August is the season for collecting thistles seed heads to use as an excellent tinder for firemaking. The flowers die back and the seed heads burst out in warm weather then disburse in the wind. There are lots of types of thistle in Britain; like Marsh Thistle and Creeping Thistle but one of the best to use as a tinder – because the seed heads are so full and abundant – is the Spear Thistle, Cirsium vulgar.
The fluffed up seed heads of Spear Thistle ignite into flame very easily with sparks from a fire steel. On its own though its not enough to get a fire established. The seed heads flare up and die down quite quickly. Adding some birch bark to extend the flame really helps, as does some Heather.
Whilst on a walk in the Pentlands with a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Group from Notre Dame High School I collected some Thistle seed heads and some heather to practice firemaking. I looked for some very fine, dead, heather branches and tied them together with some nettle cordage.
Then I looked for thicker bits of heather and collected a bundle, tied together with cordage made from soft rushes.
At camp in the evening we set the fire; nestling the thistle seed heads amongst the fine heather branches, then laid on the thicker ones. Then it is was over to the young people to use the fire steel to set it alight.
As with all firemaking with natural materials preparation is key, taking the time to select tinders that are in season, carefully bundling different grades of sticks or Heather together – from fine to thick – really pays off. We managed to get our fire going even though it was raining. And our reward were some toasted marshmallows.
If you’d like to learn how to use natural tinders to make a fire why not come on one of our Bushcraft courses.