree. The truth is moss grows anywhere the conditions suit. This could be all around the tree. As the tree method is not reliable, you can carry a GPS but do familiarize yourself with how they work. They are guaranteed to accurately tell you where you are, but not always so good at telling you how to get to where you want to go. A bit of knowledge plus a map and a compass will be so much more reliable.

Sucking stones

Another rather strange myth you may have heard is to suck on a stone to quench thirst. This is patent nonsense: you cannot get anything from a stone. Plus, it may be dirty, and there is a chance you could choke on it or swallow it. If you are in icy conditions, you may think that eating snow will suffice for having a drink. Not so. While snow consists of ice crystals, there is more air than water in a cup of snow. Eating on it could cause really uncomfortable “brain freeze’, so better to boil some up in a pot and make a cuppa.

Fire in a cave

If you are lucky enough to find a cave in which to shelter do not build a fire inside it
If you are lucky enough to find a cave in which to shelter do not build a fire inside it

If you are lucky enough to find a cave in which to shelter do not build a fire inside it. The heat from the fire will cause expansion in the rock, and since the geology of the rock is probably unknown to you, this is highly risky. Blankets are a better way to stay warm in this cave. Space blankets are the very best technologically clever material with which to insulate your body and prevent heat loss. The best thing about space blankets is that they are so lightweight and easy to carry.

Drinking urine

If you find yourself low on water stocks you may have heard that it is better to drink your own urine than to not drink at all. While it may not kill you, it is not a good idea. Urine is a waste product and particularly when a body is already dehydrated this would be a very bad idea indeed. Doing this is definitely not recommended. Nor should you drink raw blood. While some cultures drink blood with milk as food as part of a ritual, this was never to quench thirst. Raw blood could also contain pathogens which will put you in more danger.

Firestarters

Learning to start a fire in the wild is a skill best earned before it is needed
Learning to start a fire in the wild is a skill best earned before it is needed

You will also probably have seen movies where primitive people are shown rubbing sticks to make fire. As the joke goes today make sure one of the sticks is a match and you will at least have a chance of getting a fire going. Not even very dry wood will guarantee a friction Firestarter and you could wind up very frustrated – even though the activity itself will warm you up, this will be temporary.

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